The Life of Labour: Caste, Women and Work

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Dalits gathered in Ahmedabad for a rally on Sunday. Credit: PTI

Dalits gathered in Ahmedabad for a rally on Sunday. Credit: PTI

Caste, women and work

With Ambedkar Jayanti less than ten days behind us, there has been news of a Dalit aanganwadi worker, Bhaniben Parmar, having consumed phenyl at the Ahmedabad district collectorate after her family faced humiliation because of their caste and police did not register their complaints.

Bhaniben had been getting threats from upper caste villagers in Liya village of Viramgam taluk, including a threat to rape her two young daughters if she didn’t leave. Before this, a man named Khodar Patel had been instigating other villagers to boycott functions organised by the Parmar family, and trying to make trouble for Bhaniben at her workplace. Finally, the family was forced to leave the village on April 6, even after which police officers at Viramgam refused to register an FIR or acknowledge that this was an atrocity against a Scheduled Caste family. Seeing no other option, Bhaniben consumed phenyl on April 21.

  • ‘Fighting Patriarchy for Women Workers’ Rights’: Read Anu K Antony’s essay based on her conversations with Pomplai Orumai leaders about their struggle at Munnar’s tea plantations last year, and about what has happened since.
  • ‘A Sweeping Victory’: Priyanka Borpujari reviews the ruling that has allowed 2700 contract sanitation workers in Mumbai to become permanent employees of the BMC, exploring, in the process, the way caste is inextricably linked to this line of work.
  • Fall in Female Labour Participation Rate in India, according to a World Bank report: “One plausible explanation for the recent drop in FLFP is that with the recent expansion of secondary education, as well as rapidly changing social norms in India, more working age young females (15 to 24 years) are opting to continue their education rather than join the labour force early. The decline in the FLFP rate for females between 15 and 24 years of age was to a large extent due to an increase in female enrolment in education.”
  • The first two essays of a four-part series on garment workers in Bengaluru, written by Rohini Mohan for Scroll, are out. The first one is here: “In the two months during which visited these locations, this reporter recorded at least eight strikes across companies – a significant number for a largely non-unionised workforce. Labour officials say that the majority of these strikes are for the non-payment of salaries.”  The second essay is here: “The adage in the garment sector is minimum wage is the maximum wage,” said Anita Cheria, whose OpenSpace gives strategic advice to Garments Labour Union, a women-led trade union based in Bengaluru. “At the most, the pay has been keeping up with inflation, but has hardly risen in real terms.”
  • Baby traffickers in India are now targeting pregnant sex workers, according to Reuters, possibly because the adoption process has become stricter and longer.
  • Last week, The Hindu carried an article describing how sanitation workers working for the BBMP, Bangalore’s municipal authority, were being exploited through the contractor system: “The contractor submits a bill to the BBMP with the number of workdays put in by the pourakarmikas on his roll, based on which the BBMP remits the wages to the workers’ bank accounts. However, in several wards in Mahadevapura zone, contractors have confiscated the passbooks and ATM cards of pourakarmikas working under them. Many of the pourakarmikas, who come from other parts of Karnataka or from neighbouring states, do not even know they are being cheated of their hard-earned money.”

Other News

  • Over at EPW, there’s a review of The Crisis of 1974: Railway Strike and the Rank and File by Ranabir Samaddar, a history of the militant struggle between the government and workers in the days preceding the Emergency. This was probably the peak of worker militancy in India: “Numerous violent moments in the struggle of railway workers are recorded in the book. Extensive brick-batting was reported from Kathgodam, Kanpur and Bareilly in North India. Allahabad witnessed violent and tense moments prior to the strike. Mughalsarai became the scene of pitched battles between thousands of workers and the police and the paramilitary forces.”
  • After the death of a migrant worker in a Manesar factory, workers get punished for demanding justice: “Shatrughan Prasad, a migrant worker at SPM Autocomp factory, Manesar, died on 7th April. He got stuck in a conveyor belt. According to the workers, his death was a clear case of criminal negligence on the part of SPM management. The management wasted a lot of time in giving permission to the team that had arrived to move him to a hospital. Shiv Mohan, one of the workers who was present in the factory said, “He could have been saved if the management had not wasted time and rescued him earlier”. SPM Autocomp Systems Pvt. Ltd. is India’s largest manufacturer of Exhaust Manifolds. It supplies to companies like Maruti Suzuki, Tata motors and Hyundai.
  • Workers of a Korean automobile company in Tamil Nadu have been on strike for nearly 3 months with no reprieve in sight. The full-time confirmed workers are organised under CITU and are fighting for written contracts and wage increases but the company, opposed to the unionisation of its staff, started suspending and dismissing the active members.
  • With America First, and now Australia First, IT companies in India are firing workers in the hundreds. Wipro has been in the news for this reason, but it seems as though IT workers were in for a bumpy ride with or without Donald Trump.

International news:

  • As we report in almost every edition of this newsletter, stranded workers in Saudi Arabia are set to be rescued by the MEA and brought home. 24 workers from Andhra, Telangana and Orissa were flown to Saudi but found different jobs than what was promised. They allege torture – imprisonment and the withholding of food and water.
  • Indian origin CEO in US to pay a penal compensation of $135,000 to Indian domestic worker for abuse and non payment of minimum wage.
  • Migrant workers in Greece: “It is estimated that 90 percent of Greece’s agriculture wage labourers are migrants. Farm work is often the only option for them when they arrive in the country without accommodation, money or legal status.”
  • Turkey effectively voted to turn itself into a dictatorship this week and now, after India and Kazakhstan, it’s the turn of their judiciary to break unions.
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