Caste as a Framework to Study Domestic Labour: A Comparative Law Perspective

  • Sameena Dalwai


I was at a friend’s wedding in Hyderabad. Amidst the food and frolic, sarees and jewelry, I noticed a teenage girl loitering on the periphery of the celebrations. She was neatly dressed, yet looked poor. She was not a child- as she did not run around with other kids. She was not a guest- she did not chat or eat sweets. She was not a family member, nor a servant of the family- she did not seem busy. Who is this girl? I asked. I was told she has come to ‘help’ in the wedding. “It is a tradition in our village that the Golla (Shepherd) community send one person to assist in celebrations in the homes of Reddy landlords. Since no adult was available or could be off work, this girl was sent. She goes to school, to 7th standard.” An archaic caste practice had turned a school going girl into a domestic servant for the weekend. What was this girl’s legal status? She was not labour as she has no labour contract, terms of work, modes of payment. She was hoisted into an alien environment as ‘something that has no name’. It is this obscure location in which caste connects to domestic labour. The ambiguity of status and location makes it impossible to position it within the legal system. This paper will find the connection between caste and domestic labour: not only do they both exist in the sphere of social normativity and are underrepresented in law but also caste normativity, entitlements, labour relations inform and influence the domestic laour situation in India. The theoretical framework will expound on the concept of ‘caste as extraction of labour’, use of free labour as an upper caste entitlement that has continued into the market and urban sphere. The last section will review how this reality gets reflected in law. I shall visit the Indian case law to analyze how law has dealt with domestic labour and compared them with the UK Employment Tribunal Judgement in 2014 that decreed caste as ‘ethnicity’ under the Equality Act 2010.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sameena Dalwai
    • 1
  1. 1.Jindal Global Law SchoolO.P. Jindal Global UniversitySonipatIndia

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