This essay presents a social history of power relations between domestic workers and their employers by examining the representations of servants in a wide array of Hindi print literature, including didactic manuals, popular magazines, reformist writings and cartoons, in the early twentieth-century North India. Exploring possibilities within repertoires of representation, it navigates how a contentious discourse around servant and employer developed in the Hindi print sphere. The essay links the portrayal of servants with changing class, caste and religious dynamics, in which print intersected with material circumstances to shape the hierarchical relationship between servants and employers. While imaging ‘ideal’ servants, the Hindi vernacular was also infused with their negative counterparts and anxieties around personal interactions between mistresses and servants, taking its cue from quotidian life and caste–community relations of the time. Increasing assertion by Dalits and growing antagonism between Hindus and Muslims left its imprints on portrayals of subordinate-caste and Muslim servants by dominant castes and classes. The vernacular straddled these domains of distance/desire and hate/love in the servant–employer relationship.
Studies in History – SAGE
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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