Conversations on social reproduction: Extractive Masculinities: Value Chains and Relational Work in Indian Microfinance

Smitha Radhakrishnan, LuElla LaMer Professor of Women’s Studies, Professor of Sociology

Commercial microfinance in India, a subprime credit industry that lends to over 35 million working-class women at interest rates of 20 to 26 percent, has experienced unprecedented growth in the last decade. These profit-oriented microfinance institutions (MFIs), supported by financial inclusion policies, have funneled billions of dollars in loans to women borrowers previously constructed as uncreditworthy. In Making Women Pay (2022), Smitha Radhakrishnan argues that profit-oriented microfinance is best understood as an extractive industry reliant on the unpaid and underpaid labor of working-class women for the benefit of class and caste privileged men. As this labor is connected to relationships with frontline MFI workers, and eventually, financial capital, working class women become bearers of credit, even as the debt curbs their social and physical mobility. The widespread saturation of microfinance helps construct a new gendered reality in which millions of working-class women provide for their families through debt, while some working-class and upwardly mobile men can find secure livelihoods through MFI employment. Year after year, women MFI clients take ever-larger loans, while MFI workers and leaders, mostly men, enjoy social and economic mobility. The microfinance industry’s policies and practices thus sustain interlocking class and gender inequalities.This presentation, a brief overview of the book, will lay out the gendered value chains that structure India’s microfinance sector and then delve more specifically into the relational work between clients and loan officers that makes women creditworthy in India’s gendered financial ecosystem. Through successful relational work, loan officers and women together produce the high repayment rates and financial profits that keep the industry running in the face of intense structural constraints that women borrowers continue to face.

Conversations on social reproduction: Understanding Sex Work through the Lens of Caste and Gender

A conversation concerning the recent Supreme Court order in the Buddhadeb Karmaskar case recognising the right to dignity of sex workers. Several dalit, bahujan and adivasi feminists have disagreed with this framing of the Supreme Court on the issue of sex work. Hence we are bringing together sex workers from the All India Network of Sex Workers, academics and legal professionals working on caste and gender to discuss the SC’s order. This 90 minute Conversation will be moderated by Prof Sameena Dalwai.

  • -Retort 1 from Abhinaya Ramesh: ‘The initiating statement by Prabha Kotiswaran ,that ‘Dalit women are always sexually available’ does not give clear meaning but gives multiple meanings so it should not be there’.
  • Retort 2 from Abhinaya Kemble:  ‘Dr.  Ambedkar never said about the dalit women as sexual being for upper caste men; Samina’s translation, explanation and paraphrasing of my views misses the context of my articulation.   Her expression about the difference,  that upper caste women and Dalit women with their difference that upper caste are gharelu and Dalit women face sexual violence from Brahmin men, is not the context of my expressions’.
  • Retort 3 from Abhinaya Kemble:  ‘The summarisation may lead to a false impression that I disbelieve in the women in prostitution, actually  I am with them. I am against the system of exploitation, abuse and violence, and not those who are exploited and oppressed by these intersecting systems’.

Revaluing Unpaid Work
The Case of the Orunodoi Scheme
in Assam

The 2021 state assembly elections offered a unique and unexpected opportunity for the recognition of women’s unpaid domestic and care work through the promises of unconditional cash transfers. These cash transfers present feminists with a valuable opportunity to theorise the welfare state. This article uses primary data and in-depth interviews to evaluate one such scheme, namely the Orunodoi scheme in Assam.

Vengeance and Vulnerability: Gendered Embodiment and Indian Men’s Rights Activists

Some recent articles on masculinity, law, marriage and violence appear in anthologies including 50th
Anniversary Commemorative Volume of Contributions to Indian Sociology (2019) and Men and Feminism in
India (2018), and the journals Feminist Anthropology and QED. She is presently working on a monograph
about the antifeminist men’s rights movement in India, following fieldwork funded by a Fulbright-Nehru
Senior Fellowship, and during this summer, is a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Social
Anthropology at Halle (Saale). In 2022, she also started a new fieldwork project on private detectives in India,
funded by the National Endowment for Humanities and the American Institute for Indian Studies. She is the
President of the Association for Feminist Anthropology for 2021-23.

SC Order Grants Dignity To Sex Work But It Is Far From Being Decriminalised

New Delhi: The recent Supreme Court directives on guaranteeing sex workers dignity and constitutional freedoms still leaves some critical problem areas unaddressed and these can only be resolved when the profession is decriminalised, say activists and sex workers’ networks. Apart from the right to unionise, these gaps relate to the criminalisation of many activities relating to sex work under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (ITPA) – pimping, soliciting, maintaining and running a brothel, they said. 

Although voluntary sex work has never been illegal under Indian law, various associated activities essential for sex work are criminal offences under the ITPA. Also, owing to the social stigma associated with the profession, sex workers routinely face harrassment at the hands of both the police and the clients with no recourse to the criminal justice system hitherto. 

However, the directives are a significant step, sex workers groups agree. By exercising its power under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution, the court issued a series of directives to safeguard sex workers’ right to live and work with dignity.

The work of preparing for work: Education and skills training as social reproduction

Asiya Islam is Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations, University of Leeds
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Valuing women’s work: Towards a convergence of own-account, waged, and unpaid care and domestic work?


The work performed by women is varied. Most women work on own-account in unincorporated household/family enterprises in India, while those engaged in paid, waged work are fewer. In addition, women also perform long hours of unpaid work in care and domestic work within the home. Recognising and valuing such forms of work performed by women remains a challenge. Family law in India often ignores the unpaid contribution of the wife/mother to the household when dealing with division of property at the time of divorce or upon the death of a spouse. Labour law, too, has grappled with assigning a value to the care and domestic work performed by women within the household. I examine if there can be a harmonization and convergence of the principles governing the valuation of women’s work across different domains of the law in India.

The speaker

Professor (Dr.) Kamala Sankaran is currently a Professor at the Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, and has been teaching Constitutional Law, Jurisprudence and Labour Law.

Her research interests include constitutional law, international labour standards, and the regulation of work. Her recent books include Affirmative Action: A View from the Global South (Dupper and Sankaran eds.) (SunMedia, Stellenbosch, 2014) and Challenging the Legal Boundaries of Work Regulation (Fudge, McCrystal and Sankaran eds.) (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2012).

Professor Kamala Sankaran has previously served as the Vice Chancellor, Tamil Nadu National Law University at Tiruchirappalli. She has been a Fellow, Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, South Africa, Visiting South Asian Research Fellow, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, Oxford University, and a Visiting Scholar and recipient of the Fulbright Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at the Georgetown University Law Center, Washington D.C.

She is a member, International Advisory Board, International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations; member, Editorial Board, University of Oxford Human Rights Hub Journal, member Editorial Advisory Board, Indian Journal of Labour Economics, and has served as Editor of the Delhi Law Review.

The series

This social reproduction seminar series is part of the Laws of Social Reproduction project led by Prof. Prabha Kotiswaran, and based at King’s College London and IWWAGE Delhi. For more information about the project or to join the network, please email The Laws of Social Reproduction project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (under grant agreement No. 772946).

International Sex Workers’ Rights Day 2022

3rd March is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. This day’s history goes back to 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers of India gathered in Kolkata for a sex worker festival organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee strongly felt that sex workers should have a day which need to be observed by the sex workers’ community globally. Since then, sex worker communities across the world celebrate 3rd March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

For more than three decades, we have been working for the rights of sex workers. To make the movement successful across the country, the All India Network of Sex Workers was set up by Durbar with an aim of improving the overall development of the nearly one crore sex workers and their dependent families across India.

The sex workers and advocates around the world organize protests, gatherings, film screenings, art shows, and lectures to raise awareness about human rights abuses which sex workers faces in their day to day life.

Since we want social and legal recognition in the sex trade, we do not want any minor or unwilling adult to enter the profession. That is why we have so far managed to remove about 1500 minors and unwilling adolescents from this profession through Self-Regulatory Board. Like other work, sex work is also a work. Durbar has developed networks with various labor organizations in India.

In 8th May 2021, our beloved Sir, Dr. Smarajit Jana, the founder of Durbar, has left us. However, he has taught us to fight and protest against injustice and to live with dignity. We will take our movement forward.

Our demands:

  • To change the provisions of the law in ITPA which is against the interests of sex workers.
  • To recognize sex work as work and include sex workers in labour law.
  • To recognize Self-Regulatory Board for prevention of trafficking at state and central level and provide financial grants through government departments for its expansion.
  • Stop extortion, snatching and police brutality in sex villages.

Today, on this special day, we oath to stop any unjust violence surrounding this profession. From 3rd March to 8th March 2022, we are uniting to establish equal rights for women of all walks of life, including sex workers, through various programs in all Red Light Districts of West Bengal, Kolkata. More than 65,000 sex workers and their children are working together to establish equal rights for women at all levels of society through various programs. By removing the boundaries of good and bad women, we want all women should have the same identity, they are just women.

You too can join us in this movement and strengthen our hands and fight against the oppression and injustice of sex workers.

Reframing the contemporary child marriage debate – Lessons from India

Recent legislative developments on child marriage in India come at a time when the national data shows declining prevalence and a shift from child to early marriage. Evidence indicates that poverty and insecurity within patriarchal contexts are the main drivers of early marriage, a fact corroborated by the reported spike in child and early marriage under continuing Covid pandemic. In wake of economic distress, job losses, closure of schools and complete suspension of learning for girls without digital means, the numbers of those in poverty have only increased. Such developments add to the urgency of addressing the underlying conditions that exacerbate the vulnerability of girls to early marriage. Yet, precisely at this juncture, the proposal to raise the marriage age of girls from 18 to 21 years is made.

Drawing on the studies by Partners for Law in Development (PLD) in its series on child marriage and adolescent sexuality, as well as the collaborative work of the National Coalition Advocating for Adolescent Concerns (NCAAC) and the wider civil society mobilization in India, the presentation traces the dangers of static child marriage narratives that obscure complex trends, and underplay the role of structural drivers. In national and global policy framing, child marriage discourse increasingly prioritises punitive legislative responses, without equal urgency placed on provisioning of opportunities and resources that expand life choices for girls from marginalized populations. In India and elsewhere, the emphasis on ‘age’ centric outcomes, propel deterrence measures that delay marriage, while diverting attention from welfare obligations to deliver quality education, health care, skill building and livelihood; as well as, safety, mobility, for girls, which are ultimately transformatory. The presentation outlines how the focus on punitive law obscures multiple intersecting concerns as well as structural drivers; it disempowers the young, rendering them more vulnerable to harm.

Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice

Abstract: Skimmed tells the story of the first recorded identical Black quadruplets, born in 1946 to Annie Mae Fultz, a Black-Cherokee woman who lost her ability to hear and speak in childhood and Pete Fultz, a tenant farmer in North Carolina. Annie Mae’s white doctor named the sisters after his relatives then auctioned off the rights to use them in marketing materials to the highest bidding formula company. The girls lived their entire lives in poverty, while Pet Milk’s profits from a previously untapped market of Black families skyrocketed. Jumping off from the Fultz sisters’ story, Skimmed analyzes why Black women in the U.S. have the lowest rates of breastfeeding. It explores how legal, political, and societal factors lead to ‘first food’ oppression.