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I just finished reading Doug Saunders
’ Arrival City
– a fascinating book about cities as the fountains of development and dynamism. This portrayal isn’t by any means new, but Doug brings today’s cities alive, with stories of migrants who come from overseas or from villages. Every city has its distinctive pattern, every informal settlement its own history.
Doug’s vivid account took me back to my hometown, Jaipur
, Rajasthan, India: a city better known as a romantic tourist destination than as an “arrival city”. But there it is. A city that by most accounts, is very livable (perhaps that’s why angst against the city is low and it isn’t written about quite as much), and is host to thousands of migrants of all ilk.
Of the many that have over years begun to call Jaipur home, are families from Cooch Behar district in West Bengal. The bottom line is that women from Cooch Behar are overwhelmingly domestic workers in Jaipur homes. Why? For two reasons. First, Jaipur suddenly grew from being a mid-sized city in the 1990s to a thriving metropolis, up there among top ten Indian cities
, by 2011, with a huge demand for domestic labor.
Second, taboos and norms (which would have to be a whole other discussion) make local Rajasthani women reluctant to work in the homes of others. Strangely, it’s fine to work in others’ fields or on construction sites, but not in others’ homes. So, it is difficult for the rich and the growing middle class to find local women to work in their homes. I forgot to say that domestic workers are overwhelmingly women, in case anyone was wondering.
Why Cooch Behar: a district way out at the other end of the country? That’s a story of social networks that establish migration patterns. Jaipur was a princely state and the Maharaja married the princess of Cooch Behar – the famed Gayatri Devi
, in whose entourage came the first set of ladies-in-waiting. Over time, this migration route solidified and fulfilled Jaipur’s demand for female domestic workers. Some micro studies
show that almost half of all female domestic workers in Jaipur come from Cooch Behar.