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Women and Maids : Perceptions of domestic workers, house work and class among young, progressive, middle-to-upper class women in Delhi

Harju, Otso (2016) ACET35
Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University
Abstract
This thesis analyses ten indepth interviews on domestic workers, class and gender roles with ten young, politically inclined and often adamantly feminist women towards the upper end of the Indian class spectrum. It aims to deepen the understanding of employerworker relations and gendered domestic roles in contemporary Indian households. Previous literature on the middletoupper class employers of domestic workers in the subcontinent has tended to emphasize the uncritical attitude most exhibit towards their employment practices. Distance from physical domestic work has been noted as a key site of class distinction, and a commonality for the otherwise fractured ‘middle’ classes. The maid is hired for the reproduction of not just everyday life... (More)
This thesis analyses ten indepth interviews on domestic workers, class and gender roles with ten young, politically inclined and often adamantly feminist women towards the upper end of the Indian class spectrum. It aims to deepen the understanding of employerworker relations and gendered domestic roles in contemporary Indian households. Previous literature on the middletoupper class employers of domestic workers in the subcontinent has tended to emphasize the uncritical attitude most exhibit towards their employment practices. Distance from physical domestic work has been noted as a key site of class distinction, and a commonality for the otherwise fractured ‘middle’ classes. The maid is hired for the reproduction of not just everyday life but, importantly, of class. Further, since Indian men are largely removed from the sphere of domestic work, and the domestic workers are mostly women, the problems around maids have come to be seen as socially secondrate ‘women’s issues’. In India, maids play a central role in the ageold issues around reproductive labor.

My findings corroborate previous research and also go on to provide a perspective of potential change. Far from just accepting what has been termed an Indian “culture of servitude”, my interviewees exhibit a deep reflexivity and often highly critical attitude towards the idea of employing maids, as well as towards the domestic assumptions put on themselves. Generational change, desire for democratization, and increasing expectations on male partners are central themes in my participants’ discussions. At the same time, the interviewees also display an often anxious ambiguity as to whether or not they are able to resist social and parental pressures, and to live up to their own ideals. My findings emphasize the existence of a critical, progressive, highly selfreflexive yet often politically pragmatic twentysomethingyearold, largely overlooked in discussions on the “new Indian woman”. (Less)
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author
Harju, Otso
supervisor
organization
course
ACET35
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
Domestic workers, Delhi, Class, Gender roles, Reflexivity, Social change, Family, India
language
English
id
8891565
date added to LUP
2016-09-13 11:05:39
date last changed
2016-09-13 11:05:39
@misc{8891565,
  abstract     = {This thesis analyses ten indepth interviews on domestic workers, class and gender roles with ten young, politically inclined and often adamantly feminist women towards the upper end of the Indian class spectrum. It aims to deepen the understanding of employerworker relations and gendered domestic roles in contemporary Indian households. Previous literature on the middletoupper class employers of domestic workers in the subcontinent has tended to emphasize the uncritical attitude most exhibit towards their employment practices. Distance from physical domestic work has been noted as a key site of class distinction, and a commonality for the otherwise fractured ‘middle’ classes. The maid is hired for the reproduction of not just everyday life but, importantly, of class. Further, since Indian men are largely removed from the sphere of domestic work, and the domestic workers are mostly women, the problems around maids have come to be seen as socially secondrate ‘women’s issues’. In India, maids play a central role in the ageold issues around reproductive labor.

My findings corroborate previous research and also go on to provide a perspective of potential change. Far from just accepting what has been termed an Indian “culture of servitude”, my interviewees exhibit a deep reflexivity and often highly critical attitude towards the idea of employing maids, as well as towards the domestic assumptions put on themselves. Generational change, desire for democratization, and increasing expectations on male partners are central themes in my participants’ discussions. At the same time, the interviewees also display an often anxious ambiguity as to whether or not they are able to resist social and parental pressures, and to live up to their own ideals. My findings emphasize the existence of a critical, progressive, highly selfreflexive yet often politically pragmatic twentysomethingyearold, largely overlooked in discussions on the “new Indian woman”.},
  author       = {Harju, Otso},
  keyword      = {Domestic workers,Delhi,Class,Gender roles,Reflexivity,Social change,Family,India},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Women and Maids : Perceptions of domestic workers, house work and class among young, progressive, middle-to-upper class women in Delhi},
  year         = {2016},
}