Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Johns Hopkins University
Legal Recognition and Domestic Workers’ Struggles in India and South Africa, 1950 - Present

Domestic workers’ organizations across the globe have rallied around the issue of legal recognition for improving this group of workers’ living and working conditions. However, as domestic workers in most countries are still striving for the basic legal recognition of their fundamental rights, domestic workers in a few countries, such as South Africa, have been living with comprehensive legal recognition for more than a decade. As the consensus on the necessity of legal recognition around domestic workers' movements gains prominence, my project asks: How does legal recognition (its presence or absence) shape domestic workers’ lives and struggles? I compare domestic workers’ struggles in South Africa, where domestic workers enjoy the most comprehensive coverage in labor laws in the world, with India, where domestic workers have little to no recognition in the legal realm. By contrasting the experiences of domestic workers’ politics in these two countries, my project sheds light on the issue of informal sector workers and the law in the developing world. Using archival sources, qualitative field interviews, and in-depth participant observation in the two countries, I contend that the existing writings have highlighted a one-sided role of the law, i.e., as a form of power that enhances workers’ capacity to negotiate better. By focusing on domestic workers’ struggles, I hypothesize that legal and institutional recognition constrains informal workers’ power by disciplining them and produces conformism among the workers’ organizations. I am applying for the IDRF to cover the South African phase of my research, as I have already secured funding for the Indian phase.