Servants' past: interrogating forms of domestic service, 1600-1850

Nitin Sinha (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin)
Nitin Varma
Prasun Chatterjee (Oxford University Press, New Delhi)
Room 216
Start time:
30 July, 2016 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Taking wage and labour on the one hand and affect and intimacy on the other, the panel proposes to study the forms of domestic relationship in a variety of households. It aims to do so by keeping servants in the centre of the inquiry.

Long abstract:

The proposed panel is an attempt to retrieve domestic servants' past in late pre- and early-colonial periods by looking at the range of relationships that tied them to their masters. While being conscious of the prevalence of multitude of 'cultural' ties, our primary aim is to bring them within the ambit of 'history of labour and work', and see how the forms of relationship (ranging from slavery to that of wage contract) were forged around the twin axes of labour and intimacy. At the same time, the panel seeks to reconsider a predominant focus in labour history that suggests a certain conceptualization of productive work, which relegates the domestic to the realm of reproductive and unproductive. Household in this framework remains a site of moral but not economic value. The panel invites papers on household and family that go beyond the predominant cultural framework to establish their productive centrality in early modern South Asian history. Early colonial publications and personal accounts of Europeans emphasized maintaining a sizeable number of servants, who were indigenously called naukars and chakars. They did so on grounds of emulating wealthier natives, which would ensure status and prestige. By combining the pre-colonial with early-colonial, this panel seeks to trace the history of changing meanings of categories such as naukar and chakar but also of others such as ghulam, banda, dasi, kaniz, that suggests a complex overlap between slavery and domestic service. Papers on regulation of forms of service relationship (moral, legal, etc) are most welcome.