Labouring Dance, Labouring Performance: Interdisciplinary Conversations on Erotic Dancing in India

July 2020 

Panel 1:  Historicizing Bar/Erotic Dancing in India 
Chair and moderator: Sutapa Majumdar, King’s College London, Dickson Poon School of Law Discussant:  Bishnupriya Dutt, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 

Public Lecture :
Liminal spaces in Indian cities and the consumption of sexual entertainment in India today 

Panel 2:  Feminist Discourse and the Political Economy of Bar/Erotic Dancing

Chair and moderator: Shakthi Nataraj, King’s College London, Dickson Poon School of Law 
Discussant: Davesh Soneji, University of Pennsylvania
Sujata Gothoskar, Feminist Activists, Mumbai 
Meena Gopal, Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai 
Brahma Prakash, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 
Anna Morcom, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music 
Sandhya Gokhale, FAOW, Mumbai  

Panel 3: The Legalities of Bar Dancing 

Chair and moderator:  Sophy, K.J, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London
Discussant: Prabha Kotiswaran, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London 
Veena Gowda, Advocate, Mumbai High Court 
Sameena Dalwai, Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana 
Katie Cruz, University of Bristol 
Kate Hardy, Leeds University 

Street, Footpath, Gated Community: Masculinity, Pornography and the Erotics of Tradition and Modernity

July 2020 – Public Lecture by Sanjay Srivastava 

This talk explores the relationship between urban spaces and the narratives of contemporary Indian pornography. The broader context of the discussion concerns relationships between new cultures of consumerism and space, changing class configurations, and narratives of sexual intimacy. In an earlier work, I have investigated the spatialized meanings inherent in what I referred to as ‘footpath pornography’: poorly produced and cheaply sold booklets available in most Indian cities. My concern with respect to the footpath pornography material was the circulation of meanings regarding intimacy that addressed the concerns and desires of the urban poor. In the present discussion, I position that concern alongside a different context, that of the sexual narratives that address the urban middle classes. In order to do this, I provide an ethnography of new spaces of residence and leisure which, though seemingly unconnected to sexuality, are, I suggest, vital to an understanding of contemporary sexual modernity. Through juxtaposing the footpath material with the internet based ‘Savita Bhabhi ’ (‘sister-in-law Savita’) comic, I explore the key differences in the manner in which notions of the ‘erotic’ play out across different registers of class and the ways in which ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ becomes sites of male desire. The discussion seeks to connect the economies of desire with varying political economies of the city so as to both sexualize political economy and politicize libidinal ones.

Precarious Pasts, Emancipatory Futures: Interdisciplinary Conversations on Sex Work in India

July 22 – 24 2020 

In July 2020, we at the Laws of Social Reproduction Project held a three-day interdisciplinary workshop on the state of sex work-related research and mobilisation in India. The workshop had an exciting range of panellists from activist, legal and academic backgrounds, and included panels on the state of the Indian sex workers’ movement, intersections of caste identity and sex work, the political economy of sex work, mobilisation and advocacy, and the challenges of countering anti-trafficking and neo-abolitionist organizations. 

Diverse Trajectories, Resilient Struggles: Taking Stock of the Indian Sex Workers’ Movement 

In the past decade, the question of sex workers’ rights in India has grown ever-more fraught, provoking  heated  debates  amongst  feminists  about  both  the  emancipatory  possibilities  and limits of recognizing sex work as “work”. Sex worker-led collectives (VAMP, DMSC, NNSW, and AINSW) and materialist feminists have long argued that sex work should be considered work, meriting greater legal protection and a recognition of women’s economic agency. They argue that millions of migrant workers, mostly women, find sex work to be a better livelihood option than other kinds of precarious labour. On the other hand, abolitionist groups in India such as Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Prajwala, and Shakthi Vahini are gaining ever-more influence, joined  by  global  anti-trafficking activists  and  governance  feminists  who conflate  all  sex  work with “modern slavery” and “trafficking”. Anti-caste activists and dalit feminists have offered a critical third perspective, arguing that when sex work is performed as a caste-based practice, legitimizing it as “work” might implicitly endorse caste domination.  

Paid Domestic Work as “Decent Work”: Inter-Disciplinary – Conversations in the Indian Context

18 – 20th August 2020 

Visibility and Value at Work First Annual Lecture on the Laws of Social Reproduction

18th August 2020 – Professor Kerry Rittich

Feminists have long troubled the status of reproductive work, arguing for the recognition of its value and the sharing of its burdens. International initiatives like the new ILO Domestic Workers’ Convention seek to de-exceptionalize domestic work by giving presence, voice and power to millions of ‘invisible’ workers, while support for unpaid work is now identified as a target of the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet the simultaneous endorsement of policies and practices of market entrepreneurialism, favoured to advance development and gender empowerment, risks intensifying distinctions between paid and unpaid workers, along with the economic and political inequality that travels with it.  

In this context, we need to shift our gaze to how differences between productive and reproductive work are made and maintained. Here, I discuss four ways to think about legal rules: as behavioural incentives; as devices to allocate resources, risks and powers; as tools to (re)shape the domains of home and work; and as norms that legitimate hierarchical social and economic arrangements. Examining law in this way reveals how the flow of risks and resources, burdens and benefits is organized across home and market and provides a window on the mechanisms by which productive and reproductive work are distinguished, shaped and valued. 

Making a wide range of economic as well as social laws and policies visible as part of the law of social reproduction, this legal analysis provides a bridge to the work of activists and scholars in other disciplines and helps identify perils and chart future possibilities for those engaged simultaneously in unpaid and market work.

Troubling Gifts: Revisiting the Indian ART and Surrogacy Bills

October 2020 


Since the 1970s, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have offered a unique opportunity for millions of infertile individuals and couples around the world to complete their families. However, ART and related processes like surrogacy give rise to a range of legal and ethical issues that require thoughtful consideration particularly by policy makers. Although proposed legislation has been on the anvil for more than 15 years now, the Indian regulatory framework on ARTs and surrogacy consists of a patchwork of laws and regulations which fails to protect the most vulnerable actors in the ART sector. Medical guidelines issued by the Indian Council for Medical Research in 2005 were fairly liberal but subsequent laws like the ART Bills, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014 have become progressively limited and exclusionary. These legislative processes now appear to be culminating with the imminent passage of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, which is currently pending before the Rajya Sabha after having been reviewed by two parliamentary committees. 

India’s First National Time-Use Survey 2019: Critical Perspectives

November 2020 

Women in India spend up to 352 minutes per day on domestic work which is 577 per cent more than men (52 minutes) (OECD). Making women’s “invisible” unpaid work “visible” through the use of Time-Use Survey (TUS) is one of the most effective ways to highlight the unequal distribution of unpaid work and women’s significant contribution to the national economy. India’s first national TUS 2019, an era long gap of 20 years, confirms the data on gender disparity in unpaid work. Coinciding with the Time Use Week 2020, the webinar will focus on the importance of time-use survey data for the analysis of the unequal gender distribution of paid and unpaid work and initiate discussion on the key findings, methodological strengths and weaknesses, and legal and policy implications of the TUS 2019. Also, the webinar will contemplate on the agenda for research and advocacy on time use and on engendering data systems in the Global South.

Surrogacy as Reproductive Labour – Shifting Registers of Recognition

11th December 2020 

We approach surrogacy through the lens of social reproduction alongside our study of other forms of women’s reproductive labour including sex work, erotic dancing, paid domestic work and unpaid domestic work. As materialist feminists theorising surrogacy in these terms, participants debated how we might understand the continuum of Indian feminist positions on surrogacy given anti-caste and queer feminist critiques of the ART market and the heteronormative family form, respectively. What are the possibilities for reimagining an agenda for reproductive justice and activating and enhancing the subversive potential of ARTs and surrogacy? Scholars further explored the impact of surrogacy bans and the mitigation strategies used by stakeholders to deal with the uncertainty of existing and proposed bans of commercial surrogacy. In particular, we discussed the reduced enthusiasm for mobilisation and bargaining in the wake of the ban on transnational surrogacy and how this might be reversed including through transnational linkages and solidarities.

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. 

Care work without care workers: The vulnerability of India’s women community health volunteers

Jan 2021 

How does volunteerism shape the experience of paid care workers in the state? Vrind Marwah discusses vulnerabilities and new ways in which the devaluation of care is being institutionalized, and care as a gendered practice is being naturalized.

Speaker: Vrinda Marwah, University of Texas, Austin

Debates For and Against Wages for Housework

6th March 2021  

Indian women spend a disproportionately high number of daily hours on unpaid domestic and care work when compared with Indian men, making such work highly gendered and unequally distributed. An election promise by Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Majam to pay housewives a monthly wage has sparked a national debate over salaries for housewives. The debate will discuss the pros and cons of wages for housework.