Zohra Bibi's Case: Fragmented Cities and Precarious Livelihoods

Even though the outrage over the riot-like situation at Noida’s Mahagun Moderne gated complex—over the alleged maltreatment of a domestic worker, Zohra Bibi, by her employers— has died down, it is important to think about how the incident exposes the fault lines and tensions underlying urban life.

This incident not only highlights a class chasm, but also underscores the need to professionalise domestic work to ensure the safety of domestic workers. It is also, at its core, a story about how our cities are ordered by a logic of inequality and how this spatial hierarchy offers fractured and unequal citizenships to different occupants. 

How can we read Zohra Bibi’s story against a context of scholarly work on hierarchical citizenships, the precariousness of informal labour, and the propensity to build spaces of exclusion in our increasingly unequal cities? 

  • Sumanta Banerjee (2012) writes : “The “revanchist city” expresses a race/class/religious/gender hostility felt by sections of citizens against their neighbours. In almost all the major capitals and metropolises – cutting across developing and developed nations – there is an increasing onslaught on immigrants, marginalised slum-dwellers, religious minorities and women. In India as well, there is an increasing tendency to demonise the religious and ethnic minorities living in its metropolises, and showing an intolerance of different cultural lifestyles”


  • Thomas Cowan (2015) examines the fragmentary production and governance of Gurgaon, Haryana. Based on fieldwork carried out in 2012, it asserts an epistemology of the "exception" as the central mode of urban production in the city. To do so, the paper examines three spaces of Gurgaon: the workers' neighbourhood, the urban village and the gated colony. It discusses the manner in which citizens negotiate their inclusion or survival in the city and how, in this way, the contemporary city is a “battle space” of spatial ruptures.


Most of the woman workforce in India is employed in informal labour; many of them are domestic workers like Zohra Bibi. The following articles illustrate the debates on legislative protection for domestic workers and discuss the valuation of unpaid care and domestic labour performed by women in the household and the effect that has on wage rates; the everyday realities of performing this work and the need for professionalization of care work. 


  • Kamala Sankaran (2013) states that a comprehensive law for domestic workers in India covering all aspects of their working conditions is yet to come. However, the debate on legislative protection for domestic workers has focused unduly on labour laws and wage rates, ignoring the valuation of unpaid care and domestic labour performed by women in the household. The rights of women in matrimonial property are also overlooked.  


  • Sonia George (2013)  explains the processes involved in building "recognition" for domestic workers through the professionalisation of their work. The process is explained through the history of the organisation of Self Employed Women's Association-Kerala and locating within it the personal experiences of workers and service takers.


  • Nimushakavi Vasanthi (2011) argues that while domestic workers are covered by the legislative framework in many countries, in India they stand excluded from national legislations that deal with minimum wages, dispute settlement, conditions of work, social security and workplace injuries. This study draws upon the findings of a research project of the National Domestic Workers Movement that was conducted between February 2010 and February 2011. It sets out the definition of domestic work as a conceptual issue that is necessary for understanding domestic work and explores the constitutional and employment law framework and the challenges in legislating for this sector. It concludes with exploring ways of reducing the gap between law and practice.






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