Engaging with Dalit- Bahujan perspectives on work and labour in paid domestic work

December 2020
Lotika Singha, University of Wolverhampton 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how India’s caste system remains entrenched in everyday life, with many domestic workers being treated as a ‘necessary threat’. It is widely agreed that regulation of domestic work from a labour rights’ perspective is crucial to ensure dignity of the workers. However, domestic workers’ dignity is also contingent on cultural understandings of domestic work in terms of caste, class, gender and ethnicity. In the dominant colonial master/patron–servant/slave, Marxist feminist and gendered frameworks of paid domestic work in India, the Brahaminical cultural construction of domestic work as low-value and demeaning is recognised. However, the Dalit–Bahujan knowledge systems, which have challenged the casteist mental/manual and purity/pollution binaries have received little attention. Drawing on Dalit–Bahujan perspectives and a cross-cultural analysis of paid-for domestic cleaning in two particular social contexts, one in the UK and one in India, I will argue that a labour rights’ perspective may be more effective in ensuring workers’ dignity when the casteised meanings of manual work are simultaneously. 

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