Labour in India

employment in the economy of India

Labour in India refers to employment in the economy of India.

Quotes edit

  • As the ground is seldom tilled otherwise than by compulsion… the whole country is badly cultivated, and a great part rendered unproductive… The peasant cannot avoid asking himself this question: Why should I toil for a tyrant who may come tomorrow and lay his rapacious hands upon all I possess and value… without leaving me the means (even) to drag my own miserable existence? - The Timariots (Timurids), Governors and Revenue contractors, on their part reason in this manner: Why should the neglected state of this land create uneasiness in our minds, and why should we expend our own money and time to render it fruitful? We may be deprived of it in a single moment… Let us draw from the soil all the money we can, though the peasant should starve or abscond…
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • No artisan can be expected to give his mind to his calling in the midst of a people who are either wretchedly poor, or who, if rich, assume an appearance of poverty, and who regard not the beauty and excellence but the cheapness of an article; a people whose grandeess pay for a work of art considerably under its value and according to their own caprice… For it should not be inferred that the workman is held in esteem, or arrives at a stage of independence. Nothing but sheer necessity or blows from a cudgel keeps him employed; he never can become rich, and he feels it no trifling matter if he have the means of satisfying the cravings of hunger and of covering his body with the coarsest garment. If money be gained it does not in any measure go into his pocket, but only serves to increase the wealth of the merchant.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • …grandees pay for a work of art considerably under its value, and according to their own caprice. … When an Omrah or Mansabdar requires the services of an artisan, he sends to the bazar for him, employing force, if necessary, to make the poor man work; and after the task is finished, the unfeeling lord pays, not according to the value- of the labour, but agreeably to his own standard of fair remuneration; the artisan having reason to congratulate himself if the Korrah has not been given in part payment.
    • François Bernier, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • Notwithstanding the institution of castes, there is no country where men rise with more ease from the lowest rank to the highest. The first nabob (now king) of Oude, was a petty merchant; the first peishwa, a village accountant; the ancestors of Holcar were goatherds; and those of Scindia, slaves. All these, and many other instances, took place within the last century. Promotions from among the common people to all the ranks of civil and military employment, short of sovereignty, are of daily occurrence under native states, and this keeps up the spirit of the people, and in that respect partially supplies the place of popular institutions. The free intercourse of the different ranks also keeps up a sort of circulation and diffusion of such knowledge and such sentiments as exist in the society. Under us, on the contrary, the community is divided into two perfectly distinct and dissimilar bodies, of which the one is torpid and inactive, while all the sense and power seems concentrated in the other…
    • Mountstuart Elphinstone in a written reply to the House of Commons in August 5, 1832 on mobility in India despite the caste system (Basu, A.N, Indian Education In Parliamentary Papers, Part I (1832), Asia Publishing House, 1952) quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter 13
  • The situation in the Mughal Empire is summed up by W.H. Moreland like this: "...These instances appear to justify the conclusion that early in the seventeenth century foreigners could secure capable servants for somewhere about three rupees a month. ... The rates struck Europeans as extraordinarily low, and taken with these which prevailed in the northern capital they enable us to understand the great development of domestic employment which ... characterised the life of India at this period.
    • Moreland Quoted in Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(II.151-2)
  • [In the seventeenth century John De Laet (1631) summarised the information he had collected from English, Dutch and Portuguese sources regarding the Mughal empire as a whole.] “The condition of the common people in these regions (south and west) is exceedingly miserable; wages are low; workmen get only one regular meal a day, the houses are wretched and practically unfurnished, and people have not got sufficient covering to keep warm in winter.”
    • Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • The migrant worker distress has also exposed the inherent fractures of the “one nation” narrative that is one of the unique selling propositions of the BJP government. While it goes against the grain of the idea of India that has a rich tradition of pluralism, it is also meaningless from a governance standpoint. Migrant workers don’t carry their ration cards and so haven’t been able to avail of government rations in the states where they are stranded. The employers, contractors mostly, have largely abandoned them without paying them wages. Consequently, they are left to scrounge for food and are left without money. In many cases, they are stranded without knowing the local language. [...] However, the richer states have neither extended any financial support nor forced employers to pay wages to the workers. Worse still, on May 5, Chief Minister of Karnataka, B S Yediyurappa, cancelled trains for migrant workers from Bengaluru to their home states. [...] This was not only insensitive but a violation of the right to live with dignity (Article 21), right to freedom of movement (Article 19) and prohibition of forced labour (Article 23). The government decided to restore the train services only after protests.
  • Barring examples from Kerala and Telangana, most host states have demonstrated disregard for migrant workers. It behooves the host states to care about the migrant workers not only from a humanitarian standpoint but also from the perspective of the health of the economy. On its part, the central government has maintained a calibrated silence regarding this. Monopolising decisions and socialising losses are not what federalism is supposed to mean. Therefore, it is time that the poorer states realise that the unilateral lockdown is not just an assault on the dignity of the poor, but also an economic assault on the poorer state governments. Further, there has been a concerted effort by the central government and some host states to hold the labour captive in the richer states by making transportation procedures unreasonable.
  • Trade unions do not consider workers from smaller units as workers in the formal sense, or they often cannot access workers inside special industrial zones, behind walls of security. Workers too sometimes do not accept the unions even as they find themselves vulnerable. But if they find their existence is under threat, they will come out and protest. [...] Workers' issues get space if things turn violent. Here, for instance, if the women workers had simply come out of the factories and sat on a dharna, they would not have got so much television coverage.
  • On November 20, the Karnataka government issued a notification allowing women to work night shifts (7 p.m. to 6 a.m.) in all factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948. [...] In principle, this is a welcome move. However, several concerns have been voiced by women garment workers who are estimated to constitute over 90% of the five lakh garment workers in Karnataka (according to data by Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a global coalition of trade unions). The amendment suggests that night shifts for women will only be allowed if the employer ensures adequate safeguards concerning occupational safety and health, protection of dignity and honour, and transportation from the factory premises to points nearest to the worker’s residence. The amendment stipulates 24 points related to occupational rules and regulations, most of which have been in existence for years. Yet, women workers fear that when there is no safety or dignity in the workplace even during daytime, how will employers ensure all this during night shifts?
  • In a sector where there is systemic failure and worker-management relations are turbulent, putting the onus of worker safety and security in the hands of the management alone can be risky. Moreover, it is well-known that in supply chains the brands call the shots. Involving them in discussions on worker dignity and equality is important. Omitting workers and trade unions from discussions about the amendment is also seen by the workers as a short-sighted measure. Women garment workers are concerned that while the amendment has stipulated many ‘new’ guidelines amidst the plethora of unaddressed concerns, allowing night shifts would only extend daytime exploitation.
  • There are a variety of occupations, mostly informal, which involve acute social contact and are still running full swing around us. Consider, for instance, auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, staff in private buses, barbers, janitorial staff, lift operators, traders in wholesale markets, street food vendors, construction workers, loading and unloading workers, sex workers, garment factory workers, and so on. For these workers, social distancing is contradictory to the very nature of the job. Wishing to keep a ‘safe distance’ from people by staying at home would mean losing income, perhaps the job altogether. There are three key dimensions involved – health, income and employment. It is possible for some, such as tech workers, to take health precautions (social distancing), receive income as paid sick leave and still be able to retain their jobs. The experiences in informal employment are mixed. Some, such as domestic workers or home-based workers, may be able to stay at home and lose income but with some marginal assurance of retaining their jobs. Others may go out and earn, retaining their jobs but risking their health. While tech workers and other white-collar professionals enjoy a ‘win-all’ with health, income and employment, there are large swathes within the informal workforce who face a ‘lose-all’ on all three fronts.
  • The utter subjection and poverty of the common people-poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe. ... There are three classes of people who are indeed nominally free, but whose status differs very little from voluntary slavery-workmen, peons or servants and shopkeepers. For the workmen there are two scourges, the first of which is low wages. Goldsmiths, painters (of cloth or chintz), embroiderers, carpet makers, cotton or silk weavers, black-smiths, copper-smiths, tailors, masons, builders, stone-cutters, a hundred crafts in all-any of these working from morning to night can earn only 5 or 6 tackas (tankahs), that is 4 or 5 strivers in wages. The second (scourge) is (the oppression of) the Governor, the nobles, the Diwan, the Kotwal, the Bakshi, and other royal officers. If any of these wants a workman, the man is not asked if he is willing to come, but is seized in the house or in the street, well beaten if he should dare to raise any objection, and in the evening paid half his wages, or nothing at all. From these facts the nature of their food can be easily inferred… For their monotonous daily food they have nothing but a little khichri… in the day time, they munch a little parched pulse or other grain, which they say suffices for their lean stomachs… Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking… Their bedclothes are scanty, merely a sheet or perhaps two… this is sufficient in the hot weather, but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed, and they try to keep warm over little cowdung fires… the smoke from these fires all over the city is so great that the eyes run, and the throat seems to be choked.
    • Francisco Pelsaert. Jahangir’s India. 1626. Writing about the tyranny of governors, nobels, Divan, Kotwal, Bakhshi and other officers. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • There should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither, on the one hand, they should become arrogant on account of their wealth, nor, on the other, desert their lands in despair.
    • G. Tughlaq. Ordinance by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, quoted in Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • Migrant workers, dismissed by employers, enjoying no protection from their governments, often thrown out of their accommodation by their landlords, in urgent need of food, transport and money, driven by desperation to walk home. It is a scene many have described as reminiscent of the migration at Partition. This is the outcome of the largest and one of the strictest lockdowns in the world enforced during the coronavirus disease crisis — a lockdown that has been widely applauded internationally. Why has the outcry against this suffering inflicted on men and women who are more than 90% of India’s workforce been so muted? It is, I believe, in part at least, because those in a position to raise their voices have not identified themselves with those who are suffering.
  • The mechanic or artificer will work only to the measure of his necessities. He dreads to be distinguished. If he becomes too noted for having acquired a little more money than others of his craft, that will be taken from him. If conspicuous for the excellence of his skill, he is seized upon by some person in authority, and obliged to work for him night and day, on much harder terms than his usual labour acquired when at liberty. Hence all emulation is destroyed; and all the luxury of an Asiatick empire has not been able to counteract by its propensity to magnificence and splendour, the dispiriting effects of that fear which reigns throughout, and without which a despotick power would reign no more.
    • Orme, Robert, Historical Fragments of the Mogul Empire, of the Morattoes, and of the English Concerns in Indostan, Associated Publishing House, 1978, first published 1782.quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter2

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