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Daughters of Domestic Workers: Young Women and Socio-Economic Change in Contemporary India


· Asiya Islam University of Cambridge (Cambridge, United Kingdom)


07/28 | 09:40-10:00 UTC+2/CEST


While there is relatively limited scholarship on domestic workers in India – a large, female dominated, and expanding workforce – much has been said about the new opportunities for women in the bourgeoning service economy of urban India. In this paper, I draw attention to the collision of these two worlds through my ethnographic research with young lower middle class women in Delhi. Employed in cafes, malls, call centres, and offices, many of my respondents told me that their mothers had previously worked as domestic workers. My respondents, pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, did not see domestic work as befitting their skills, reflected in their oft-repeated rhetorical question – “Why would we do that when we’re educated?” In some cases, by securing employment, these young women had managed to ‘relieve’ their mothers of domestic work, indicating a system of exchange of labour among women within families. As such, while young women acknowledged the value of their mothers’ labour in securing their futures, they also distanced themselves from domestic work by associating it with necessity, servitude, and low skill. In this paper, I draw upon these varied narratives to explore emerging enclaves of women’s employment in urban India, shifts in ideas of ‘respectable’ labour for women, and new and continuing precariasation of women’s work. More broadly, these inferences contribute towards understanding women’s labour as a site of gender and class formations in contemporary urban India.