Apoorva S and Srilakshmi Nambiar
Professor Jan Breman, an eminent Dutch Sociology Professor delivered a lecture on ‘Labour Bondage in India – the Sustained State of Denial’ at National Law School of India University on 12th August, 2017.
He started the lecture by saying that there is a global crisis for mankind at large. Since 1991, India is experiencing jobless growth, where the informal sector is absorbing about ninety percent of the population. Dr Breman narrated the experiences from his field work in Ahmedabad in 1962, which has lasted over five decades. The findings are presented in his book ‘On Pauperism in Present and Past’. He stressed that whatever progress the people at the bottom of the society have made, is a result of the democratic institutions and egalitarian vision of the Constitution which India held at the time of Independence.
The Rule of Law has not been observed in the society due to the capitalist path of development in recent times. He strongly says that it is used to abuse labour, which is an outcome of inequality. The abandonment of development paradigm to growth paradigm is unsustainable leading to a starker inequality than ever before. The promise of ‘Garibi Hatao’ and equality has not been kept up and social benefits such as Public Distribution System often do not reach targeted beneficiaries.
Talking about Gujarat, Dr Breman argued that the Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) in Gujarat are fenced off from the public. It is easier for SEZ’s to not follow rules, and exploit the rights of labourers. He is critical of a society in which the privileged middle classes and higher classes benefit from this mode of production. The idea of sharing the fruits of economic growth amongst everyone is absent. He added that the scarcity of employment is worldwide; however, it is graver in India than the Global North. This is rooted in India’s history of colonial exploitation which has made the economy more agrarian than ever before.
According to Dr Breman, agrarian crisis is more encompassing than death. Landowners are no longer interested in agriculture and labour desperately wants to get out of it because of low remuneration. This explains a spurt in informal sector employment, where unskilled labourers face exploitation and low wages. Dr Breman spoke about the phenomena of footloose labor and the dangerous tendency of predatory capitalism in India. He explains that India has two types of migration, one which is migrating to countries like USA and Europe, for secure jobs. The other migrating to the Middle East from Kerala, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, the nature of whose employment is informal and contractual. Further, the change in technology in India causing accelerated mechanisation and robotisation has replaced labor by capital in a rapid way. This has lead to more casual employment with low security and dignity of labor.
Indicating how the the present political regime has totally commodified labor, Dr Breman says the development paradigm in India has failed.
(Apoorva and Srilakshmi are participants of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com respectively)