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Perverse Economies of Intimate and Personal Labour

Resuming Domestic Work in Households after the Lockdown

Pooja Satyogi

Abstract

In India, the ‘unlock’ period has allowed some domestic workers to return to work; this comes amidst government advisories of greater risk of contagion generally. Drawing on ethnographic work with women domestic workers in the city of Delhi, the article delineates how formalities of social distancing and mask-wearing have begun to inflect personalised labour relationships in ways that entrench existing hierarchies enabled by caste practices. This can be evidenced from a doubling of the idea of contagion – a culturally polluted person rendered even more pestilential because of contagion, but whose service/s are, nonetheless, needed to disinfect the space of the employer's home. With no data set available for assessing whether caste has been a variable in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, anthropology will have to take up the responsibility of demonstrating that the latter is indeed a social phenomenon.