ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gender in Contemporary Kerala

Scholarship on women and gender in Kerala took a turn in the 1990s, in the wake of economic liberalisation, the debates generated by the anti-Mandal agitation and the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and importantly, the erosion of leftist hegemony, accelerated by, among other things, the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and “actually existing” socialism.

Struggling against Gendered Precarity in Kathikudam, Kerala

Drawing on the struggles of the Nitta Gelatin India Limited Action Council at Kathikudam in Kerala, this article critically expands on Guy Standing's notion of the global precariat. Using feminist work on the politics of waste, it argues that gendered precariousness is produced through human-as-waste conditions besides underscoring the importance of understanding it as a lived and felt process of precarity-in-the-making. This process not only shapes gendered experiences of precariousness wrought by environmental degradation but also informs sociopolitical struggles against precariousness and for social memory and belonging. It argues that these spaces of political struggle often also produce gendered contradictions and specific gendered divisions of labour within their political praxis.

Attukal Pongala: Youth Clubs, Neighbourhood Groups and Masculine Performance of Religiosity

This article unravels the complex narratives which might counter the popular perception of the pongala festival as an "all-women space". The all-male groupings that have sprung up in and around the Attukal Bhagavathy temple during the festival and their participation in the ritual are examined closely. An analysis of the film Vedivazhipadu, which is set against the backdrop of the festival, also incisively questions the taken-for-granted "purity" of the ritual and its nature as a hyper-feminine space.

Child Marriage in Late Travancore

An examination of the child marriage system in Travancore - a princely state in Kerala before Independence - in the 1930s and 1940s finds that advocacy of child marriage has not been limited to communities considered traditional. There were gendered, community-based, official, unofficial, and popular ideas about children in the context of marriage and out of the competing official discourses on gender and modernity in Travancore, the one related to Christianity eventually became dominant. It presents the layers of discourses related to gender and child marriage: an official one in census reports, another in mid-level legal discussions, and a third more popular view. It discusses official presentations about gender relations as found in census reports in which concepts of modernity and civilisation are crucial and also an account of debates in the Travancore Legislative Council about child marriage in the 1930s. It also reviews a large number of cases involving dialogues between citizens and civil servants.

You Are Woman

Malayalam cinema's constructs of femininity offer interesting insights into economies of gender in contemporary Kerala. Female self-fashioning in films has overwhelmingly centred around valorising a normative femininity, defined here as a femininity that privileges motherhood and the moral upbringing of the Malayalee nation through a moral submission to patriarchy. Agential roles for female protagonists are rare; the convention is to "punish" within the narrative female refusal of normative femininity. Three films, Trivandrum Lodge (2012), Gaddama (2011) and 22 Female Kottayam (2012), are read as challenging this edging out of the "woman question" through their naturalisation of female protagonists' habitation of spheres other than the private/domestic. In the process they question the normalisation of discourses of reproductiveheteronormativity and nationalist purity through women.

Towards Recognition through Professionalisation

While discussing the existing scenario of domestic workers in Kerala, this paper 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. The institutional setting of SEWA was fundamental in creating spaces for negotiation in terms of work regularity, decent wages, safe work conditions and social security.

Living in Domesti-City

There are two issues in this article that have come to light after its publication and need to be brought to the attention of readers. One, material for the case studies of migrant workers presented in the sections, “Delhi as Destination: Accounts” and “Testimonies and Experience” (pp 51-53) had been collected in 2006 by the author from a village in Simdega district of Jharkhand for the project “Gender Differences in Migration Opportunities: Implications on Educational Choices and Outcomes (2005-07)”, which was led by Nitya Rao and Janet Seeley. The material was used in the EPW paper without permission from the project leaders and without acknowledgement of the project. Two, the EPW paper is an analysis based on a primary fi eld survey carried out by the author in a village in Gumla district of Jharkhand. However, the case studies are from a village in Simdega district. This fact was not mentioned in the paper and will lead readers to wrongly believe that the case studies are from the village in Gumla district. The author and EPW apologise for these errors. This paper examines migration for live-in domestic work from Jharkhand through a multi-method approach. Gumla district, one of the major source areas, scores very low on development indicators and witnesses high levels of female outmigration throughout the year. Looking at data on educational levels, migration processes and social relations at the village level, the confluence of factors based on tribe, gender, religion and education that perpetuates trends of migration for live-in domestic work from the region are highlighted.

Bargaining over Wages

Focusing on wage determination, this paper looks at the various economic, social and cultural dimensions that enter the calculation of the wage and bargaining around it. Given the specificity of paid domestic work in urban employment, this study argues that both the supply of labour and negotiation of the wage are as much influenced by ideologies of feminine domesticity, performance of work in familial spaces and the social construction of skill, on the one hand, as by competition and lack of alternative opportunities and social security, on the other. In exploring the process of bargaining, it critically examines the role of recruitment agencies and unionisation. While the former becomes simply a "middleman", the latter moves at a slow pace caught between the dual role of organiser and employer.

Minimum Wages for Domestic Work

Apart from labour market issues that govern legislative interventions, a critical factor in understanding the responses of the state to the issues domestic workers face is the social understanding of household work. Minimum wages for domestic workers in the few states where it is mandated are among the lowest in the informal sector, reflecting the undervaluation of housework even when it enters the market. Better statutory minimum wages for domestic workers would not only help protect their rights, but could also shake the social and political foundations of household work, leading to a new valuation of it.

Housing, Homes and Domestic Work

Drawing from a study of work and livelihoods in Kannagi Nagar, Chennai's largest resettlement site, this paper reflects on paid domestic work as one among a limited range of occupations available to unskilled women workers in urban areas. It takes a spatial approach to analysing markets for urban domestic work, where issues of location, distance, travel, and timings are found to determine the opportunities for employment. In addition, it looks at domestic work against the background of larger employment markets for low-skilled female workers, and the range of options and preferences that frame it.

Organising Domestic Workers in Pune City

This paper traces the development of the Pune Zilla Ghar Kamgar Sanghatana and the strategies it adopted to create worker consciousness among domestic workers. It also examines the nature of the demand for and supply of paid domestic work in Pune, besides discussing the plight of these workers. Further, in recent years, state policies have made formal commitments to worker welfare without actually providing anything substantive to domestic workers.

Domestic Work, Unpaid Work and Wage Rates

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. A consequence of such a lack of recognition of unpaid labour is the effect it has on determination of wage rates for domestic work.


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