‘…And My Blood Became Hot!’: Crimes of Passion, Crimes of Reason: An Analysis of the Crimes of Murder and Physical Assault against Masters and Mistresses by Their Indian Domestic Servants, Natal, 1880-1920

This article presents microhistories of Indian domestic servants who lived and worked in Natal, South Africa, during the years 1880-1920, a period marked by great turbulence. The paper analyses crimes committed by these servants against their masters and mistresses, in particular murder and physical assault. The article argues that the experiences and emotional strain associated with being a domestic servant gave rise to a ‘culture’ of anger and violence within the ranks of Indian domestic servants. Based on court records, two cases are examined in detail to illustrate some of the broader issues of the study. The article shows that the tensions between masters/mistresses and their servants, contrary to established theories on indenture, had very little to do with the actual labour and physical work which the domestics were required to perform. Rather, the crimes were the result of the erosion of the servants’ personal freedom and space which fosterd feelings of disrespect, humiliation and dehumanization. Notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]

Title: ‘…And My Blood Became Hot!’: Crimes of Passion, Crimes of Reason: An Analysis of the Crimes of Murder and Physical Assault against Masters and Mistresses by Their Indian Domestic Servants, Natal, 1880-1920
Author: Badassy, Prinisha
Year: 2005
Periodical: Journal of Natal and Zulu History
Volume: 23
Pages: 64-93
Language: English
Geographic terms: South Africa
Natal
Abstract: This article presents microhistories of Indian domestic servants who lived and worked in Natal, South Africa, during the years 1880-1920, a period marked by great turbulence. The paper analyses crimes committed by these servants against their masters and mistresses, in particular murder and physical assault. The article argues that the experiences and emotional strain associated with being a domestic servant gave rise to a ‘culture’ of anger and violence within the ranks of Indian domestic servants. Based on court records, two cases are examined in detail to illustrate some of the broader issues of the study. The article shows that the tensions between masters/mistresses and their servants, contrary to established theories on indenture, had very little to do with the actual labour and physical work which the domestics were required to perform. Rather, the crimes were the result of the erosion of the servants’ personal freedom and space which fosterd feelings of disrespect, humiliation and dehumanization. Notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]