ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

From a Table Attendant to Prime Minister: The Curious Case of Agha Mir and Servant Mobility in Early Modern North India (1720s-1850s)


Heena Heena - School of History Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom


14 – Servitude and Mobility in Pre-Colonial and Colonial South Asia


This article explores the social and occupational mobility of domestic servants, especially their efforts to carve out a space within the Awadh royal/elite households during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Awadh’s dynamic servitude culture and servants’ proximity to elites generated possibilities for them to become influential in everyday politics. While some rose to occupy important political positions, others used their privileges to acquire financial benefits and better social status. I investigate incidents of use/misuse of positions by servants under the Nawābi rule and responses of the rule to such incidents. My article contributes to the historiography of subaltern groups in the pre-modern world, with a focus on themes of mobility, master-servant relationship, and subalterns’ space in court politics. It also highlights emerging early modern patterns of servant-occupation hierarchy. These historical episodes trump our imagination of servants as menial groups bereft from politics, performing daily work in employers’ kitchens and bathrooms.