A Social and Economic History of Darzis (Muslim Tailors) in Calcutta, c. 1890-1967

Change log
Chowdhury, Humaira 

This thesis brings together two bodies of scholarship, the first on immobility, and the second on artisan capitalism. Darzis (Muslim tailors) and Dawoodi Bohra merchants who stayed on in Calcutta between 1890 and 1967, are at the heart of this study. They are shown to be resilient survivors rather than passive victims of ghettoisation and state control.

Without undermining the real predicament of immobility – entrenched poverty, physical frailty, obligations of care-work, communal intimidation and everyday indignity – this thesis demonstrates how some Muslim tailors thrived in constrained contexts.

This thesis examines their strategies of survival and negotiation through what I describe as ‘immobility capital’, a cluster of assets which consist of: (a) locational incentives and ‘mythic resources’; (b) a knowledge of material culture and consumption practices; (c) the ‘property of skill’; (d) a mastery of small technologies, such as Singer sewing machines; and (e) patronage networks, such as with Dawoodi Bohra merchant-outfitters and family firms.

Not every tailor had every asset. For instance, a tailor with a skill did not necessarily have a patron, but adapted the skill in response to changing market demands for particular commodities. Together these artisan communities were able to transform their assets into sufficient ‘immobility capital’ to stay on, and sometimes flourish, in independent India.

Chatterji, Joya
Sen, Samita
Muslim, Tailors
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Jointly funded PhD scholarship from Trinity Henry-Barlow and Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre