Tag Archives: labour

Raj Chandavarkar Memorial Roundtable

Our friend Professor Rajnarayan Chandavarkar died of a sudden heart attack while at a conference on Four Cities in Modernity at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire on 23 April 2006.

This memorial roundtable, in his memory, on Labour, Space and Politics: Raj Chandavarkar and the History of Modern South Asia, was held at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Meeting was held on 22 March 2007.

Rajnarayan Chandavarkar was one of the foremost scholars of urban and working class history writing on South Asia. His sudden death in April 2006 has been an inestimable loss to the academic community. The empirical depth of Chandavarkar’s scholarship stood out amongst his contemporaries. The impact of his work on the field remains to be assessed. This roundtable will focus on several areas where Chandavarkar’s contributions remain significant and offer new directions for future scholarship.

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The Urban Turn

This is a transcript of symposium on urban history held in December 2002 with historians and sociologists Gyan Prakash, Jairus Banaji, Sujata Patel and Rajnarayan Chandavarkar. You can also download the PDF of the transcript.

This symposium was organised by PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action & Research) at the Bombay Paperie, Mumbai. Thanks to Shonali Sarda for transcription and Neeta Premchand for hosting the event.

GYAN PRAKASH is Professor of History at Princeton University, U.S.A. and a member of the Subaltern Studies Editorial Collective. He is the author of Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labour Servitude in Colonial India (Cambridge, 1990), Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (Princeton, 1999), and has written several articles and edited several volumes on colonial history and historiography.

JAIRUS BANAJI is a historian and independent scholar based in Mumbai. He worked with unions in Bombay through the eighties, when he published, with Rohini Hensman, Beyond Multinationalism: Management Policy and Bargaining Relationships in International Companies (Delhi: Sage, 1990). His most recent book is Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity: Gold, Labour, and Aristocratic Dominance (Oxford, 2002).

SUJATA PATEL is Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at University of Pune. She is the co-editor, with Alice Thorner, of Bombay: Metaphor for Modern Culture and Bombay: Mosaic of Modern India (both Delhi: Oxford India, 1995), and, with Jim Masselos, of Bombay and Mumbai: The City in Transition (Delhi: Oxford India, 2003).

RAJ CHANDAVARKAR is a historian and is Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge University, U.K., where he is a Fellow of Trinity College. He is the author of The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Class in Bombay 1900-1940 (Cambridge, 1994) and Imperial Power and Popular Politics: Class, Resistance and the State in India 1850-1890 (Cambridge, 1998).

“The Urban Turn” (December 2002)

SHEKHAR KRISHNAN: Welcome everyone, on behalf of PUKAR. The panel discussion at The Bombay Paperie tonight is called “The Urban Turn”, which signifies many different things to many different people. What we wanted to do tonight was to honour the people who are sitting here, four distinguished historians and sociologists who have worked on Bombay in one aspect or the other. Continue reading The Urban Turn

Phoenix Mills Bowled Over

Originally published in Lawyer’s Collective Magazine, 13 July 2000

The collapse of the Bowling Company in Lower Parel after the storm which lashed the city in the past several days perhaps pales in comparison to the larger human tragedies that took place in other parts of the metropolis this week. However, the potential for a tragedy like the landslide which occurred at Azad Nagar in Ghatkopar should not be overlooked. Luckily the entertainment outlet remained closed on Thursday, but had the bowling alleys and the cafe inside been filled to their normal capacity, hundreds of people could have perished, when the rusted stilts and columns which grounded the century-old structure gave way.

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The Worlds of Indian Industrial Labour

Originally published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, Fall 2001.

Jan Breman, Karin Kapadia, Jonathan Parry, eds., The Worlds of Indian Industrial Labour (Contributions to Indian Sociology, Occassional Studies 9). New Delhi and London: Sage Publications, 1999.

Marking both a renewal of interest in labour studies and an important disciplinary shift, the publication of this anthology is a significant event. Introduced by Jonathan Parry, the fourteen essays by sociologists, anthropologists and historians in the volume include two “book-ends” introductory and concluding reviews of the respective literatures on the “organised” and “informal” sectors of the industrial economy in India, both by Jan Breman. These chart the shifts in labour studies from the narrow emphasis on the tiny formal sector of the economy — about workers’ “commitment” to the industrial setting, measures of productivity, the social profile of formal sector workers, and trade union strategies — to the much larger and unwieldy “informal” sector of the economy, incredibly neglected by research scholars. While questioning this dualism in the study of economic activity in India, Breman raises questions about the formation and coherence of the working-class or proletariat as an identity and analytical category, the diversity of forms of wage labour and industrial production — from home-based to small workshops to large factories — and the multiplicity of workers’ identities in both formal and informal occupations.

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Mill on the Loss

Originally published as “Mill on the Loss” in the Indian Express Mumbai Newsline, 5 April 2000

The history of Mumbai is a narrative of the struggle over space. The fate of the mill lands of central Mumbai, and its industries and workers, is the latest chapter in this story.

 

The life of any city is not simply tied to its flows of goods, services and capital, but also to its patterns of work, leisure and movement — all of which revolve on the use of space. Throughout Mumbai’s history, claims on land and space have been the narrative thread of the most celebrated and most notorious chapters in our urban history. These range from the legendary reclamations that linked up several marshy outposts and settlements to compose the island city in the eighteenth century, to the disastrous Back Bay Reclamation Scheme in the 1920s. This scheme to fill in the Back Bay earned the name “Lloyd’s Folly”, after the bungling of the then Governor, whose plan ended in failure and infamy because of engineering mistakes, corruption, and the crash in land values during the Great Depression.

The story of the mill lands is a fin-de-sicle echo of this familiar urban theme. The historic textile mills of the city are industrial dinosaurs dotted around the city landscape, whose textile production has been eclipsed in efficiency and profitability by the sweatshop labour employed in powerlooms towns like Bhiwandi. The millowners realised long ago that the lands of the city mill compounds are more valuable than the textiles they produce, and the workers whose livelihoods they have sustained for several generations.

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The Murder of Phoenix Mills: A Case Study of Phoenix Mills

Click here to download of The Murder of Phoenix Mills (Mumbai: Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana and Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, April 2000).

This pamphlet was a case study of the redevelopment of the Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel, Mumbai conducted from November 1999 to March 2000 and was published by the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana and Girangaon Bachao Andolan in Mumbai in April 2000. The views contained herein are solely those of the publishers.

Introduction

Liberalisation and globalisation have not only refashioned our lifestyles, but also our urban landscape. In a recent article in India Todayi, a journalist has celebrated the renaissance of what she calls “Mumbai’s embarrassing eyesore”— the textile mills lands of central Bombay — as this “grim, seedy, and decidedly downmarket” area is being transformed into a new oasis of elite business and leisure. Boasting corporate offices, advertising agencies, art galleries, entertainment centres and posh restaurants, a new economy and way of life have displaced what, according to this writer, were the previously “rat-infested” mills and other parts of this “depressing district.”

This article quotes an architect who remodelled a part of the Phoenix Mills Compound into the new offices of the multinational Standard Chartered Bank, claiming that the mill “was a dead place” before its new corporate tenants arrived. Phoenix Mills now houses the residential high-rise Phoenix Towers, numerous offices and restaurants, the Bowling Company and the Fire and Ice discotheque. Nearby mills have leased their lucrative land holdings, boasting similar space and amenities. In the old industrial lands of central Bombay, gleaming high-rises now compete with chimney stacks in the urban skyline, a symbol both of “progress” and change.

That most precious commodity in our ill-planned, congested and overcrowded commercial capital, space, is up for grabs to the highest bidder. India Today shares in the excitement — central Bombay’s treasure is its “yards and yards of mill land, just waiting to be devoured.” “Everywhere poky chawls are metamorphosing into haughty highrises, pinstriped shirts are replacing blue collars, and old addas are turning into trendy little eateries.”

But what of the residents of these decrepit chawls, have they simply fled at the advance of the builders, party-goers, and advertising executives? What of the mills and textile industry, in which many of these workers and their families have worked for over a century? What of the long heritage of productive culture, and the traditions tied to these historic neighbourhoods, which nestles in the heart of Bombay’s growth as a great industrial metropolis, have the been extinguished?

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Workers’ Rights and Labour Law

Click here to download PDF of Workers Rights and Labour Law (India Centre for Human Rights & Law, 1999).

Workers Rights and Labour Law: A Backgrounder for the Workshop on Labour was compiled and edited with the help of Jairus Banaji and the Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC) in Mumbai in 1999. It was published for the National Conference on Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalisation and the Law held at Panchagani, Maharashtra in December 1999 by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai.