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Accepted Paper:

Economy of lies: Drunk husbands, digital savings and domestic workers in Kolkata, India  


Atreyee Sen (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will analyse migrant women's secrecy and solidarity related to the use of net-banking and smart phones in urban India. I show how domestic workers in Kolkata creatively manage and hide digital savings, to ensure that their informal income is not entirely wrested away by drunk husbands.

Paper long abstract:

With more than half a billion internet subscribers, India is one of the fastest-growing markets for digital consumers. Through Aadhaar, the world's largest bio-metric identification system, the central government has incentivised citizens to link their personal data to a host of services, including sim cards and bank accounts. For example, mAadhaar is an official mobile application that allows Aadhaar holders to link their demographic and banking information to their individual smartphones. While some scholars argue that Aadhar offers a channel for financial inclusion of the poor into mainstream economies, others have criticised the coercive nature of such invasive technologies. Etched in relief against this debate, the paper will analyse rural-urban women workers' multiple journeys of secrecy and solidarity related to the use of net-banking, Aadhaar and smart phones. Using the narratives of women employed in domestic and care work in Kolkata, I will show how female migrants conspired with each other to creatively manage digital savings in the city. They used smartphone-banking to scatter their informal wages into numerous bank accounts, and disclosed only a fraction of their income to drunk husbands and exploitative in-laws in the village. This economy, which involved the circulation of digital cash and everyday lies, offered women workers an alternative but fragile vision of their financial futures. The paper is framed through the concept of women's 'migra-monies'. It refers to shadow networks of informal earnings and domestic remittances that lie at the interface of emerging digital technologies and gendered social relations within local migration landscapes.

Panel P057
Digital encounters, cashless cultures: Ethnographic perspectives on the impact of digital finance on economic communities