Rukmini Barua

TM 2: Intimacy and Dispossession: Working Lives in the Margins of Delhi

This project attempts to understand the transformation of the domestic worlds of Delhi’s contemporary working poor. Taking as its subject of inquiry not only the household unit but also the entire constellation of relationships that constitute intimate life, the project will trace the changing notions of the ‘domestic’, and intimate and conjugal life, through research conducted in north Delhi’s industrial neighbourhood of Wazirpur.

This project will be divided into two parts. The first explores the social constitution of the home in Wazirpur. Here we examine the various forms of domestic arrangements that emerge in a situation of precarious living. We trace the formation of the working class household (through marriage or other forms of co-habitation), while also taking into account social ties that the largely migrant workforce may retain with their villages. In particular, we examine how romance and courtship are played out in working class neighbourhoods. How are conjugal ties shaped by the performance of romance? In what ways do pre- and extra-marital relationships configure intimate lives? Given that a range of living arrangements exist in the area, I also focus on all male households and other spaces of male sociality, investigating the ways in which camaraderie, friendship and desire are articulated.

The second part of the proposed project explores the threats posed on the home. The broader movement towards precarity in Delhi has had an impact on the working class household. The possibilities of romance, the negotiations of marital life and the formation of a household assume a significantly different character when they take place under such precarious circumstances. The insecurity of work coupled with the ever-present threat of displacement poses another set of anxieties on domestic life. Through this project we attempt to understand: how has the experience of vulnerability shaped domestic life ? In what ways are normative gender roles destabilised or reinforced ? An overarching theme that is crucial to both aspects of our inquiry is the notion of social respectability and honour. The question of social honour is not only critical in the forging of marital or romantic relationships, but is also deeply tied to experiences of unemployment and eviction. Our investigations will be based mainly on oral narratives and life histories, and supported by archival research.

Rukmini Barua has completed her M.A. and M.Phil in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics of Delhi University. She has recently submitted her PhD thesis titled, “Power, Politics and Property: Workers’ Neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad, 1920s to 2000s,” at University of Goettingen. Her research interests include labour history, South Asian urban history, gender, masculinity and urban conflict.