Sixth Lecture in the series on Migration at Patna Centre, TISS: Gender and Migration: A Post-colonial View


Date: Dec. 13, 2016

Venue: Jagjivan Ram Institute of Parliamentary Studies and Political Research, 10, Mangles Road (near State Election Commission’s Office)

Speaker: Prof. Samita Sen, Director, School of Women Studies, Jadavpur University and former Vice-Chancellor, Diamond Harbour Women’s University

Abstract: The title of the paper is meant to signal an engagement with patterns of mobility in the colonial period to understand women’s migration today in the specific context of domestic work. This is drawn from a research project funded by RLS conducted at the School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, from 2013-2015. A total of 135 domestic workers were interviewed. There were also 25 sex workers, NGOs, trade union activists and government officers interviewed for the project.

We speak of three kinds of migration in the colonial period‑ (a) family migration (b) single male migration and (c) single female migration. Even though family migration was considered the typical form of migration, the literature is dominated by the specificities of single male migration – most characteristic of rural-urban migration, which constituted the urban and industrial workforce.

The single female migration for this period that we have noted so far was quite different. In their case, they were not only migrating singly but also mostly ‘single women’. These women were dis-embedded from the rural family. In my earlier work, I have argued that they were more truly proletarianised in the sense that they lost access to rural resources, which were contingent upon familial role fulfilment. In the paper I will describe from the migration histories we have gathered in the contemporary context of West Bengal, focusing primarily on women domestic workers, who are migrants from south 24 Parganas to Kolkata (79 respondents), new patterns of women’s migration. The real surprise in these patterns is a form of single women’s migration analogous to single male migration of the colonial period.

Organised by: Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Patna Centre. Jagjivan Ram Institute of Parliamentary Studies and Political Research History Department, Patna University

About the Speaker: Professor Samita Sen is at present Director at the School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. She served as Director between 2006 and 2013 and briefly as Vice Chancellor, Diamond Harbour Women’s University. Her monograph on women’s employment in the jute industry in colonial Bengal was published in 1999 and won the Trevor Reese Prize in Commonwealth History. She is at present working on women’s migration in relation to tea and overseas plantations. Her current research also includes domestic workers and auto-rickshaw drivers in Kolkata. Her various research publications include issues such as education, the women’s movement, marriage, domestic violence, domestic workers, women in governance and women’s land rights. Her recent publications include jointly written Domestic Days (OUP, Delhi, 2016) and Passage to Bondage (Stree, 2016). She has jointly edited volumes Intimate Others (Stree, 2010) and Mapping the Field (Stree 2011). She is a member of a Calcutta-based voluntary women’s association, Sachetana, since 1983. She is also a member of the Governing Body of the Mahanirvan Calcutta Research Group. She was General Secretary to the Indian Association of Women’s Studies and is a member of the Association of Indian Labour Historians.

Lecture Series on Migration: We live in the ‘Age of Migration’. Though migration is an old phenomenon, actively promoted by the Colonial State, It was after the advent of liberalisation and integration of markets that migration has accelerated and diversified exponentially. This has made migration a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon. The lectures under the series would try to explore these complexities by looking into the relationship between migration and labour processes, globalisation and liberalisation, partition, climate change, gender, citizenship, urbanisation, state policies, violence, and social justice. A couple of lectures would also discuss folk literature as an epistemic source to understand migration.

TISS in Patna: The Centre for Development Practice and Research is a Patna-based centre of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The Centre has been established, with support from the Takshila Educational Society, with the objective to pursue research and publication, limited teaching and direct extension work in the community. Presently, the Centre is engaged in research on migration, school education and caste-based practices. It has initiated a lecture series on Migration and will be conducting a seven-day orientation course on Migration from February 20 to 26, 2017. For details, visit: