Sociology Current

Invisible Labor: Sociological Perspectives on Domestic Workers in India

Invisible Labor: Sociological Perspectives on Domestic Workers in India

Published on:
04 Nov 2023

Written by:
Pranay Aggarwal

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Why in news?

  • Union Ministry for Labour and Employment flagged off the first ever All India Survey on Domestic Workers.

  • Introduction:

    Domestic work occupies a significant place in the Indian society, yet it remains an underexplored and undervalued sector. This article aims to delve into the sociological dimensions of domestic work in India.

    Defining Domestic Work:

    Domestic work encompasses a range of tasks performed within households, including cleaning, cooking, childcare, and elderly care. It often involves intimate and personal interactions, blurring the boundaries between work and family. However, domestic work is typically characterized by a lack of legal protection, low wages, long hours, and a marginal status within the labor market.

    Understanding Domestic Work from a Sociological Perspective:

    Sociologists analyze domestic work through various theoretical frameworks, such as gendered division of labor, intersectionality, and social reproduction theory. These concepts help unravel the social inequalities, power dynamics, and structural factors that shape the experiences of domestic workers in India.

    Gendered Division of Labor: Domestic work has long been assigned to women, reflecting deep-rooted gender norms and expectations. The concept of gendered division of labor highlights how society assigns specific roles and responsibilities based on gender, perpetuating gender inequalities within households and the wider society.

    Intersectionality: Domestic work intersects with various dimensions of inequality, including gender, caste, and class. The intersectional lens emphasizes that domestic workers face multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization, with different groups experiencing distinct challenges and vulnerabilities.

    Social Reproduction Theory: Domestic work plays a crucial role in sustaining and reproducing the labor force by providing care, nurturing relationships, and maintaining households. The social reproduction theory examines how unpaid domestic work supports and enables productive activities in the economy, often at the expense of the well-being and autonomy of domestic workers.

    Sociologists in India and outside have made significant contributions to the study of domestic work in India, shedding light on the realities faced by domestic workers and advocating for their rights. In their book Cultures of Servitude: Modernity, Domesticity, and Class in India; Raka Ray and Seemin Qayum provide a comprehensive analysis of the social structure of domestic service in Indian cities. Their work emphasizes the exploitative nature of domestic work and the need for legal protections and social recognition. Gopi D. Tripathy, Anurita Jalan and Mala Kapur in their book Sociological Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic in India point out that Covid-19 lockdowns made domestic workers vulnerable as they found themselves without work. Women Domestic Workers and Their Family Life by Dr. A.G. Khan and Dr. Ramadevi. K. explores the exploitation of domestic workers by placement agencies that lure workers from rural areas to the cities promising lucrative salary and benefits. Most women belong to vulnerable communities, lower caste and ethnic minorities.

    Experiences and Challenges:

    Domestic workers in India face a multitude of challenges, including low wages, long working hours, lack of social security, and limited access to education and healthcare. They often encounter instances of abuse, exploitation, and discrimination. Additionally, domestic work is predominantly performed by marginalized groups, including Dalits, Adivasis, and women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, exacerbating social inequalities.

    Statistics and Policy Interventions:

    Statistics on domestic workers in India reveal the magnitude of this sector and the urgent need for comprehensive policy interventions. According to the National Sample Survey, there were approximately 4.75 million domestic workers in India in 2011-2012, but the actual numbers are likely higher due to underreporting. Out of the 4.75 million, around 3 million are women.

    In India; the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 has been enacted for providing social security to all unorganized workers including domestic workers. The Act provides formulation of social security schemes viz life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits old age protection. The State Governments are mandated under the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 to formulate suitable welfare schemes for the unorganized sector workers including domestic workers relating to provident fund, employment injury benefits housing, education schemes for children, skill up gradation of workers, financial assistance old age homes. However, its implementation and effectiveness remain key challenges. State governments of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerela, Odisha, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Tripura have included domestic workers in the schedule of Minimum Wages Act.


    Domestic workers form an essential part of the Indian society, yet their contributions often go unrecognized and undervalued. Sociological research plays a crucial role in bringing their struggles to the forefront, challenging existing power dynamics, and advocating for policy reforms. By employing sociological concepts and drawing upon the works of Indian sociologists, we gain a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding domestic work in India. It is imperative to recognize the rights and dignity of domestic workers, ensuring fair wages, social protection, and avenues for their empowerment. Only through concerted efforts can we strive towards a more just and inclusive society where the labor of domestic workers is acknowledged and valued.