Domestic servants have always been, and continue to be, ubiquitous in the households of middle and upper income rural and urban South Asia. They are also strikingly visible in art forms: paintings, sculptures, photographs, cinema, plays, stories, etc. Yet, they remain absent from scholarly research with very few recent exceptions.
Domestic service was an important category of labour and social relationships in early modern and colonial India but the domestic servant has largely remained absent from historians’ accounts of South Asia. Servants’ Pasts, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century South Asia, Vol. 1, much like Vol. 2, covers a range of polities; it specifically explores the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, and provides untold accounts of the ideals and practices of master/mistress-servant relationships during that period.
Young and seasoned scholars from diverse backgrounds use various sources—stories, letters, ledges, visuals, biographies, chronicles, newspaper reports and legal injunctions—to unravel the complex relationships around service and servitude. Contract, loyalty, patronage, ethical concerns and not least, coercion—both affectionate and violent—mark the nature of this relationship.
Nitin Sinha is Senior Research Fellow, Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, and Principal Investigator of the European Research Council-funded project, ‘Domestic Servants in Colonial India’.
Nitin Varma is Fellow, Re: Work, IGK Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History, Berlin.
Pankaj Jha is Associate Professor, Lady Shri Ram College for Women.
List of Tables
List of Figures
Nitin Sinha, Nitin Varma and Pankaj Jha
Lineages of Servitude: Stray Thoughts about Servants in the ‘Ancient’ Past
I. SERVANTS AND SERVICE: EARLY MODERN
1. Domestic Service in Mughal South Asia: An Intertextual Study
Sajjad Alam Rizvi
2. Securing the Naukar: Caste and ‘Domestics’ in the Fifteenth-Century Mithila
3. Elite Households and Domestic Servants: Early Modern through Biographical Narratives (Seventeenth to Eighteenth Centuries)
4. The Invisible Lives of Davris and Badarans: Exploring Affiliations and ‘Friendships’ within the Janani Deorhi in Early Modern Marwar
5. Service, Sex and Sentiments: Concubinage in the Early Modern Rajput Household of Marwar
Theorising Service with Honour: Medieval and Early Modern (1300–1700) Responses to Servile Labour
II. SERVANTS AND SERVICE: EARLY COLONIAL
6. Beyond Work: The Social Lives and Relationships of Domestic Servants under Danish Rule in Colonial Bengal, c. 1800–50
7. Servants and Masters in Eighteenth-century Surat: Readings from a Colonial Archive
8. ‘Servant Problem’ and the ‘Social-Subaltern’ of Early Colonial Calcutta
Can Historians Speak? A Few Thoughts and Proposals on a Possible Global History of Domestic Service/Work
Notes on the Editors and Contributors