The Working Women in Pre-Colonial Awadh (1750s–1850s)
1 January 2021 – 31 July 2021
Based on hitherto neglected and unexplored Urdu, Persian, and English sources, this research attempts to do a social history of women and work in pre-colonial Awadh (present-day Uttar Pradesh). It examines the world of women as domestic labourers and as employees of the state. By doing so, it disturbs various layers of our received understanding. Firstly, women workers were not just located in the entertainment, leisure, and sex work arena as tawaifs, randis and in more cultured engagements such as adab, mujra, poetry, or in the administration as powerful rulers. Secondly, sources used in this project indicate that female workers possessed varieties of skills and specialized knowledge to be recruited as domestic workers in royal and elite households and as artisans, trained soldiers, and spies in civil and military administration. This project will discuss the world of female domestic servants in Nawabi and elite households focusing on issues of master-servants relationship, servants’ relationship with master’s family, wage payment, and working hours. It will also explore the hierarchized world of labour that resists fitting in the modern homogenized category of the servant. By diffusing the workspace of women in this period, the study will see women as actively working in military regiments, espionage departments and other non-household occupations. Their role as active participants in the revolt of 1857, sometimes as leaders and sometimes as passive participants have been studied by scholars. But what is significant and missing is the existence and the making of these soldiers much before the revolt.
Heena received her PhD in History from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. Her thesis examined the rebel administration of Delhi during the revolt of 1857. Based on shikasta Urdu, Persian and English sources, the work examined rebels’ concept of administration and Delhiites’ experience of the rebel administration during the sudden abrupt of the power. Before this, she finished her MPhil from University of Delhi. For her dissertation, she studied and examined two Urdu weekly newspapers from Delhi (Dehli Urdu Akhbar) and Lucknow (Tilism-e-Lucknow) to understand the indigenous discourse of the revolt of 1857.