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Sinha, Nitin

Genealogies of “Verification”

Policing the Master–Servant Relationship in Colonial and Postcolonial India

Cambridge University Press, 2021
Serie: Special Theme: Regulation and Domestic Service in Colonial Histories 1

International Review of Social History, 67, 1

p. 9-41


Police verification of domestic servants has become standard practice in many cities in contemporary India. However, the regularization of work, which brings domestic servants under protective labour laws, is still a work in progress. Examining a long timespan, this article shows how policing of the servant, through practices of identification and verification, came to be institutionalized. It looks at the history of registration within the larger mechanism of regulation that emerged for domestic servants in the late eighteenth century. However, the establishment of control over servants was not linear in its subsequent development; registration as a tool of control took on different meanings within the changing ecosystem of legal provisions. In the late eighteenth century, it was discussed as being directly embedded in the logic of master–servant regulation, a template that was borrowed from English law. In the late nineteenth century, it was increasingly seen as a proxy for formal means of regulation, although this viewpoint was not universally accepted. Charting this history of changing structures of inclusion and exclusion within the law, the article argues that overt policing of servants is a manifestation of the colonial legacy, in which the identity of the servant is fused with potential criminality.