Gods, Gurus, Prophets and the Poor: Exploring Informal, Interfaith Exchanges among Working Class Female Workers in an Indian City

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This article revolves around the narratives of Sabita (Muslim), Radha (Hindu) and Sharleen (Christian), migrant women in their mid-forties, who have been working as maids, cooks and cleaners in middle-class housing colonies in Kolkata, a city in eastern India. Informal understandings of gendered oppressions across religious traditions often dominate the conversations of the three working-class women. Like many labourers from slums and lower-class neighbourhoods, they meet and debate religious concerns in informal ‘resting places’ (under a tree, on a park bench, at a tea stall, on a train, at a corner of a railway platform). These anonymous spaces are usually devoid of religious symbols, as well as any moral surveillance of women’s colloquial abuse of male dominance in society. I show how the anecdotes of struggle, culled across multiple religious practices, intersect with the shared existential realities of these urban workers. They temporarily empower female members of the informal workforce in the city, to create loosely defined gendered solidarities in the face of patriarchal authority, and reflect on daily discrimination against economically marginalised migrant women. I argue that these fleeting urban rituals underline the more vital role of (what I describe as) poor people’s ‘casual philosophies’, in enhancing empathy and dialogue between communities that are characterised by political tensions in India.
Original languageEnglish
Article number531
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1-13
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2019

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