Samita Sen

Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History
Professor Samita Sen
Samita Sen received her Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1992 and was JRF at Trinity College, 1990-1994. She taught at Calcutta University and Jadavpur University from 1994 to 2018. In this period, between 2013 and 2015, she served as First Vice-Chancellor, Diamond Harbour Women’s University. She was also Dean, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies (Jadavpur University), 2016-2018.
Her monograph, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India (Cambridge University Press, 1999) won the Trevor Reese Prize in Commonwealth History. She has published extensively on gender and labour. Her specialization is colonial South Asia but she has also done contemporary and interdisciplinary research on issues such as domestic violence and labour in the informal sector. She is a member of editorial boards of various academic journals, including Modern Asian Studies and South Asian History and Culture. She edited Global South: Sephis e-Magazine, one of the first online journals and a south-south platform for young scholars, from 2004 to 2014.
She has been active in the women’s movement in India and internationally. She participated in both the governmental and non-governmental fora of the Beijing Conference (1995). She has been a member of a Calcutta-based voluntary association of women, Sachetana, since 1983.
Watch Samita's inaugural lecture

South Asian History and Society, Global History, Colonialism and Post-colonial Studies, Gender Studies, Labour Studies, Education (especially Higher Education), Migration, Women's Movement, Trade Union Movements, Transport workers, Domestic workers (and their movements), History of domesticity, Slavery and Indenture, Marriage and Sexuality, and Legal History.
I lecture mainly for Paper 23 and 28. I also teach varied themes across the world history subject group and in M.Phil, especially relating to South Asia.
I have been active in a number of campaigns relating to equality and gender justice in higher education institutions. I have participated in programmes of gender sensitization and helped to create mechanisms to deal with sexual and/or gender harassment in campuses.
I have been consulted on local governance efforts, especially district level planning and local self-government, both rural and urban (West Bengal, India). I have worked with trade unions, most recently with a successful effort to unionise domestic workers in Kolkata.
I have been associated with a variety of pedagogical innovations, especially within open university curricula. One aspect of this work has been experimenting with new digital media. In the past few years, I have led and collaborated with a variety of digital archives initiatives.
I had an active engagement with the Sephis programme (Amsterdam), which created south-south linkages in higher education. At present I am a member of the M.S. Merian-R. Tagore International Centre for Advanced Studies: Metamorphoses of the Political (New Delhi, India), an Indo-German research programme involving an international group of academics.
I supervise students on a range of issues relating to South Asian History and contemporary social and political developments. In the past, I have supervised students working on the history of social reform, love marriage and widows. I have also supervised students researching contemporary themes, such as hawkers, potters, women police, nurses, women's movements, women in local governance, domestic workers, migration and women's role among folk singers, to name a few. My particular interests are gender and labour issues, migration, domesticity and domestic workers.


Tags & Themes


Trinity College, CB2 1TQ


Key publications


‘Capital’ in the East, Springer, 2019 (co-edited with Achin Chakraborty, Anjan Chakrabarti and Byasdeb Dasgupta)

Domestic Days: Women, Work and Politics in Contemporary Kolkata, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2016 (co-authored)

Accumulation in Post Colonial Capitalism, Springer, Singapore, 2016 (co-edited with Iman Mitra and Ranabir Samaddar)

Passage to Bondage: Labour in the Assam Tea Plantations, Samya Publications, Kolkata, 2016 (edited and compiled)

Women and Labour in Late Colonial India. The Bengal Jute Industry. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999.


‘The problem of reproduction: waged and unwaged domestic work’ in Achin Chakraborty et al (eds), ‘Capital’ in the East, Springer, 2019

‘Impossible Immobility, Marriage, Migration and Trafficking in Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, 51, 44-45, 5 November 2016.

“Addressing Domestic Violence: Changing Strategies within the Women’s Movement, Kolkata 1980-2010” in Samir Das (ed.) India, Democracy and Violence, Oxford University Press,New Delhi, 2015.

‘Wrecking Homes, Making Families: Women’s Recruitment and Indentured Labour Migration from India’ in Joya Chatterji and David Washbrook (eds), Routledge Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora, Routledge, London and New York, 2013.

‘Crossing Communities: Religious conversion, Rights in Marriage, and Personal Law’ in Flavia Agnes and Shoba Venkatesh Ghosh (eds) Negotiating Spaces: Legal Domains, Gender Concerns and Community Constructs, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012.

‘A Parliament of Women: Dystopia in Nineteenth-century Bengali imagination’ in Barnita Bagchi (ed.) The Politics of the (Im)Possible: Utopia and Dystopia Reconsidered, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2012.

“‘Kidnapping in Chotanagpur’: Recruitment for Assam Tea Plantations in a ‘Tribal’ Area” in Sanjukta Dasgupta and Rajsekhar Basu (eds.) Narratives from the Margins: Aspects of Adivasi History and Culture in Colonial and Post-Colonial India, New Delhi: Primus Books, 2011.

‘A History of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, 1885-1936’ (with Anirban Das) in Uma Dasgupta (ed.) Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, c. 1784-1947, History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, Volume XV, Part 4, Pearson Education, New Delhi, 2011.

“Commercial Recruiting and Informal Intermediation: Debate over the Sardari System in Assam Tea Plantations, 1860–1900”, Modern Asian Studies, 44, 1, 2010, pp. 3–28.

“Gender and Class: Women in Indian Industry, 1890-1990”, Modern Asian Studies, 42, 1, 2008, pp. 75-116.

‘"Without his consent"? Marriage and Women’s Migration in Colonial India’ in Rick Halpern et al (ed.) Special Issue, International Labour and Working Class History, 65, Spring 2004.

“Women, Work and Household in Industrialising Asia” in Amarjit Kaur (ed.) Women Workers in Industrialising Asia: Costed, Not Valued, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004.

“Questions of Consent: Women’s recruitment for Assam Tea Gardens, 1859-1900”, Studies in History, 18, 2, n.s. 2002 (pp. 231-260).

‘“A Father’s Duty?” State, Patriarchy and Women’s Education’ in Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (ed.) Education and the Disprivileged. Nineteenth and Twentieth Century India, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2002.

“Towards a Feminist Politics? The Indian Women’s Movement in Historical Perspective” in Karin Kapadia (ed.) The Violence of Development. The Politics of Identity, Gender and Social Inequalities in India, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2002.

“Offences Against Marriage: Negotiating Custom in Colonial Bengal” in Janaki Nair and Mary John (eds.) A Question of Silence? The Sexual Economies of Modern India, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1999.

“Gendered Exclusion: Domesticity and Dependence in Bengal”, International Review of Social History, 42, 1997.

“Unsettling the Household: Act VI (of 1901) and the regulation of women migrants in colonial Bengal” in Shahid Amin and Marcel van der Linden (eds.) “Peripheral” Labour? Studies in the history of partial proletarianisation, International Review of Social History, Supplement 4, 41, 1996.

“Motherhood and Mothercraft: Gender and Nationalism in Bengal” in Gender and History, 5, 2, Summer 1993.

Other publications

‘Slavery and History of Domestic Work’ in Nitin Sinha and Nitin Varma (eds.) Servants’ Pasts: Late Eighteenth to Twentieth century South Asia, Vol 2, Orient Blackswan, Hyderabad, 2019

‘Slaves, Servants and Concubines: Domestic Workers in Ninteenth-Century Bengal’ in Arun Bandopadhyay and Sanjukta Dasgupta (eds.) In Quest of the Historian’s Craft: Essays in Honour of Professor B.B. Chaudhuri, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2018.

A Pragmatic Intimacy? Familiality, Dependency and Social Subordination in Prasanta Ray and Nandini Ghosh (eds.) Pratyaha: Everyday Lifeworlds. Dilemmas, Contestations and Negotiations, Primus Books, New Delhi, 2016, ISBN 9789384082406

‘Abolishing English in schools: Implications for Higher Education in West Bengal’ in Inter-Asian Cultural Studies, 16:2, DOI: 10.1080/14649373.2015.1037084, 2015, pp. 269-281. ISSN 1464937.

‘Gender and the Jute Industry: the Calcutta Chapter, 1890-1990’ in International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy, 8, 2/3, 2014 (Indersciences Enterprises, UK), 2014 (pp. 126-140) ISSN 1478-1484 (Print) & 1741-8135 (Online)

“Labour, Organisation and Gender” in Helmut Konrad and Wolfgang Maderthaner (eds) Routes into the Abyss: Coping with Crises in the 1930s, Berghahn Books, New York, Oxford, 2013. ISBN 978-0-85745-784-4; 978-0-85745-785-1

“Feminisms and the Politics of Gender: A History of the Indian Women’s Movements” (co-authored) in Nirmala Banerjee, Samita Sen and Nandita Dhawan (eds.) Mapping the Field: Gender Relations in Contemporary India, Volumes 1 & 2, Readings in Gender Studies I, Stree, Calcutta, 2011 & 2012.

“Cohabitation and Conflict: Legalising the Convict Marriage System in the Andamans, 1860-1890” in Samita Sen, Ranjita Biswas and Nandita Dhawan (eds.) Intimate Others: Marriage and Sexuality in India, Stree Publications, Calcutta, 2010.

“Religious conversion, infant marriage and polygamy: Regulating marriage in India in the late nineteenth century”, Journal of History, 26, 2008-2009, pp. 99-145.

‘Working Class Struggles, Labour Elites and Closed Shops: The Lessons from India’s Trade Unions and Experiences of Organisations’ in Martha Chen, Renana Jhabvala et al. ed Membership-based Organisations of the Poor, Routledge Studies in International Economics, USA and Canada, 2007.

‘Migration and Marriage: Labouring Women in Bengal in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries’ in Shakti Kak and Biswamoy Pati (eds), Exploring Gender Equations: Colonial and Post Colonial India, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 2005.

“Politics of Gender and Class: Women in Indian Industries” in Margrit Pernau, Imtiaz Ahmad and Herlmut Reifeld (eds.) Family and Gender. Changing Values in Germany and India, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2003.

‘Histories of Betrayal: Patriarchy, Class and Nation’ in Sekhar Bandopadhyay (ed.) Bengal: Rethinking History. Essays in Historiography, Manohar Publications, International Centre for Bengal Studies 29, New Delhi, 2001.

“Honour and Resistance: Gender, Community and Class in Bengal, 1920-40” in Sekhar Bandopadhyay, Abhijit Dasgupta and Willem van Schendel (ed.) Bengal: Communities, Development and States, Manohar publications, 1994.