privacy policy

Regulating Romance: The State, Family and Technology in Contemporary Delhi


· Rukmini Barua Max Planck Institute of Human Development (Berlin, Germany)


07/27 | 09:00-09:20 UTC+2/CEST


Delhi’s recent transformation into a ‘world class city’ has had severe repercussions on the urban working poor—in terms of increasingly precarious work relations, shrinking social space and insecure housing arrangements. Against this backdrop, this paper examines gender relations and the everyday dynamics of (hetero)sexuality and intimacy in workers’ neighbourhoods of the city, through the lens of romantic love and the tensions surrounding its articulation, display and resolution. I follow two interconnected lines of inquiry, analysing various competing and overlapping registers of regulation and their negotiations. The first examines the thorny relationship between ‘love’ and ‘arranged’ marriages, focusing on the strategies employed to navigate this ideologically powerful, though practically porous distinction. I attend to the anxieties around the ‘court marriage’ and chart the interplay between social and state regulations of romantic, sexual and conjugal intimacy. I suggest that historically contingent and gendered ideas of social respectability play a key role in practices of romance. The second maps changing technologies of romance, focusing on the content of and contestations around the use of whatsapp messaging. I trace the vocabularies of romantic communication, addressing the ways in which popular culture (Hindi movies and TV serials) interacts with and shapes local repertoires of love. These new forms of communication, I contend, are gendered and spatialised and patterned by the quotidian rhythms of work and life. Drawing on ethnographic research from Delhi, this paper aims to reflect on the implications of urban change on the intimate spheres of working lives.