SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Single in the City: Women, Migration and Domestic Work in India

Samita Sen (University of Cambridge)

Date: 24 February 2021Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 24 February 2021Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Room: Online via Zoom

Type of Event: Seminar

The paper will discuss patterns of mobility in colonial India as a context to identify new patterns of women’s migration today. The case study is that of women migrants in domestic work. The paper is drawn from a research project funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung conducted at Jadavpur University (Kolkata, India) in 2013-2015. A total of 135 domestic workers were interviewed. There were also twenty-five sex workers, NGOs, trade union activists and government officers interviewed for the project.

We speak of three kinds of migration in colonial India: (a) family migration, (b) single male migration and (c) single female migration. Even though family migration was considered the typical form of migration, the literature is dominated by the specificities of single male migration, which was most characteristic of rural–urban migration and of the urban and industrial workforce.

The pattern of single female migration noted in the colonial period was significantly different from single male migration. Unlike men, women who migrated singly but were also mostly ‘single women’. They were dis-embedded from the rural family in the process of migration. In my earlier work, I have argued that they were more truly proletarianized in the sense that they lost access to rural resources, which were contingent upon familial role fulfilment. In this paper I will describe contemporary patterns of women’s migration. What has changed? What patterns do we see in women’s migration if we shift our focus from industrial employment to paid domestic work? The paper will discuss three categories of single women’s migration. A surprising finding of this research project has been a new pattern of single women’s migration analogous to single male migration of the colonial period. These changes signal transformations in patterns of employment and gender division of labour.

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