Toxic Milk and Bad Language: Corrupted Practices in the English Nurseries in the Nineteenth Century India
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Toxic Milk and Bad Language: Corrupted Practices in the English Nurseries in the Nineteenth Century India
Publication type
Svetlana Sidorova 
Occupation: Senior Research Fellow
Affiliation: Institute of Oriental Studies of the RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
The paper aims to examine the position and status of one category of the colonial domestic servants — dry and wet nurses (ayahs and amahs) — in the nineteenth century India. The wide range of colonial narratives — private letters, memoirs, travelogues, housekeeping handbooks, medical guides and manuals — provides factual information for analysis of the nurses’ caste, religious and social belonging, their position in the hierarchy of domestic servants, requirements to their qualification, scope of duties, etc. The author mainly focuses on nurse-memsahib relationship, mediated by the figure of a child. Playing the role of surrogate mothers these female servants usurped mistresses’ place in the nurseries and used precarious and vulnerable position of the latter to derive benefit through cheating and blackmail. These ambivalent relations threatened to destabilize hierarchies and dismantle the barrier between the colonizers and the colonized within the British household that was intended to reproduce imperial patterns on a family level and make contribution to stability of the British rule in India.
India, the British empire, colonialism, nurse (ayah), wet-nurse (amah), servants, memsahib
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