The history of domestic servants and service in South Asia is an under-researched field. In spite of the ubiquity in both historical and contemporary periods, various strands of history writing – labour, economic, family, gender, and socio-cultural – have largely kept the servant invisible. The project ‘Domestic Servants in Colonial South Asia’ (DOS) is an attempt at two levels: one, to write the history of the servant-subaltern which is almost marginal in South Asian accounts, and second, through the history of servants rewrite the social, cultural and labour histories of South Asia. The project’s temporal scope is from the mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth century.
The set of objectives we want to attain through this project relate to three fields of inquiry. One, the relational nature of the term ‘servant’; second, the changing nature of the master/mistress-servant relationship; and third, to use a variety of sources to know about the formal and informal, and legal and customary forms of regulation. We start with the premise that if law, regulation, caste, gender, religion, and age structured the world of domestic work then everyday practices related to language, gesture, materials objects, dirt, filth, and not least, touch equally played a crucial role in the maintenance and possibilities of transgression in the master/mistress-servant relationship.
The project had started in October 2015. Mid-way with this blog now, we will keep updating our findings based preliminary ideas on the history of servants. These can be found under the section The Blog. Please also check our activities (past and forthcoming) under the section Output.