skip to content

Cambridge Reproduction


I am a specialist in gender and labour in the nineteenth and twentieth century in India and the world.  My research spans four major themes pertaining to gender and labour in the modern world: (a) the making of the formal sector and its gendered character; (b) feminisation and informalisation; (c) migration, mobility and recruitment; and (d) marriage systems in relation to law and labour.  My early research, including my doctoral dissertation and the book following from it, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India (1999), addressed the first theme, which is the role of gender in the making of the formal sector.  Following this book, I have discussed (for instance in an article entitled ‘Gender and Class’ in Modern Asian Studies) how formalization and masculinization were coeval in the formation of the working class.  I seek to draw attention to the dynamic inter-relationship between the family-household and expanding markets in labour in early and colonial capitalism.  The second theme, feminisation and informalisation, is closely linked to the first and is explored in my second (co-authored) book, Domestic Days (2016), which is on domestic workers.  The book shows how in a segment of the market, servitude is eroding and there is a wider acceptance of contractual values.  The implication of this for terms and conditions of work as well as marriage, motherhood, education of children and social insurance has been explored.  I am working on a sequel to this book, focusing on migrant domestic workers.  I have also discussed informality in a number of articles, focusing on how, historically, processes of formalisation created feminised informality. The linkages I have established have emerged from two inter-related fields of research.  The first focuses on the changing nature of domestic labour, especially paid domestic labour and the second its historical entanglement with slavery, sex work and marriage (‘Slaves, Servants and Concubines’, 2018).  I have also been investigating the history of collective action in the context of paid domestic work and as a counterpoint I did some research on a para-legal and masculine trade in the transport sector.  I have two articles on this research.

I have addressed the question of migration more directly in the context of the Assam tea industry—a book is in the offing.  The fourth theme—the history of marriage-- has been a major entry point for a large corpus of my published articles.  These have connected migration and marriage and I hope to build on these to write the next book.  I have examined myriad interventions of the colonial state into the marriage system.  Some of this work resonates with the women’s question that travelled across the Empire in the nineteenth century.