The household workers of the East India Company ports of pre-colonial Bengal

Journal Article (Review;Journal)

This article examines the various experiences of slavery and freedom of female household workers in the Dutch and English East India Company (VOC and EIC, respectively) ports in Bengal in the early eighteenth century. Enslaved household workers in Bengal came from various Asian societies dotting the Indian Ocean littoral. Once manumitted, they entered the fold of the free Christian or Portuguese communities of the settlements. The most common, if not the only, occupation of the women of these communities was household or caregiving labour. The patriarchy of the settlements was defined by the labour and subjection of these women. Yet, domestic service to VOC/EIC officials only partially explains their subjectivity. This article identifies the agency of enslaved and women of free Christian or Portuguese communities in their efforts to resist or bypass the institution of the European household in the settlements. These efforts ranged from murdering their slave masters to creating independent businesses to the formation of sexual liaisons and parental/fraternal/sororal relationships disregarding the approval or needs of their settlement masters.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Chakraborty, T

Published Date

  • April 1, 2019

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 64 / S27

Start / End Page

  • 71 - 93

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1469-512X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0020-8590

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/S0020859019000038

Citation Source

  • Scopus