Indian Labour History

Report on the international conference in Noida

Conference Report:
Second International Conference on Indian Labour History
Noida, March 16-18, 2000

On 16, 17 and 18 March the Second International Conference on Indian Labour History was held in Noida, near New Delhi. The meeting was hosted by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute and partly subsidised by the International Labour Office. While at the first conference of this kind (in March 1998) some twenty-five papers were presented mainly by scholars from the Delhi area, this second conference had 32 papers and included contributors from Mumbai (Bombay), Calcutta and the Southern part of India as well.

This progress reflects the growth and consolidation of the Association of Indian Labour Historians (AILH), the organisation that was founded in December 1996 and whose Executive Committee (especially Drs. Prabhu Mohapatra and Rana Behal) organised the event.

The Conference started with a short commemoration of two outstanding labour historians who have recently passed away, Ranajit Das Gupta and Partha S. Gupta.

The following papers were presented and discussed:

Session I: The Structure of Labour and the Control of Work

  • Jan Breman (CASA, Amsterdam): "Systems of Labour Bondage in the Past and Present"
  • Tony Cox (Trinity College, Cambridge): "Paternal Despotism, the Bengal Jute Industry and the Scottish Empire"
  • Amal Das (Univ. of Kalyani): "Employers´ Strategies of Labour Control in Jute Mills - The Reactions of the Labourers - Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries Bengal"
  • Rana P. Behal (Deshbandu College, New Delhi): "Wage Structure and Labour: Assam Valley Tea Plantations 1900-1947"
  • Robert Castle and Jim Hagan (paper with Andrew Wells) (Univ. of Wollongong): "Labour Relations in the Rubber Plantations of Indochina, 1910-1940"
  • Normichi Narita (JNU, New Delhi): "Capital, State and Labour: Reaction to State Intervention in Bombay and Bengal in the 1930s"

Session II: Housing the Working Poor

  • Ravi Ahuja (Fernuniversität Hagen): "Expropriating the Poor: Urban Land Control and Colonial Administration in Late Eighteenth-Century Madras"
  • Prashant Kidambi (Wolfson College, Oxford): "Housing the Poor in Colonial Bombay: The City Improvement Trust 1898-1918"
  • Krishna Jha (Achyta Menon Foundation, New Delhi): "Slums in Transition: Reflections on Delhi Slums"

Session III: Workers and the Politics of Identity

  • Dilip Simeon (Oxfam, New Delhi): "Strike-Breaking or the Refusal of Subalternaty? An Essay on Ethnicity, Class and Gender in Chota Nagpur"
  • Kaushik Gosh (CSSS, Calcutta): "Labor and Ethnicity: The Question of the Adivasi"
  • Gautam Sen (paper with Kunal Chattopadhyay) (Calcutta): "Case Studies Towards Class Identity of White Collar Employees"
  • Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay: "Dalits in the Literature of Premchand"

Session IV: Informalisation of Labour

  • Babu P. Ramesh (New Delhi): "Dialectics of Organisation and Disorganisation: Trade Unions, Cooperatives and Weavers in Kancheepuram, 1940s-1990s"
  • Neetha N. (New Delhi): "Labour Relations under Subcontracting in the Tirupur Knitwear Industry"
  • C.S.K. Singh (NLI, Noida): "Labour Chowks: The Dynamics of the Daily Labour Market in Delhi"

Session V: Gender Issues in Labour History

  • Susan Vishvanathan: "A Critique of Capitalism: Comparing the Lives of Wives of Syrian Christian Merchants and Fishermen in Kerala"
  • Chitra Joshi (JNU, New Delhi): "Making Spaces: Questions of Gender and Domesticity"
  • Manju Chattopadhyay (Calcutta): "They Rose from the Ranks: Dukhmat and Sukumari"

Session VI: Workers on Strike: Politics and Representations

  • Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (JNU, New Delhi): "The Strike as Metaphor: Bombay in the 1920s"
  • Vijay Prashad (Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.): "Citizens on Strike, c. 1957"
  • Prabhu P. Mohapatra (CLARA and NLI, New Delhi): "`... All Our Fleece Was Dry´: The TISCO Strike of 1958 and the Question of Representation"
  • Anil Rajamwale: "The Railway Strike of 9 March 1949"
  • Deep Kanta Lahiri Choudhury (Hughes Hall, Cambridge): "Government and the Telegraph Workers Strike of 1908: Sedition versus Mutiny"

Session VII: Recovering the Past - Memories and Resources

  • Mukul Mangalik (New Delhi): "Voices from a Strike: Listening to Workers During the Bombay Textile Strike, 1982-83"
  • Hemant Babu: "Voices from the Past: Beyond Conditioned Responses to the Mumbai Textile Strike"
  • Satyajit Das Gupta (SEPHIS, Calcutta): "Documenting Memories of Marginalization: Life-Stories of `Unprotected´ Workers in Postcolonial Calcutta"

In addition, three special sessions were held. The first one discussed the book by authors Jan Breman, Arvind Das and photographer Ravi Agarwal "Down and Out: Labouring under Global Capitalism" (Oxford and Amsterdam University Presses, 2000) a critical documentation of work and exploitation in South Gujarat. The discussion was introduced by Sudhasattwa and Jibesh Bagch. The second special session dealt with international labour networks on the basis of papers by Jan Elliott andMarcel van der Linden. And the third special session, with papers by Shankar Ramaswamy and Shekhar Krishnan, focused mainly on conceptual problems of labour historiography (and more specifically the notion of proletarian "dignity"). During the concluding session (which was chaired by AILH President Prof. S. Bhattacharya) the Indian Secretary of Labour Dr. Lakshimidhar Mishra expressed his support for AILH´s activities.

The AILH has the following coordinates:

Archives of Indian Labour
V.V. Giri National Labour Institute
Noida, Sector 24
Uttar Pradesh, 201301
Fax: +91-118-532974/535174
Phone: +91-118-532968

(Marcel van der Linden)

Posted: 27 March 2000