and Class: Women in Indian Industry, 1920-1990
study of industrialisation and industrial labour has a
long history in India.
Scholars began to research different aspects of
these questions very soon after the inception of modern
industry in the mid-nineteenth century.
After Independence in 1947, a considerable body of
‘working-class’ histories developed.
These endeavours were dominated by concerns of
modernisation, national politics and working class
consciousness. Little attention was paid to questions of
common (often stated) assumption was (and still is) that
the low proportion of women workers in the modern
industrial sector rendered them irrelevant to stories of
few women who did work in industry, mining or plantations
were subsumed within the general definition of class.
A more knotty question – that of the role of
women in male industrial workers’ households who worked
in agriculture or petty commodity production or trade or
retail ‑has not been raised at all.
Were the men workers members of a working class in
their individual capacity or as heads of ‘working class
families’? How do we characterise the work of wives,
mothers, daughters and sisters of male industrial workers?
These questions have not been given any
consideration in the prolix debates about class around
which Indian labour history has so far revolved.
of women’s work, their role in traditional or modern
manufacturing has also had relatively little attention
from practitioners of women’s studies.
In economics and sociological literature, poor
women are almost always of rural and peasant groups.
There has arisen, however, in the last two decades,
a new interest in women’s work leading to a corpus of
information about contemporary developments. Much of this
information remains sparse and scattered and unconnected
to long term historical trends.
This latter problem is likely to persist as long as
gender issues continue to be neglected in historical
investigations of labour, a neglect that is compounded by
scholars of women’s history. The historian in search of
women’s ‘voices’ has been limited, necessarily, to
middle class literate women who left some impress of their
own in the form of autobiographies, novels, essays and a
prolific didactic literature. The poor and working women,
invariably unlettered, did not leave their own and
authored traces in historical records.
As a result, women’s historians, persuaded by
arguments of ‘lack of evidence’, have marginalised
issues of work and workers.
Poor and working women have fallen between the two
stools of labour and women’s history -- further silenced
and divested of historical agency.
yet, were these ‘subaltern’ women absent from elite
discourses? Quite the contrary.
From the late nineteenth century and upto the
1930s, a variety of elite discourses focussed obsessively
on poor urban women, their work, their visibility, their
sexual and marital behaviour, their childbearing and
While the poor and working women did not write
about themselves, they were most copiously and assiduously
written about by officials, employers, reformers and
philanthropists, journalists, publicists and labour
we cannot hear the women’s own voices, we hear a
veritable clamour of other voices, some sympathetic and
some censorious, which sought to speak for and about them.
The ‘problem’ then is not ‘lack’ of
evidence, but as in the case of many other historical
investigations, that of the nature, the volume and the
often unexpected provenance of the evidence.
There is sufficient evidence, certainly, to suggest
that women were a critical segment of the industrial
labour force at its inception.
Janet Harvey Kelman who wrote one of the earliest
and most remarkable accounts of Indian labour associated
women with the ‘tragedy’ that surrounded the ‘first
efforts to introduce modern mill industry into India’.
In 1818, she writes, a group of ‘Lancashire
girls’ were brought to Bengal to ‘introduce factory
methods of work’ at the old Bowreah mill in Hooghly.
‘Heavy, white-washed tombs in the rank grass of a
small cemetery near the mill compound still keep in
remembrance the swift death to which many of them fell
tragedy notwithstanding, cotton textile industry in
Western India and the jute industry of Bengal grew apace
and by the end of the nineteenth century drew out British
reformists, the Manchester and Dundee lobbies on the need
to regulate factory conditions.
Mary Carpenter, celebrated educationist and prison
reforms campaigner, on her return from a tour of India,
argued for urgent legislative intervention on behalf of
women and children workers, at that stage more than a
fourth of the total textile factory workforce.
The first Factories Act came in 1881, at the teeth
of the mill-owners’ opposition.
From this period and upto the outbreak of the first
world war, state and public interest in labour conditions
remained focused on women and children.
The long and laboured controversies among the
employers, reformers (both British and Indian), the
provincial governments, the Government of India and that
of Britain produced a rich literature on women’s working
conditions and on social and gender division of labour in
that period. Alongside,
industrial employers, concerned about labour supply in a
period of rapid expansion, generated a veritable archive
on labour. The
planters -- of Assam tea-gardens and the overseas colonies
-- were heavily dependent on the state for labour
recruitment and control.
And they were among the few ‘modern’ sector
employers who had special need for women -- for both
reproductive and productive purposes.
Their practices and policies were the key points
around which questions of women’s work were discussed
all these areas, the concern was with the woman in her
capacity as a worker.
At this stage, legislation sought to regulate the
condition of women actually engaged in factory work -- the
hours of work, periods of rest, the prohibition of night
work and/or the handling of machinery. These laws were for
workers who were ‘special’ because they were women.
And they were special in three ways: first, they
also had to perform their reproductive roles as wives and
mothers; second, their physical weakness limited the kind
of work suitable for them; and third, they were unable to
uphold their own interests and thus needed the
‘protection’ of the state.
Even those who opposed protective legislation
usually agreed that women workers had ‘special’
characteristics. For instance, jute mill-owners agreed
that women should not work long hours but argued that due
to the multiple shift system they did not do so anyway and
therefore legislation was not necessary.
They agreed that women workers had an important
familial role to play, but pointed out that their earnings
were crucial to household survival.
The men workers, however, were considered not only
as not having the same ‘needs’ as women but also as
free and able to negotiate mutually beneficial working
conditions with employers.
this early period, those directly concerned with
controversies over labour -- employers and the state --
were the most prolific recorders of labour issues.
A few concerned Indian and British reformers wrote
a few accounts accounts, the most remarkable being those
of Dwarkanath Ganguly and Ramkumar Vidyaratna on labour in
tea plantations of Assam.
It in the latter that we find glimpses of the kind
of concern over women’s labour that was to hold centre-stage
after the First World War.
The exigencies of women’s sexual and reproductive
roles were in conflict, these writings seem to suggest,
with their recruitment as wage labour .
They dwelt on two major consequences of women’s
migration: first, the depredation of the family from which
the women were recruited and second, the unsuitability of
plantation employment for women given, especially, their
vulnerability to sexual violence by European plantation
1920s witnessed the proliferation of a different kind of
writing about working women.
While the state and employers continued to produce
material about their women workers, a group of
professionals -- academics and doctors, especially -- also
focused on these women as a social ‘problem’.
Kelman’s book (1923) was followed by G.M.
Broughton’s (an Inspectress of Factories) (1924),
several by Margaret Read (1927, 1931 and 1934), and one by
C.M. Matheson (1930).
These were women writers focusing on the concerns
of women workers. R.K. Das wrote a long and
well-researched essay on women workers in 1931.
Other general studies of labour contained long
sections on women -- P.S. Lokanathan (1929), S.G.
Panandikar (1933), B. Shiva Rao (1939) and Radhakamal
Mukherjee (1947). Three
European women doctors -- Drs. Francis Barnes, Dagmar
Curjel and Margaret Balfour -- did extensive research on
fertility and mortality among working and working class
women and published several tracts between 1923 and 1935.
writings reflect a distinct shift in the nature of public
concern about and state regulation of factory labour.
It was no longer accepted that the state should
protect the ‘weaker’ sections of the workforce while
adult male labour dealt with the ‘market’ without any
Faith in the paramountcy of free trade over the
labour market waned and the newly instituted International
Labour Organisation initiated long-term efforts to create
a minimum standard for labour conditions and undertake its
monitoring across the globe.
There were two clear differences from the earlier
there was a move to equalise women’s and men’s working
conditions by adopting similar checks of hours of work and
welfare measures that were, at least ostensibly, gender
a set of reforms continued to address women in specific
terms but in their reproductive capacity.
Factory women were increasingly regarded not as
workers with particular problems calling for separate
remedies but as special kinds of mothers and wives -- ones
who also worked. Alongside
debates about whether they should work or not were
questions about the adverse impact of work on housewifery,
child bearing and rearing.
These were directed towards isolating, and if
possible remedying, the specific problems of working wives
and mothers. This
shift was in consonance with the growing state discourse
about the ‘family’ and the public focus on alarming
rates of maternal and infant mortality in India.
Various professional and social discourses
converged in the 1920s and 30s on motherhood -- both as a
problem and as a solution.
Working class women were included in these concerns
to the devaluation of their work roles.
Eventually, industrial employers used working class
motherhood as both a practical and an ideological
instrument to reduce the (female) workforce during the
depression of the 1930s.
In the Bengal jute industry, for instance, the
proportion of women declined by about 2 per cent between
1930 and 1940. A
steeper decline was set in motion in the coal industry
when women were banned from underground work in 1928.
In plantations, they retained their share (about
half to start with) much longer because of the perceived
‘feminine’ skill involved in low-paid plucking jobs.
But elsewhere in India too (Bombay and Ahmedabad)
women suffered job losses.
attacks on women’s jobs became more pronounced in a new
round of ‘rationalisation’ undertaken in industry in
the 1950s. According
to the figures published in the Annual Reports of the
Indian Jute Mills Association, there was a 5 per cent
decline in the proportion of women in the jute workforce
between 1950 and 1955, another 4.5 per cent decline
between 1955 and 1960.
By 1971, women who had been almost a fourth of the
jute workforce were decimated to a bare 2 per cent of the
decline of female labour in industries coincided with the
improvement of wages and working conditions. In the jute
industry, for instance, the real wages increased most
rapidly from the mid-1960s to be almost doubled by the end
of the 1980s.
the 1940s, academic writing on labour began to concentrate
on the twin aspects of modernisation-industrialisation
problem and on the issue of progressive class
consciousness as evinced through the rapid unionisation of
earlier prominence given to women workers as a special
category eroded with the decline in their proportion
within the workforce.
The greatly diminished visibility of women workers
bolstered growing ideological commitment to the notion of
a cohesive and solidaristic working class.
Radhakamal Mukherjee’s pioneering book, The
Indian Working Class
(1947) included a chapter on ‘Women and Child
Labour’, discussions of the adverse effect of exclusion
of women from underground work in mines, the implication
of ‘family budgets’ and the relevance of a national
minimum wage for women and children.
Subsequently, however, the history of the
‘working class’ became increasingly equated with that
of strikes and unionisation.
The little of academic and professional writing
which still chose to focus on women, for instance the
studies conducted by M. N. Rao and H.C. Ganguly (1950-51),
retained the earlier emphasis on sexuality and motherhood.
workers, thus, were being marginalised on multiple fronts:
in actual exclusion from rapidly improving organised
sector employment, from the political space that unionised
labour aspired to and eventually occupied and even from
more general public and ‘social’ concerns of the
earlier decades. Overall,
we see a diminution of women’s identity as workers. This
paper will address a few facets of this process.
First, the ‘organisation’ of industry and
labour is directly related to the decline in women’s
the one hand, employers became less interested in women as
the progress of welfare legislation reduced their cost
the other, the nature of the legislation helped to bring
their reproductive roles into prominence and created a
climate of public opinion against women’s employment in
could then target women for retrenchment as a means of
‘rationalising’ the workforce. Second, as the process
of organisation created a relatively more secure enclave
of employment approaching a ‘family wage’, working
class family strategy changed.
In working class households where many members
previously worked in industry, the trend turned towards a
single male breadwinner. But this was a tiny enclave and
the proportion of families who secured a foothold in this
sector was on the decline. In the less advantaged
agricultural and/or the ‘unorganised’ sectors, the
participation of women and children remained steady and
often increased during downturns in the economy when the
‘security’ of the ‘organised’ sector failed. Such
adjustments within the family economy were made possible
by the continuing authority of male heads of households
who were able to command the deployment of women’s
labour in consonance with ‘family needs’. The male
workers over ‘their’ women’s productive/reproductive
activities came to be reflected in trade union policies.
The unions were also participants in the emerging
public and state emphasis on women’s reproductive roles.
The significance of such a convergence lay in the
development of national-level federated trade unions by
political parties, which contributed to the process of
‘organisation’ of registered industries.
Labour, thus ‘organised’ earned not an
inconsiderable voice in labour conditions.
This voice, when just emerging in the 1930s,
accepted female retrenchment as a necessary strategy in
the face of spiraling male employment.
From the 1950s, the unions played an active role in
eliminating existing women and hindering women’s
policies were only in part due to the prejudices of the
middle class leadership, reflecting, much more
importantly, the adult male workers’ status aspirations
and desire for maintaining family authority.
paper is arranged in three sections.
The first section discusses the increasing concern
with women’s familial roles from the 1920s, the second
examines women’s role in labour protests to show how
their roles were represented and how their modes of action
were sidelined by the growth of unionisation.
The long term consequences of these two phenomena
is the focus of the third and final section. This section
draws on the recent research, as mentioned earlier, on
contemporary trends in women’s employment in
Morality and Motherhood
1888, Ramkumar Vidyaratna’s Kulikahini
[Sketches from Cooly Life] was published.
It was a fictional recreation of experiences
gathered while touring Assam tea plantations.
The major thrust of this series of stories was the
highly exploitative labour regime in the tea plantations.
Questions of gender and labour were, however,
inextricably linked in the delineation of the central
character, Adarmani, a woman tea-garden worker.
The story begins with attempts by a garden manager
to recruit peasant women from north India.
He instructs his chief agent, an arkathi,
to employ female recruiters.
must say, ‘We were in Assam... there was much comfort
there.... You too must come with us and you will soon be
as prosperous. As
it is you are losing weight working day and night at
domestic chores without food, without clothes, without a
single bangle on your arms.
To top it all you receive the husband’s curses
and punches. You
women are fools to endure all this.’ (pp.
author then goes on to depict how two women recruiters,
Ramuna and Jhamuna, successfully recruits Adarmani, the
wife of a poor peasant, and her two daughters.
The recruiters found Adar in a particularly
vulnerable state. Her
husband had gone away with their son in search of work
becuase the rent was in arrears and interest had to be
paid to the moneylender.
The recruiters chose this moment to ‘entice’
adopted the two-pronged startegy recommended by the
they held out attractions of rich clothes, ornaments and a
good life. This
was then contrasted with the misery and drudgery of
Adar’s present existence as a mere ‘wife’.
One of the women said persuasively,’Your husband
thinks that a little rice and a coarse cloth is enough to
keep you tied to him for life.
And kicks and punches are all the ornaments you
also explicitly construed Adar’s decision to migrate to
the tea plantation as a revocation of male authority,
‘Would your husband have let you go if he knew?’
Ramkumar Vidyaratna wishes to make the point that ‘a
little rice and a cloth’ accompanied by the husband’s
kicks and punches were indeed a better option for Adar
than her inevitable fate in the teagardens.
In succumbing to the recruiters’ wiles, Adar was
not only revoking male authority but was inviting its
terrible consequences: hard work, poor pay and sexual
exploitation in the gardens.
He laid out in graphic detail the conditions which
led women to repudiate their home and husbands to go to
distant Assam. There
was economic hardship, physical strain, battering and
above all male control and subjugation.
He repeated these arguments when Ramuna persuaded a
wavering Adarmani to take the final step towards Assam.
The author’s imaginative reconstruction of
Adar’s hardships in the village and at home as expressed
through Ramuna’s rather phony dialogues is laden with a
heavy and obvious irony.
His foreknowledge that conditions in Assam were in
every aspect worse than Adar’s present difficulties were
meant to be read into Ramuna’s diatribe against
‘men’ (husbands): ‘Men in general are terrible....
They die of envy when they hear that you will be able to
earn Rs. 5 or 6, that you will able to live like a
There is a tension in the many long passages in
this vein: on the one hand, the author quite evidently
presumes that a kind of a declaration of war against the
husband would, credibly, appeal to Adar; on the other, he
condemns Adar’s susceptibility as ill-informed,
ill-judged and illegitimate.
story underlines and exemplifies women’s transition from
traditional (male) familial authority to the new sites of
colonial production where women were vulnerable to
heightened labour and sexual exploitation.
Over time, the urban world appeared like a cauldron
of vice, crime and disease while by contrast the rural
world gained idyllic characteristics in increasingly
The sharpening contrast drawn between rural/urban
and peasant/worker had pronounced gender overtones and
poor urban woman became its concentrated focus.
the 1920s, the condition of women in the factories and the
mill towns began to provoke a variety of discussions.
spite of the ignorance that prevails widely with regard
to the conditions of women’s labour in India, a real
public interest has been aroused.
This has been evident for a long time, but it has
become much more conscious since the publication of the
Convention of the Washington Conference and the
consequent discussions with regard to the extent to
which these can be applied to Indian conditions.
Outstanding instances of Welfare Work, Medical
research and the rising of Trade Union Organization have
each helped to spread the interest.
Washington Convention (1919) provided for compulsory
maternity leave and benefit for women industrial workers.
The Government of India pleaded that such a law was
unworkable in India and was requested by ILO to furnish
information about the condition of women workers.
This prompted, for the first time, special and
directed drives to generate knowledge about women workers
in industries. Three
women, G.M. Broughton, Dr. Francis Barnes and Dr. Dagmar
Curjel were designated to enquire into ‘conditions
before and after childbirth’ of women workers in the
North-west, Bombay cotton textile industry and the Bengal
these initiatives, prompted by the well-meaning effort to
bring to Indian working women the benefits of maternity
leave with compensation, nevertheless provided some of the
most abiding and powerful negative images of Indian women
report has not been traced. Doubtless some of her findings
are recorded in her book mentioned earlier. Barnes in a
small report gave a detailed description of the unhygienic
and overcrowded conditions in which poor urban women gave
and her finding that ninety per cent working class
children were fed opium have assumed the proportions of
Curjel left a report of several hundred pages including
her filled-in questionnaires.
Her papers have become a major source of
information about Bengal’s working women.
report was the first comprehensive statement, most
oft-quoted, about the questionable and ‘non-family’
character of jute mill women.
labour usually brings it womenfolk with them into jute and
cotton mills but in the majority of cases are not the
wives of the men with whom they live.
It is not possible for a women worker to live or in
many cases work without male protection.... and
practically all such Bengalee women found in the mills are
degraded women or prostitutes.
report also contained formidable evidence on appalling
working conditions and a clear recommendation for a
blanket application of maternity benefit legislation, but
what was picked up and widely quoted was the alarming
picture of female promiscuity and a breakdown of the
family she had drawn.
It was from her report that the ‘non-family’
character of urban Indian labour was discovered and the
image of the women ‘who were not the wives’ of the men
with whom they lived was passed on to posterity.
these were not far from Ramkumar Vidyaratna’s concerns
about peasant women being lured into immoral conditions of
waged work. In
the urban situation, however, there was a further
‘objective’ ballast to such characterisations: the low
sex ratio in the mills and in the urban population.
The fact that fewer women migrated to the urban
areas became both the cause and the consequence of poor
urban women’s degradation. Janet Kelman gave perhaps the
least morally laden descriptions of the phenomenon:
most serious problems connected with the effect of labour
conditions on moral standards arise from this division of
breaking-up of home in a country where family life bulks
so largely in the civilization cannot but bring evil
results with it. There
are different moral standards in India from those
acknowledged in Europe.
A woman may be a wife though she is not the only
one, but the relations between men and women that are
brought about by the influx into the cities of immense
numbers of men are not in accordance with Indian standards
the 1940s, however, such arguments, by force of
repetition, had acquired more power.
Radhakamal Mukherjee said,
serious disparity between the proportions of sexes is
responsible for prostitution and spread of venereal
diseases.... Such disparity is the largest in the mining
towns but all industrial towns show the preponderance of
single male workers who have left their families
was believed that social sanctions against women’s
mobility and visibility were effective deterrents to
family migration. Men, who migrated to the city to
supplement their household income, would not risk their
status which influenced their foothold in the village by
bringing their wives to the city.
Dagmar Engels, in her study of women in Bengal,
refered to these arguments.
did not bring their wife and family with them to the mill
areas because of traditional Indian cultural values.
Men from Bihar and UP said that they would lose
their status in the village if they dared to bring their
wives to mill areas in Calcutta.
Hakim told the Royal Commission in 1930, ‘People of my
district do not bring family to industrial areas... if I
brought my family people would laugh at me.’
Over decades, this statement has been widely quoted
to ‘prove’ that respectable women did not migrate to
the cities and therefore, by extension, that those who did
migrate were prone to promiscuity.
To quote once again from Radhakamal Mukherjee’s
‘single’ man comes back to the village tainted and
diseased, while the women workers lose their self-respect
and virtue and are looked down by the village population.
In the thousand slums of the Indian industrial
centres, manhood is, unquestionably, brutalized, womanhood
dishonoured and childhood poisoned at its very source.
The village social code is repelled at this and
discourages workers from bringing their wives with them
into the industrial centre.
arguments leave unexplained why better-paid workers
(including those from Hakim’s district), especially the
sardars, often brought their wives with them.
oral evidence collected by various labour commissions
provides a different picture.
It appears that women who suffered impoverishment
through inadequacy or loss of male earnings by desertion
or barrenness or widowhood opted for migration since
economic opportunities in the village were reduced.
The same applied to women who wished to physically
escape oppressive fathers and husbands.
Such women figured prominently in the female
one, all the women interviewed by the commission of 1891
were widows who held that all their colleagues were widows
too and that widowhood alone drove Bengali women into mill
Even in the 1930s, the situation had not changed
Kurmi came to work in the jute mill because ‘after the
death of her husband the witness found that she could not
earn a living in her native place, and her brothers were
not willing to receive her back into the family on account
of the extra work it would give them to keep her’.
She had no children, she came to Calcutta alone and
secured work in Howrah Jute Mill.
Others like Bochu Nilkantha came to Serampore with
his mother when his father died.
Noor Mohammed’s mother ‘compelled him to join
the mill’ when his father died.
Mangari came to Titagarh with her husband who
‘died of cholera’ and she subsequently found work in
the preparing department of the mill.
Her ‘widowed mother’ worked in the same
sister was ‘a barren lady’ who worked in the same
of these women came to the city alone and set up house
with one of the many ‘single’ men who worked in the
mills; and some came to the mill towns ‘with men who
were not their husbands’.
Since many of these women migrated outside the
family context, they were construed as aberrant.
They became objects of elite derision and came to
personify the breakdown of morality in the city’s
The working class neighbourhoods became associated
with the collapse of caste and gender hierarchies.
The Bengali women, especially, were often described
as prostitutes. Doubtless,
some migrants sought refuge in the impersonality of urban
life after transgressing kin or caste rules in the
elite descriptions, these men and women acquired a
particularly prominent profile.
G.M. Broughton, the Lady Inspector of Factories,
man may be outcasted in the village, on account of having
married a woman of lower caste than himself or he has
given his daughter in marriage in this way.
Or again he may have broken either advertantly or
inadevrtantly, any of the other caste observances rigidly
enforced in his village.
In order to escape the social ostracism which is
the inevitable consequence... the man has to leave.
In a factory or mine he will be able to mingle with
men and women of various castes and creeds who will not
look askance at him.
Panandikar also elaborated the notion that the city was a
hospitable refuge for those fleeing traditional social
sanctions in the villages.
the village standards of behaviour and morals are laid
down by social and religious customs and are enforced by
the village communities through their panchayats.... If a
villager violates any of these standards he is not allowed
to get water from the well, none gives him employment or
sells him even the necessaries of life.... [W]hen he
migrates to the town he discovers the absence of similar
standards in the industrial community... even if some
groups in the community have brought their standards with
them they have no power to enforce them.... A substantial
portion of the recruits consists of the reckless and
adventurous elements of the village and they rebel against
the customary standards and assert their own will.
evidence from official documents and independent
researchers suggests that it were the ‘single women’
and some male migrants in ‘entaglements with local
women’ who settled most readily in the mill towns.
These women could not return to their villages,
according to Dagmar Curjel.
These women were more completely ‘proletarianised’ and
their ‘rural link’ irrevocably broken.
There were also workers from the bottom of the
social scale -- the Muchis and the Chamars -- who took
more readily to permanent settlements around the mills.
The women of these castes were more readily
de-linked from their villages: ‘[a] large proportion of
their women came to stay’.
R.N. Gilchrist, the Labour Officer of the
Government of Bengal, observed that second generation
immigrants working in the jute mills were born in the mill
lines or in the neighbourhoods.
They rarely returned to their native village.
They were the ‘illegitimate children of jute men
and women workers... and a large number of these women and
children, who are born of the [temporary] unions, never
leave the areas where they work’.
the 1920s and 30s, argues Radha Kumar, the concept of the
woman as mother gained ascendance. And the focus was on
‘the working class woman as mother of the second
generation proletarian’. She argues, in the context of
the Bombay textile industry, ‘the family assumed vital
importance for administrators, planners and employers’.
This importance is evident in the periodic family budget
surveys, investigations into maternal and infant welfare.
The preoccupation with the ‘non-family’ character of
jute mill labour would then seem another expression of the
‘search for a family’ being undertaken in Bombay.
Kumar argues that the 1920s saw parallel efforts at
‘rationalising’ the labour process as well as the
process of reproduction, i.e., the family.
R.S. Chandavarkar is sceptical of the possibility
of either mill owners or the colonial state being
concerned about the ‘family’ or even about
It is highly plausible, however, that the discourse on
‘motherhood’ came at a convenient juncture for
mill-owners who were seeking ways of ‘rationalising’
(read downsizing) the workforce.
The concern with motherhood not only gave them a
morally justifiable argument but also allowed them to
operate within an ideological space that male workers and
trade union leaders shared.
Bengal, moralistic perceptions about working women were
invoked by mill owners to postpone maternity benefit
legislation for two decades. In the late 1920s, mills in
Calcutta started their own voluntary schemes, partly as a
means of staving off stiffer legal provision and partly in
order to ensure closer control and supervision of women
workers. When in the wake of the Royal Commission
(1930-31) maternity benefit legislation became inevitable,
Dr. Margaret Balfour confirmed the mill-owners’ argument
that the main need of the hour was not statutory maternity
leave with compensation but ‘welfare work’. Drawing on
Curjel’s earlier statement, Balfour argued that because
the men did not bring their own wives with them many of
them... form temporary alliances with other women, whom
after a time they may desert leaving the women to support
any children that may be born. The women... may be said to
fall into three classes.
There are the wives of male workers, some of whom
work in the mills and of whom do not. There are the widows
or women apart from their husbands led by necessity to
seek for work and these are too often forced or persuaded
into temporary alliances. Lastly, there are the
prostitutes. It is the middle class who are struggling to
support themselves honestly for whom great sympathy must
be felt.... Welfare work among women would probably do
more than anything else to improve the moral conditions.
Curjel nor Balfour were unsympathetic.
They repeatedly emphasised the need for maternity
But their characterisation of women workers helped
the employers to argue against legislation.
An employers’ association, the Bengal Mahajan
Sabha, laid the failure of maternity benefit schemes on
women workers themselves: ‘The peculiar type of female
labour in the jute mills... does not conduce to the
creation of schemes which presuppose normal family
life’. Another, the Narayanganj Chamber of Commerce,
argued that the ‘type of labour’ did not need
maternity benefit since ‘normal family life was
notoriously absent’. And also that, ‘child
motherhood’, ‘indiscriminate procreation’ and
‘unmarried’ motherhood were ‘conditions that
exist’ and had to be taken into account in framing
these arguments did not hold back maternity benefit
legislation indefinitely, by the time it was passed in
Bengal in 1939, the connection between working women and
sexual immorality had assumed enormous proportions in
public imagination. It
fed, on the one hand, the working class family’s desire
to withdraw women from industrial employment when male
wages improved; and, on the other hand, facilitated the
employers’ strategy of eliminating women from the
proportions of women had embarked on its declining trend
already by 1939, but from the 1950s, managers, trade
unionists and policy-makers shared the conviction that it
was legislation that ‘caused’ this decline.
is significant to note that the proportions of women
workers in the total factory population dropped at a fast
rate immediately after the Bengal Maternity Benefit Act,
1939, was put on the Statute Book and again when the
provision for maintenance of a creche by the employer was
incorporated... Women labour were previously employed and
are still employed mostly for the reason that they are
chepaer than their male counterpart.
Progressive labour legislation... has made women
labour costlier these days.
Hence the general attitude of the factory
management regarding employment of women is to ‘do away
with the women labour with a view to avoid in future
expenses on special welfare benefits for women’.
categorical statements notwithstanding, most careful
enquiry fails to establish a direct relationship between
passing of benefit, ‘protective’ or other
‘welfare’ legislation and the decline in women
it appears that such decline coincided with
‘rationalisation’ drives. It could be argued that
these legislation were deployed as justification by
employers in periods of labour squeeze rather than
constituting the actual cause for retrenching women
and working class politics
factories, mills and mines, which undertook the first
large-scale retrenchment of women in the 1930s, were also
to be the nucleus of the ‘formal’ sector covered by
state regulation. These comprised the ‘organised’
sector not only because they were subjected to record and
registration, but because, by the 1960s, their labour grew
to be almost fully unionised with considerable bargaining
strength vis-a-vis employers and the state.
Historical accounts of this strongly assertive
labour force has provided the obvious ground for
demonstrating the ‘making’ of the Indian working
class. Most historians have seen these developments as the
flowering of ‘working class consciousness’. The
underlying assumption is that these processes ‑
unionisation and successful collective bargaining– are
gender neutral. Evidence suggests quite the contrary. The
story of class formation is rendered gender neutral
through a concentrated focus on successfully organised
workers. The story is construed on a circular logic in
which the gender identity of workers is left unmarked:
(men) workers have worked in factories; factory workers
have been unionised; and unionised workers have
self-consciously asserted themselves as working class.
Yet, if it were male workers who constituted the
‘working class’, then, of course, one primary axis
along which the ‘working class’ developed was gender.
It were male workers who were successfully
‘organised’, unionised and brought within the purview
of regulated wages and working conditions.
These men strengthened their stranglehold over
prized jobs in the organised sector through various
exclusionary strategies. The process of organisation
went hand in hand with masculinisation.
Indeed, it could be argued, women’s marginalisation was
imbricated in the nature and development of organised
working class politics.
is not as though women were absent altogether from the
formal sector. Indian factory workers were only predominantly
male. In the early 1920s, women were about 15-20 per cent
of the workforce in textile mills, nearly half and more
than half of the workforces of mines and plantations.
Their proportions began to decline from the 1930s. Even in
the 1930s, women were not invariably ‘docile’ or
compliant workers. They
also forged solidarities, sometimes with men workers and
sometimes against them, and they undertook collective
action, sometimes separately and sometimes in alliance
with male-dominated trade unions. How then did women
become so irrelevant to the increasingly powerful
male-dominated unions within a period of about thirty
is a history, though not much told, of women workers’
protests. There are also a variety of tense and uneasy
representations of their militancy, both in contemporary
and historical accounts. The researcher has to read them,
as the cliche goes, ‘against the grain’, in order to
see how women workers, as active historical agents,
negotiated their gender and class identities.
The problem, in this case, is that the evidence
points in opposite directions. In much of contemporary
writing and from oral evidence, we get two diametrically
different images. On
the one hand, women are described as ‘loyal’ workers,
docile and manageable; on the other, in fragments and
glimpses, frequent enough to attract attention, we come
across the image of violent, aggressive and assertive
women who took leading role in confrontations with the
management and even the police. Both these images have to
be considered in some detail in the specific context of
and large, contemporary official and union records of
working class political activities do not mention women at
of meetings, demonstrations, strikes, or even violent
crowds, rarely contain specific reference to women or to
individuals as women.
Public meetings, in which women participated, were
habitually described as if they were composed entirely of
men, unless women were extremely prominent and therefore
attracted attention. Strikes too were described without
mention of women, though they must have been part of them.
The term ‘men’ was presumed to include women, while
other terms like ‘hands’ or ‘workers’ or even more
commonly used notations like ‘mob’ or ‘crowd’
bypassed the question altogether.
Addresses in leaflets, for instance, presumed an
entirely male readership. Appeals to solidarity were
addressed to the fraternity of workers.
Trade unions imagined the working class as a
homogeneous and solidaristic male population, an
imagination inscribed in their very language.
Women, when they were considered at all, were often
expected to play a negative role in the labour movement.
negative expectation from women found further
amplification in both employers’ and unions’
stereotyping women as ‘docile’ and manageable workers.
In such a discourse, women’s militancy was
usually displaced by victimhood. Thus they were portrayed
as ‘victims’, in turns, of managerial, or state, or
union violence. In
all these cases, the attempt was to tap the mobilising
potential of the ‘woman wronged’.
Frequent references to atrocities by managers or
the police were an easy and quick way to gain public
sympathy and strengthen resistance.
Equally, managers talked about male workers
inflicting violence on otherwise tractable and compliant
women workers to delegitimise union activities. The
‘woman as victim’ was a powerful image because it
personalised political resistance and often successfully
harnessed public outrage and working class anger in
support of strikes. But
these portrayals were also double-edged in that they
contributed to the passive and powerless image of women.
Women’s agency in moments of protest could be and
often was reduced to ‑or even erased by
‑effete images of sexual violation or suffering
even when women initiated strikes, newspaper and official
reportage focused, not on their grievances and demands,
but on the brutalities perpetrated on them.
In writing about women, the image of the victim and
martyr came more readily to the scribe.
In such reports, the fate of victimhood loomed
larger than the act of protest.
Let us take an instance from Bengal: the Ludlow
Mill strike of 1928 came in two phases.
In the first stage, all the workers had gone on
strike demanding the dismissal of two oppressive jamadars
and asking for a wage raise.
While the men were out in a meeting, management
agents came into the mill lines and persuaded the women to
join work on a verbal agreement to meet their demands.
The strike was broken.
When the mill management did not fulfil its
promise, the women, unilaterally, went on strike.
Before the men and the union had mobilised, the
management, in a pre-emptive action, arrested some of the
ring-leaders including six Telegu-speaking women of the
A large contingent of women marched to the local thana
to demand their release.
The police attacked the women and a fracas ensued.
In reporting this incident, all the leading
newspapers highlighted a single incident when a young
child was separated from the mother who had carried the
child at the demonstration.
Ananda Bazar Patrika screamed the headline, ‘The
Infant torn from Mother’s Arms’ and went on to say,
‘after this, the other women workers were beaten up
were pulled by their hair and dragged up.... One
60-year-old woman was beaten to unconsciousness... a
one-year-old baby was torn from his mother’s breast and
flung to the ground.’ (11 and 13 June 1928)
The case became so emotive that the District
Magistrate, Gurusaday Dutta, went to investigate the case.
imaging of women as victims of managerial violence became
more effective when linked with the metaphor of sexual
is not to argue that women workers were not subjected to
sexual molestation, as indeed the earlier description did
not intend to underplay managerial and police brutalities.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that
violence was frequently used against women.
But, particular incidents of such violence could
acquire heightened political significance in different
marking out men in authority like managers, supervisors,
the police or even durwans
and sardars as
sexual predators afforded a potent and personalised symbol
of exploitation. Accusations of sexual abuse against
European managers and supervisors provided the basis for
collective action, sometimes by women themselves, and
often with the help and support of male workers.
protesting against sexual abuse, women often invoked the
notion of honour (izzat)
which had enormous appeal for the working community.
Invoking potential anger against sexual abuse to
muster working class solidarity, however, meant that women
workers were acting in their capacity as workers to
reinscribe their gender oppression.
The notion of honour, embedded in a cultural
discourse that privileged above all women’s chastity and
‘purity’, was a particularly male conception. Therein
lay its power to tap men’s emotions and attract their
women workers sought to negotiate the contradiction within
which they were situated vis-a-vis managers and
working-class men. The
gains were obvious -- the support of fellow workers in
their protests against sexual abuse.
However, they were drawing on a notion of honour in
which they were a mere vehicle for assertion of male
status and power. Women were incapable of agency in this
discourse, which depicted them as passive and powerless.
Such a notion of honour invoked, inevitably, the
‘protection’ of male workers against threatening
managers and their agents.
that such ‘protection’ was a fragile refuge and that
honour like many other instruments was double-edged were
proved repeatedly. The
male notion of honour was constructed, typically, in the
context of the family.
But it was susceptible to extension from the
corporate family to a wider community. And in the latter
context, women became the sites on which communities
traded insults, ‘honour’ assuming a highly symbolic
and codified meaning in battles between workingmen.
Thus, women did often invoke ‘honour’ as a mode
of resistance, but this same notion could be deployed by
men workers with women as the passive sites on which
imageries of ‘protection’ and ‘violation’ were
played out. Notably,
the ‘community’ on which women’s ‘honour’ was
inscribed was never static.
When women successfully invoked honour to rally
support to their cause, this community was co-terminus
with class. But
it was not always so.
The construction of community and the encapsulation
of its honour could be defined by language, religion or
boundaries of community, shifting continually across the
interstices of these definitions were drawn and redrawn in
moments of crisis and protest.
At times, ‘honour’ of women was subsumed within
the community and grist to the mill of communal conflicts
and rivalries. The
emphases on societal constructions of women’s honour
that were essentially male reinforced the passive and
powerless image of the working-class woman.
The role of the victim was extended, from
subjection to state and managerial brutality in moments of
class conflict to a comprehensive vulnerability within and
outside shifting categories of community.
extreme vulnerability and oppressive situation of the
working class woman can not be overstated.
Nevertheless, they acquired the reputation being
excessively violent, aggressive and capable of leadership,
collective action as well as individual intiative.
We find mention of such women from the beginning of
the history of industrialisation, but they acquired a
special edge and prominence in the 1920s.
Kelman said of the Bombay cotton mill women,
power of co-operative action along lines that already
appeal to them and can combine effectively.
This can be gathered from the frequency with which
it is said that the women women must be humoured of their
husbands are to be retained as workers in the mills.
cites a case where women workers collected the money and
hung a clock in their room.
They refused to let the management pay for it or
have anything to do with it.
They may have feared that the management would
tamper with the time.
The attempt to reduce wages and workers in winding
and reeling, which were women’s departments, led, in the
twenties and thirties, to a series of strikes spearheaded
March 1926, women colour winders in the Rachel Sassoon
Mill went on strike against being made to use
cheese-winding machines and remained out for five days.
On 2 January 1928, women winders of the Jacob
Sassoon Mill refused to work because the notice posted
outside said that from 1 February their wage rates were to
be reduced in order to bring them down to standard rates.
About 250 women stayed away from work.
In the afternoon of 2 January, the spinners joined
morning, all the workers went on strike.
This sparked off the general strike of 1928.
In reporting the strike, the Labour Gazette sought
to distinguish between the women’s grievance and the
causes of the general strike. The women’s original
dispute was about the reduction of wages in the winding
department but its extension to other mills, said the
Gazette, was due to opposition to the Indian Textile
Tariff Board’s recommended system of working.
On the one hand, women’s specific initiative is
recorded, but subtly undermined by association with
narrower interests vis-a-vis a more generalised
‘class’ issue. But
these strikes confirm the especially adverse impact of
rationalisation on women’s departments as well as
women’s ability to begin and sustain collective action
on ‘economic’ issues.
In fact, as the crisis deepened, many mills had to
close down and others rapidly reduced workers in winding
and reeling. Between
August 1932 and 1933 there were twelve strikes by women
against reduction in wages and retrenchment.
Women workers went on strike on 9 February 1935 in
Jacob Sassoon Mill demanding an increase in wages and the
dismissal of the winding master, who, they said, was
harassing them. It
lasted two days and they resumed work
A week later they went on strike against the
introduction of a nine hours’ day starting at 7.30 a.m.
While this accelerated frequency of strikes stemmed
from a heightened sense of grievance, their greater
effectiveness and sustainability was due to their ability
to unionise. Between
late 1930 and 1932, unions intervened in all strikes by
Girni Kamgar Union and the Bombay Textile Labour Union
realised the potential of women’s collective action.
The Sassoon Alliance silk mill strike by women in
1932 was sustained over 5 months because the union played
an active part in setting up a strike fund and
in cotton textile industry in Bombay thus took collective
initiative when the ‘women’s departments’ were
threatened and they often won the support of the major
textile workers’ union.
But women workers in other industrial centres did
not share this experience.
The jute mill women suffered more than most male
workers in the limited mechanisation planned and executed
in the mid-thirties.
In 1941, in the Anglo-India (Middle) Jute Mill,
Jagaddal, 118 women were retrenched from the preparing
roll formers and feeder-banks had been introduced between
the breaker and the finisher cards and first drawings.
Women did the feeding and they were all dismissed.
These jobs were now associated with complex
machinery and higher productivity and regarded as more
skilled and better paid.
The manager employed 18 men in the place of the
women: services of men are required’ because ‘heavier
loads’ needed to be carried.
The net result of the changeover, succinctly
expressed by the IJMA, was the retrenchment of 125 women
and the employment of 22 men.
indifference to (and indeed complicity with) women’s
retrenchment of trade unions in Bengal was in marked
contrast to trade union practice in Bombay.
In both cases, however, women workers were
associated with ‘spontaneous’ strikes at a time when
the labour movement was moving towards ‘organisation’.
This was perhaps more marked in the case of jute
mills where women resisted unionisation even in the
sixties and even when formally unionised preferred to act
outside it and on the basis of personalised relationships
forged within the mills or in the neighbourhoods where
they lived. Prior
to the growth of a strong trade union movement, which was
delayed much longer in the case of Bengal compared to
Bombay, all workers acted in manners more or less
protested over immediate or relatively short-term issues
like ad hoc demands over wage hikes, holidays, dismissals
or restoration of allowances.
Also demands for dismissals of oppressive sardars
or other mill staff who had ‘insulted’ workers’
sparked off sudden strikes. Some strikes broke out in
respsonse to wage cuts, perceived interference in customs
like the conduct of religious festivals.
These strikes were usually disorganised, sectional
and prone to individual and group violence targeted at the
state, the police, the management, and in some cases,
against other workers.
The Bengalis targeted up-country men in the late
1890s when migrants were crowding into mills depressing
Hindus and Muslims were engaged in several riots in mill
neighbourhoods since the late 1890s and especially in the
and ‘loyal’ men were always prone to attack from each
other at the picket lines, at the mill gates and in
working class quarters and settlements.
These ‘protests’ followed no distinctive
pattern and when women protested on or against much the
same issues -- harassment, wage cuts, gate-passes or acts
of managerial, supervisory or clerical staff -- they too
adopted similar tactics.
Like other workers they were apt to reach for the
broom or the stick, chase the supervisor or to walk out of
balance, however, changes when unionisation made headway.
The male workers were progressively organised,
especially after the general strike of 1937.
Strikes were less violent, better prepared, better
led and often reached the negotiation table where the
middle class leaders dealt directly with Government and
mill authorities. The
nature of demands changed.
Trade unions bargained for industry-wide demands,
long-term issues of welfare measures, insurance and labour
leaders believed, sincerely, that these changes were in
the long term interests of workers and achieved higher
gains from collective action.
But women tended to remain outside the ambit of
trade union organisation.
in the 1950s and 60s women tended to protest over
immediate issues and without support of unions.
Their ‘irrationality’, which the unions failed
to curb while they remained of some numerical importance
in the industry, was in part a response to the union’s
indifference to their specific interests.
But their activities have left an abiding
impression in the collective memory of the jute industry.
Workers, union activists, managers and supervisors
talk about strong and aggressive women who were apt to
make quick use of the broom.
Such women rejected the discipline not only of the
factory but its counterpart, the union, too.
There is much ambiguity in the way these women are
one level, there is considerable admiration for the
courage women displayed and often a great deal of
was evident in Bejoy Hazra’s account of how women
surrounded him and escorted him to and from the mill for
days to protect him against arrest.
Reports of strikes and ‘disturbances’, however,
also dwelt on adversarial women in order to amplify female
workers were regarded as sexually deviant and managers,
the police and even union officials were discomfited by
rough and disorderly women in the public space.
This was in strong and marked contrast to middle
class urban women’s participation in picketing and
women drew on the moral force of nationalism, especially
through Gandhi’s encouragement in twenties and thirties.
Factory women, however, were seen as ‘public women’
not only because they worked in the public world of
production but also in their association with
women strikers violated gender norms by taking to the
streets – a symbolically male space but also frequented
by the prostitute –women’s labour militancy could be
undermined by these derogatory associations.
three decades, from the 1930s to the 1960s, women became
increasingly marginal in working class politics.
With the growth of trade unionism, their
‘spontaneous’ modes of protest came under renewed
attack, not only from determined employers but also from
well-meaning union leaders.
But the unions did not espouse their special
grievances nor did they make any effort to include women
within the ambit of union activity.
Women’s inability to find a space within the
powerful trade unions reduced their ability to resist
directed and gendered retrenchment policies of employers.
Their share in formal sector employment was sharply
reduced, increasing women’s dependence on male income
and reinforcing male authority within the household.
This long-term trend became increasingly
entrenched, even heightened, and values of female
dependence were remarkably resilient in the face of
pressures from the labour market.
trends in women’s work: Identity and Autonomy
‘organised’ workforce has been reduced to less than
ten percent in India in the last decade. The ‘formal’
sector is under considerable attack. There
is a great deal of concern regarding the impact of these
developments on women.
At a National Seminar on Policies and Strategies
for Working Women in the Context of Industrial
Restructuring (New Delhi, 1997), Gita Sen emphasised that
the new economic regime of the 1990s creates two
simultaneous disadvantages for poor women in India.
On the one hand, they face increasing pressures to
earn from petty self-employment, in the informal sector
and in production for larger industries.
On the other hand, crumbling social security
systems force women to revert to being primary care-givers
and responsible for the well-being of their communities.
This coincides with a regeneration of so-called
‘Asian’ values, which glorify women’s multiple roles
as mother, wives, contributors to the family economy and
good citizens. ‘Globalisation’ thus ‘demands
“squaring the circle” by making women “choose” to
work within the home and in the informal sector’.[i]
In a study of the electronics industry which
employs a substantive proportion of women, Amrita Chhacchi
shows how the swiftly changing patterns in this industry
have led to large-scale forced and illegal retrenchment.
She argues that the loss of better-paid and secure
factory jobs impact more on women since they are less able
to find alternative livelihood.
Self-employment, in particular, routinely offered
as the panacea for industrial restructuring, is difficult
for women even if they have skills and/or capital.[ii]
Socially held and internalised values of gender division
of labour prevent women from setting up repairing shops or
driving auto-rickshaws which are men’s most preferred
retrenchment, however, impacts directly on very few women.
The organised workforce is tiny, and women are a
negligible proportion of it.
For the majority of women, the impact of the
challenges to organised industry is indirect.
This indirect impact is two-fold and in opposing
members of male organised workers’ households, women are
likely to be affected adversely by the losses of jobs,
security and/or income in that sector.
Indeed some of them might be forced into the labour
market themselves, which they perceive as a misfortune and
on many counts. Their
work is likely to be in the informal sector -- poorly
rewarded and not full compensation for the loss in male
earnings; their ‘going out to work’ itself involves a
loss of status; and undertaking paid work cuts into the
reproductive work they earlier undertook towards improving
the family’s standard of living.
scholars have emphasised a different aspect of the
liberalisation question. They argue that liberalisation
has exacerbated existing negative trends in the economy
and that many of the so-called effects of SAP represent
the outcomes of processes which in place long before SAP
The story of retrenchment and job loss thus needs
secure and privileged workers, women and men, in the more
traditional manufacturing sector are under threat, in some
new non-traditional export-oriented industries, women’s
employment opportunities have been expanding since the
opportunities are being availed by new categories of
women, who are for the first time entering, in some
significant numbers, the manufacturing labour force.
This seems to be the case in the ‘modern’
gem-cutting industry in Tamil Nadu.[v]
Parents are delaying marriage of daughters and accepting
their employment even when it involves long daily
commuting or long-distance migration.
Though a highly restricted phenomena, a beginning
is being made in the creation of a labour pool of
unmarried young women.
These and other married women, it is feared, will
undersell their labour and erode the bargaining advantage
won by organised labour through over a century of
is believed that MNCs and export-oriented industries are
committed to ‘flexible’ working and will automatically
gravitate towards the least organised, most vulnerable and
most flexible element in the labour market, the women.
is the context in which the term ‘feminisation’ has
gained currency. But
it is used in relation to the labour force in two
different ways. It
can indicate the employment of larger numbers of women so
that the gender profile of the labour force, or a
particular segment of it, actually changes in favour of
women. It can
indicate, however, a very different process whereby the
nature of jobs change.
From more secure and regular employment, the
economy shifts to kinds of employment more associated with
women, informalised, casualised, irregular, lower paid and
the latter case, both women and men workers are forced
into this ‘feminising’ pattern.
1970s witnessed a clear case of the first phenomenon with
the rise of the so-called New International Division of
the advanced industrialised countries of the west,
technological advance made steady inroads into male
craft-skills and allowed fragmentation of production
rising transactional costs of labour in these countries
led the MNCs to relocate their operations and to shift the
labour-intensive parts of production to ‘Third world’
the latter, women, especially young unmarried women,
provided not only cheap labour, they also offered the
crucial flexibility that mobile international capital
required to serve their volatile markets.
Thus, in the seventies and eighties many East and
South East Asian countries experienced a
‘feminisation’ of factory work. Employers depended
heavily on the ‘cheap’ and ‘docile’ labour of
young unmarried women. This has also been the case in the
Bangladesh garment industry.
Women constitute some 60 per cent of the total
workforce (while they are 7 per cent of the
non-export-oriented industries’ labour force).
Researchers argue that a perceived traditional
feminine skill in sewing, cheapness, flexibility and
docility are the reasons why garment industry employers
have shown a strong preference for a predominantly female
was some sectoral expansion in women’s employment in the
seventies and eighties.
First, there was some growth in non-agricultural
employment (NAE) in the rural sector. Public sector
spending in rural areas, both through development
programmes and through a spread effect from spending by
employees of the rural public sector, resulted in a wide
range of NAE. Economic
liberalisation resulted in a significant cutback on rural
public sector spending and low-income rural women were
pushed back into low-paid casual agricultural work.
was also some increase in women’s employment in other
the eighties, the MNC had a restricted career in India:
the emphasis on the diversification of economic
activities, centralised planning and state control were
inimical to the flexibilities desired by international
Nirmala Banerjee points out that while India’s economy,
under the leadership of a strong national bourgeoisie,
remained inwardly oriented and low in export earnings,
there was a growing emphasis on export of non-traditional
items like garments, leather, food products, toys and
labour laws compared well with advanced industrialised
countries and the political power of organised labour was
the main workers in the new sectors were unorganised,
often piece-rated female labour in sweat-shops or in
home-based work. In
addition, the 1970s and 80s also witnessed an increase in
women’s employment in non home-based manufacturing.[vii]
effect did the new economic policies of the Government of
India in the 1990s have on this kind of employment? In a
few select industries like gem and jewellery, women were
employed in lower paid and unskilled tasks since
technological developments allowed reduction of skilled
male workers. In
the electronics industry, which is highly mobile, there
appears to be job rotation between men and women.
Generally speaking, the nineties saw a halting of the
process of expansion of women’s employment.
This was partly an effect of a general slow-down
but there were also some cases of substitution of women by
men workers. In the plastics industry, trade unions in
large and medium scale units signed an agreement with the
management negotiating the fixation of tasks and
has ensured that women are restricted to jobs in
assembling and packing.
As a result, they were removed from the machines
they were operating.[viii]
Sujata Ghotosker shows how the expansion of women’s
employment in pharmaceutical companies (like Glaxo) was
reversed when they decided to ‘put out’ some of their
production to smaller scale units.
These latter preferred to employ men.[ix]
one dominant trend emerges from the different case
studies, though the tendency seems to be more towards loss
rather than gain in women’s employment.
According to Nirmala Banerjee, there was not only
no overall increase in women’s employment in the
manufacturing sector, but a sharp fall in the period
immediately following the initiation of new economic
policies both in rural and urban areas.
Only in the urban tertiary sector there has been
some discernible increase.
She argues that there has been no radical change in
the behaviour of the Indian economy after SAP, the major
parameters affecting women workers have remained steady
between 1981 and 1996.
Earlier trends have been aggravated, however,
leading to further deterioration in women’s economic
there have always been some women, and in different
industries at different points in time, who do not fit the
stereotype of low-paid, irregular, casual workers.
The stereotype is true for the majority of women,
but in some industries, unionisation and workers’
struggles have won better wages and security for women
workers as well as the men.
It is also important to note that the link between
higher wages and job security no longer holds in all
women have found jobs in large units where employers
invest in training and proffer higher wages and incentives
but do not offer security.
It is the more lucrative and/or secure jobs from
which women are pushed out in periods of change or crisis.
Such was the case in many industries across India
(textiles and mining) in the 1920s and 30s, in the 1950s
and 60s and is once again the case in the 1990s.
It is women workers from this privileged section
who have lost their jobs as a result of restructuring to
become either unemployed or move into the informal sector.
men tend to monopolise the better paid jobs, when
employment is tighter, they tend to take over the jobs
women previously undertook, pushing the latter lower down
the scale to even less desirable jobs.
This gender pattern of the labour market has shown
a remarkable persistence in India.
A supposed stubborn ‘tradition’ or
‘culture’ of exclusion of women from the wage labour
is routinely trotted out to ‘explain’ the exceptional
male dominance of industrial work.
Given the universality and the low age of marriage,
there is no equivalent ‘pool’ of young unmarried women
who have been the providers of labour in the South East
Asian countries. There
has been no large-scale induction of women in factory
industry, either under national or MNC auspices.
the 1920s and 30s and upto the 90s, the formal
manufacturing sector has continued to eliminate women from
From a study I undertook in July 1997 comparing a
rayon mill and a jute mill, it appears that while an older
‘crisis-ridden’ industry could undertake this
elimination relatively gradually, a more dynamic rayon
mill, which benefitted significantly from liberalisation
was more hostile to employing women. [xii]
the 1990s, with two decades-long uncertainties in the
industry and periodic crises in individual mills, jute
mill jobs are no longer as secure.
Nevertheless, in comparison to the ‘informal’
sector possibilities, mill employment is still lucrative.
As before, the most coveted are the smaller number
of ‘permanent’ jobs but there are also a whole range
of not-so-permanent jobs which are graded according to
security of employment, number of days of work available
and social security entitlements.
The permanent workers are also the best represented
by the unions and tend to follow narrowly exclusionist
instance, unions and management agree to reserve job
‘nominations’ to male heirs.
Only when such male heirs are not forthcoming, do
female heirs qualify.
In new recruitment, as in case of the ‘zero
record’ or ‘voucher’ workers (the most casualised
section of the workforce), women are not entertained at
tend to cluster in the middle band of ‘badli’ workers.
And their numbers (as well as proportions) have
declined further since 1970s.[xiii]
it is often argued, are more adversely affected by
economic liberalisation because they bear the brunt of the
The argument relates to the second understanding of
the ‘feminisation’ thesis outlined in the earlier
assault on the organised sector, the undercutting of
organised labour and the political weakening of trade
unions will, together, it is feared, lead to a general
squeeze on labour. As
more male workers are shunted into low paid jobs,
household incomes will decline, more women will be forced
into poorly paid work in the informal sector and total
family welfare will decline.
Women will suffer more because when there is less
to go round, their share of household resources declines
consequences follow, however, from existing gender
inequities in the household and the labour market.
Women will suffer more; they already do so;
besides, not only will they suffer more than they do now,
but also, presumably, more than men will suffer.
Existing, persistent and long-term patterns of
gender disparity and discrimination are inscribed into
economic change. Economic
actors, like the state and its agents, the employers and
their agents, workers (male and female) and trade unions
operate in this playing field which is far from level.
is thus important to examine the gender characteristics of
the market in the long term.
From a survey of garment industries in Delhi,
garment and electronic industries in the Thane-Pune region
of Maharashtra, the Coimbatore textile industry and five
small industries (garment, leather, prawn processing, silk
spinning and reeling) in Bengal, Banerjee offers a profile
of the woman worker in the 1970s.
Most of the women were casual workers working,
typically, with low capital investment in tools and
was lower familial investment in their education, health
and nutrition. Most
women workers were married, burdened with exclusive
responsibility for housework and childcare.[xv]
labour market shows two clear gender characteristics.
First, women rarely take over men’s jobs by
undercutting them. Men,
too, despite high unemployment, do not usually undercut
terms of competition in this labour market are somewhat
The gender composition of a workforce is primarily
subject to male decision-making.
Male workers’ familial controls over women’s
labour allow them to acquire the flexibility (usually
associated with women) in jobs that are lucrative and
where such flexibility is desired.
preference for women workers, especially when male labour
becomes overly demanding, cannot be expressed by a direct
replacement of men by women (or vice versa).
Men resist ‘women’s jobs’ unless they are
significantly redefined or relocated.
The most common situation in which this happens is
when machinery is introduced for a previosuly manual job.
In periods of crisis, however, or if the terms of
the jobs improve, men do lay claim to women’s jobs.
Both these tendencies were evident in the jute
industry in different periods.
To undercut male workers with female or child
labour, however, employers have to undertake
job-differentiation (usually including wage cuts and
casualisation) or even major reorganisation of production
(usually involving a shift from factory/workshop to
latter was the case in the biri-rolling industry.
Thus, women do undercut men, but usually not at
their own instance and not without considerable
There has to be an evident ‘preference’ on part
of employers for them to adopt such strategies.
the years, there has been a marked tendency for men to
move out of unremunerative traditional household
activities like weaving. In West Bengal in the 1990s, for
example, the family continues to be involved in handloom
weaving by deploying women’s ‘spare time’.
The earlier taboo against women’s working at the
loom has broken down and women now weave at home while the
men join the new powerloom factories as wage workers.
The men moreover continue to handle the
‘business’ end of the household industry -- procuring
orders and marketing finished goods.
As a result, women have no control over the
earnings from this productive labour they undertake in
addition to housework and their traditional task of
goods they produce are usually of poor quality since they
have been given no opportunity to acquire the necessary
skill or knowledge.[xvi]
these patterns, it is difficult to try and predict the
impact of state policies on women’s employment.
Casualisation is not new in India and was never
specific to women. The
standard conventions of large-scale industry, except for a
brief fifty-years period,
have never been ‘rational’ in the Indian
context and is breaking down elsewhere as well.
Employers preference for casualised male labour
often coincides with male claims on ‘women’s jobs’,
especially in periods of high unemployment.
These tendencies have contributed to a long term,
often drastic, exclusion of women from more rewarding
occupations like factory jobs.
Periodic exceptions are more due to supply
bottlenecks than to changing entrepreneurial preference.
It may in fact be argued that neither national nor
MNC employment strategies are likely to make any
significant dent in the labour market in this regard.
Indeed, as mentioned earlier, the new spurt in
export industries in the 1990s did not lead (as in the
1970s) to expansion in women’s employment.
In the case of Glaxo as cited above, desire for
‘flexibility’ in the 1990s led not to augmentation of
the female workforce they had employed in the 1970s but to
fragmentation of production and putting out to smaller
new employers have tended to prefer men workers who are
more amenable to flexible working.
India, women usually join the labour force after marriage
when they already have children.
These women are constrained by their family roles
as wives and mothers.
They are less mobile and unable to commit longer
hours to paid work. This
is the largest and most vulnerable section of the female
workforce, hampered by lack of education, mobility,
opportunity to acquire or upgrade skills or find alternate
are most liable to be pushed into working more intensively
as unpaid family labour or as cheap labour for uncertain
work. They do
not offer the advantages that the factory girl in Thailand
or Taiwan does to employers.
The married Indian women workers are less flexible
than men. Rather,
the men acquire greater flexibility by abjuring housework
and childcare responsibilities, but also by controlling
women’s and children’ labour.
So women and children often enter and exit the
labour market in response to the male breadwinner’s
They enter the market when it is shrinking and
terms for labour are unfavourable -- male earnings become
more inconstant, inadequate or suspended.
They withdraw when the employment situation begins
to improve and the men are able to ‘win the bread’.
Thus women are flexible workers -- but more for the
family than for the employer.
The family’s particular requirements place limits
on their flexibility in the labour market.
the non-negotiability of housework as women’s
responsibility limit the time they can spend at work.
An important part of their worklife begins after
they return from their workplace.
My 1997 survey reveals that there has been almost
no change in the pattern of housework distribution.
When women get help with housework, it is from
other women members of the household or at best a teenage
men, even if unemployed, will not help with housework.
This means that women cannot do too much overtime;
they prefer to limit the amount of physical strain at the
and they have to take more leave and holidays
because they tend to allocate themselves lower quantity
and quality of food and are, therefore, more prone to
illness themselves [xviii]
and/or because they are responsible for the sick and old
in the family. It
is the most vulnerable women -- unmarried, deserted,
divorced or widowed -- who offer flexibility from sheer
one study it has been found that married women put in long
hour of overtime only when it is compulsory.[xix]
training and gender link the workplace and the labour
market with household hierarchy. On the one hand, young
girls and women are denied scope and access to education
and training by the family, long before they enter the
labour market; on the other, machines and workplaces are
gendered too. A
sexual division of labour is embedded in each social and
technical division of labour.
Thus men and women tend to participate in different
spaces, shops or sections of the factory when they usually
operate or set up different ‘physical technologies’
that require skills or knowledge also defined as male or
is justified as the ‘natural’ complementareity of
their roles but is usually accompanied by a ‘vertical
sexual division of labour’ -- accounting for
discriminatory wage gaps, patterns of promotion and
the dominance of personalised and informal channels of
recruitment allows male workers to influence the gender
composition of the workforce. Since inception, large scale
industry has depended on recruitment through myriad social
networks based on kin, caste and regional affiliations.
Such a ‘system’ became staple in large-scale
industries by the end of the nineteenth century.
Over time the ‘informal’ channels have been
Given the slow growth rate of organised sector and
the tight labour market, recruitment itself is fairly
is almost no direct recruitment now.
Recruitment takes place either through union
channels or by nomination.
The latter indicates the right of retiring workers
to ‘nominate’ a successor.
If a worker dies while in service, their
‘heirs’ replace them.
This ‘nomination’ is sometimes auctioned by
retiring workers to non-kin candidates on the basis of the
highest bid. Attempts
to prevent such practices have led to the re-entrenchment
of the ‘family’ in recruitment considerations.
In some units, union and employers have agreed to
restrict nomination to a ‘son’ or a ‘son-in-law’.
Clearly closing off women’s access to jobs by
nomination, which is the channel through which many
‘widows’ had earlier entered factory jobs.
Thus factory jobs become ‘property’ and
women’s inheritance disabilities in the larger social
field are reflected in their access to factory employment.[xxii]
are many fall-outs of these gender characteristics
inscribed in the workplace and the labour market.
Male supervisors’ notions of what kind of work is
appropriate for women influence the pattern of their
employment. Male values of segregation and male workers’
interest in retaining control and use of women’s
sexuality and labour are written into hiring practices.
Moreover, the supervisors and other clerical staff
can extract sexual favours from women in return for access
to jobs which increases the opprobrium of factory work for
women and ensures their withdrawal from such jobs when
higher male earnings allow them to do so.
Often, women move from highly paid factory work to
most ill-paid home-based work. On the basis of a study of
beedi-workers’ attempts at organisation in Hyderabad,
Rohini Hensman argues that husbands and employers have a
common interest in keeping women confined in the house
while at the same time earning an income.
And husbands have the social sanction to use
violence to enforce their wishes.[xxiii]
better paid male workers use the recruitment system to
effectively exclude women from the more prized jobs
(within the factory or from the factory altogether).
Possibly they fear that women’s induction will
threaten their ability to maintain high wage levels.
But why do some of them not use their personal and
family channels to recruit their own mothers, wives,
daughters or sisters in high paying jobs thereby
augmenting their household resources?
Obviously, the few who might desire better incomes
for their women relatives are unable to contravene
established rules of gender segregation.
So, the more lucrative jobs go to male protegees
while wives and daughters may be given the lower paid jobs
where women tend to cluster.
In part this also reflects a preference for male
rather than female earners in the family.
The better paid workers are better able to maintain
non-earning adult female relatives, and often do so.
To have wives living in various modified forms of
seclusion and domesticity in the city signals higher
social status. Such
practices further contribute to ghettoising women at the
lower rungs of job ladders.
Since their ‘own’ women do not work, the better
paid and more influential workers (often also active union
activists) have no obvious interest in promoting women for
male decision-making in the family and the workplace
impact on women’s job decisions. In the situation of a
tight labour market, competition among workers may run
along gender lines too.
A striking example of this is quoted by Rohini
Hensman Banaji from an interview of workers at Hoechst:
worker: In contrast to the women, who are getting very
good pay including a lot of overtime, and who don’t
need it so much since they are married to husbands who
are also earning well, they [young men] feel that they
themselves are suffering due to the D.A. ceiling.
Is there discrimination against men in the allocation of
And do you think women should get less pay than men
because they have husbands who are earning as well?
If they get the same pay, does that mean there is
discrimination against the men?
worker: No. But
there is a difference between the objective situation
and the way it is seen, and these young [men] workers
feel they are being discriminated against.
leaders felt, on the contrary, that:
comparing their pay with that of much more senior women
employees, they [the young men] ignore the fact that by
the rime they reach the same level of seniority their
own pay will be very much higher.... One of them [young
men workers] used threats of assault against a woman
worker to get her to reduce production, and got himself
on women’s work address two levels of concern: first,
the obvious and immediate questions of livelihood and
survival in the case of the poor; and second, more
broadly, an engagement with the Engelsian question of the
autonomy women may (or may not) derive from access to
waged work. The
question of women’s employment and autonomy must,
however, also address the family which is the critical
site for the construction of female dependence.
Hilary Standing concludes from her study of women
workers in Calcutta,
meaning of employment for women must be sought in the
context of the ways in which women’s lives are bounded
by the family.... The family is the critical site in the
construction of female dependency.
The ways in which this dependency is structured
have implications, first for which women enter the labour
market and which are withdrawn from it at particular
historical moments, and second, for women’s capacity to
secure their short- and long-term material circumstances.
Structures of dependency are related [[xxv]]
to, but do not reflect mechanically, the changing
demands for female labour, or class position.
The family is an arena of intense ideological
mediation and women’s access to paid work is constrained
by historically and culturally specific concepts of
familial dependency and what are considered appropriate
behaviours and occupation for women.[xxvi]
her analysis, there appear four structures of familial
dependency: economic, implying financial dependence on
male kin; legal, through regulation imposing gender
assymetrical marriage, domicile and inheritance;
ideologies of domesticity which constitute women as
dependents and men as ‘breadwinners’; and psychic and
social construction of feminine identity which subjects
women to male (sometimes older female) authority figures.
Access to employment may challenge some of these, rarely
all of these. More
importantly, the terms on which the access is gained, and
the ability to continue to maintain this access is very
often determined by these structures themselves.
Thus, the kind of women who work and the kind of
work they do are very often contingent on male
decision-making in the family, euphemised as ‘family
decision-making’ or ‘household strategy’ for
livelihood or survival.
patriarchal construction of female dependence is not
‘class’ (previously ‘caste’) differences are based
on differential constructions of femininity.
Multiple patriarchies constitute women of different
caste/class status in different ways, which bear erratic
and quasi-functional relations to each other.
The visibility of lower caste women -- in
workplaces and streets -- denigrate their men.
The economic and sexual exploitation of lower
caste/class women marks out the upper caste/class men’s
ability to ensure the security of their own women.
Men of subordinate castes and classes struggle, in
turn, to reverse the conspicuous denial to them of
exclusive access to and control over their women’s
sexuality and labour power.[xxvii]
Thus upward caste/class mobility gets easily fixated on
visible and ensurable symbols of familial control over
women: withdrawal from paid work; dowry and arranged early
marriages; deployment in status-raising housework.
far as the women themselves are concerned, there are
varied and sometimes contradictory responses.
Poor women are less able to stretch the given norms
of feminine identity than urban middle class women.
And they find themselves trapped between their
understanding of discrimination and their aspirations for
higher socio-economic status.
In female workers’ own telling, they realise the
actual similarity in the content of male and female work
and point out that these are obscured by constructions of
they themselves often echo managerial and union
distinctions of male and female tasks, especially on the
grounds of physical strength and strain.
These distinctions are sometimes integral to the
expression of feminine identity. Given the hard manual
labour that is routine to their lives, a public statement
of physical weakness is a means of claiming feminine
also accept the management’s arguments about protective
legislation being the main reason for denying women jobs
in the organised sector -- these constitute a public
recognition of say, motherhood and sexual protection.
But this is usually accompanied by an understanding
that ‘protection’ applies to better-paid jobs. They
also tacitly accept that for most men, their job is
crucial to their identity. In their own cases, familial
roles are more defining, publicly and privately.
Women in insecure and heavy work in the informal
sector also share the primacy of familial identities, but
they often have no choice but to submerge these in the
face of the demands of employers at great cost to their
family lives, their health and their leisure time.
The double shift looms very large in women
workers’ day-to-day experience of work.
They recognise and accept the non-negotiability of
domestic work and its responsibilities (the primary
defining feature of their feminine identity) and are,
therefore, more ambiguous about their role as workers and
commitment to the workplace.[xxviii]
ideology of domestic femininity has a special attractions
for poor women. Paid
work is usually monotonous, always physically demanding
and carries the danger of sexual harassment.
They are thus more susceptible to being pushed
further into the family but simultaneously always
vulnerable to being pulled out of it and into paid work
during household exigencies.
Paradoxically, this trend is reinforced by the
difference in the earning potential between husband and
wife, but also results in furthering this difference by
directing women towards even lower paid home-based work.
The 1970s survey of a jute mill found that an
overwhelming majority of women (all from lower castes)
believed factory work to be unsuitable for women. They
would prefer ‘home-based self-employment’ drawing on
traditional skills like sewing despite its low earnings.
This response did not vary by level of income.[xxix]
all these women, aspirations for a daughter or
daughter-in-law specifically excluded jute mill
marriage to a man who could afford to keep them out of the
mills was more desirable.
In the organised sector the withdrawal of women
from ‘outside’ work became evident from the 1930s and
1940s. With yet more improvement in wages and working
conditions since the 1970s, factory workers aspired to
upward social mobility -- education for their sons and
dowry marriages for (non-productive) daughters.
The withdrawal of the wife from paid labour outside
the house is usually the first step in such a progression.
These confirmations of the domestic ideal create
more difficulties for women who do work in factories.
In many jute mills, patterns of women’s
employment have held over a century. In 1891, Taroni told
the Commission then that women who work in the mills are
all widows. Only
widows in unfortunate circumstances work in factories.[xxx]
the 1920s and 30s observers commented on the predominance
of ‘single’ women in jute mills.[xxxi]
In 1970 in the National Jute Mill, more than half
the women workers were the sole earners in their family.
The other half had been ‘forced’ into mill work
by the husband’s loss of employment.[xxxii]
In Wellington jute mill in 1997, women workers were
also almost entirely composed of widows and deserted
is not surprising that women workers do not consider mill
work ‘suitable’ for women and endorse the role of the
‘housewife’ as most desirable for their daughters,
even though the price of such desired marriages often
cripple poor families.
The spiralling dowry demands among the urban poor
was noted by K.P. Chattopadhyay in his comprehensive
survey in the 1940s.[xxxiv]
It is now so obvious as to render ‘survey’
yet, these attitudes were not universal.[xxxv]
In the 1990s, there has been more change.
Older women who had worked in the mills many years
were not happy to relinquish their jobs and were not so
particular about daughters and daughters-in-law abjuring
factory work. However, they acquiesced with ‘family’
decisions to maintain non-working young adult women
ascribing such decisions to the men in the family.
Some women were more positive: questioning
managerial and employment policy regarding the exclusion
of women. In
the case of the rayon mill, women had a more uniformly
positive approach to factory work.
However, their desire for factory work was limited
to the areas and tasks within which they were limited by
managerial and union decision-making.[xxxvi]
experience of female garment workers in Bangladesh point
in a completely different direction.
An active preference for docile workers has
resulted in a predominantly female workforce. But such
women have not complied with managerial expectancy of
docility, their active involvement with unions has led to
a decrease in women’s employment in the industry.
Predictably, employers prefer unmarried or single women
who constitute over 60 per cent of the workforce (whereas
they are about forty per cent in the total female
lack of security, considerable gender discrimination in
wages, long hours and deplorable work conditions, women
have a positive attitude to wage employment in the
have benefitted, not only in intangibles like autonomy,
self-confidence, improved conjugal lives, matrimonial
relationship but also in decreased fertility, increased
age of marriage and reduction in dowry demands.
While wider societal attitudes remain negative
towards these women’s ‘public’ activity, they
themselves retain a positive self-image.[xxxvii]
One of the surprising findings of a recent survey
is that 35 per cent of the sample were women who had left
their husbands in the village to search for jobs in
Chhacchi’s survey of retrenched workers in the
electronics industry in Delhi focuses attention on how
much the women value their status and identity as skilled
women resisted entering the unorganised sector and felt
the loss of physical mobility and economic independence
acutely. Many of the younger women, married and unmarried,
were forced to undertake low paid or home-based jobs which
they saw as demeaning.[xxxix]
In some cases thus wage employment has led women towards
some forms of ‘autonomy’: self-confidence,
assertiveness and new values of self-worth.
In the Indian scenario, however, most working women
are already wife and mother and familial dependency
continues to mediate their access to and experience of
wage work. As
a result, in certain historical circumstances, the
improvement in male working conditions (as in organised
industry) has promoted and fostered poor women’s
withdrawal into domestic roles which have been the primary
means through which they seek opportunities of
self-improvement and status-raising.
economic policies may undercut the ‘domestic’
aspirations of the women of hitherto more secure and
upwardly mobile working classes. Women’s own access to
such employment has always been very restricted and is
likely to be more elusive.
At the same time, other groups of women are being
able to access employment before marriage -- though poorer
women’s access to such employment, which emerged
significantly in the 1970s, may now be under some threat.
For a vast majority of poor women, their work
remains in the most vulnerable and insecure sectors.
A majority of women continue to respond to
‘family’ imperatives as to when and where they work.
It is likely that the recent changes in the labour
market will reinforce rather than erode the pervasive
value of dependence, which continues to inhere in
definitions of Indian femininity.
Ramkumar Vidyaratna, Kulikahini
[Sketches from Cooly Life], Calcutta, 1888, pp.
A Report, National Seminar on Policies and Strategies
for Working Women in the Context of Industrial
Restructuring, (22-25 September 1997), The Institute
of Social Studies (The Hague) and Front for Rapid
Economic Advancement (Mumbai, India). Quotation from
Chhacchi, ‘The Experience of Job Loss in the
Electronics Industry’, Paper presented at the
workshop on ‘The World of Indian Industrial
Labour’, Amsterdam, 10-13 December 1997.
Banerjee, ‘Something old, something new, something
borrowed...The Electronics industry in Calcutta in S.
Mitter, and S. Rowbotham (eds) Women
Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment
in the Third World, UNU-INTECH, Routledge, London,
for instance, Debapriya Bhattacharya, Women and
Industrial Employment in Bangladesh: Challenges and
Opportunities in the Era of New Technologies, A
Research Report, Bangladesh Institute of Development
Studies, 1997; and Debapriya Bhattacharya and
Mustafizur Rahaman, Female Employment under
Export-propelled Industrialisation: Prospect for
Internalising Global Opportunities in Bangladesh
Apparel Sector, 1998.
Women in a Changing Industrial Scenario,
New Delhi, 1991.
and Strategies for Working Women, p. 12.
Nandita Shah, Sujata Ghotoskar, Nandita Gandhi and
Amrita Chhachhi, ‘Structural Adjustment,
Feminisation of Labour Force and Organisational
30 April 1994.
and Strategies for Working Women, p. 6.
Sen, Women and
Labour in Late Colonial India.
For the later period see my ‘Gendered
Exclusion: Domesticity and Dependence in Bengal’ in International
Review of Social History, 42, 1997, pp. 65-86.
Also see, Arjan de Haan, ‘Towards a Single Male
Earner: the Decline of Child and Female Employment in
an Indian Industry’ in Economic
and Social History of the Netherlands, 6, 1994,
Sachetana, A Report.
Structural Adjustment Programmes.
Impact on Women’s Work, mimeo, Calcutta,
October 1997. See
Section III: Wives and Workers.
The Organised Factory System.
Case Studies: Keshoram Rayon Mill and
Wellington Jute Mill.
Jayati Ghose, ‘Gender Concerns in Macro-Economic
30 April 1994.
in a Changing Industrial Scenario.
1997, Section II.
Vina Satrughana, panel presentation, IAWS, Pune, 1998.
and Strategies for Working Women, p. 10-11.
Ghotoskar, ‘Women, Work and Health: An
Case of Drugs and Cosmetics Industries, EPW,
25 October 1997, WS45-52.
Sen, Women and
Labour in Late Colonial India.
and Strategies for Working Women, p. 21.
Hensman Banaji, ‘Workplace Unionism in Bombay:
Problems of Democracy and Responsibility’, Paper
submitted to the workshop on ‘The World of Indian
Industrial Labour’, Amsterdam, 10-13 December 1997.
Also see Kumkum Sangari, ‘Politics of Diversity:
Religious Communities and Multiple Patriarchies’,
and Political Weekly,
23 and 30 December 1995, pp. 3287-3310 and
Ghotosker, ‘Women, Work and Health’
and Sachetana, 1997.
Mitra, ‘The Jute Workers’.
Indian Factory Commission, Government of India, 1891.
Dagmar Curjel, Condition of Women Workers
Before and After Childbirth (in Bengal Industries); A
Department Commerce Branch, 1921; J.H. Kelman, Labour
in India, London, 1923; Report
of the Royal Commission on Labour, Vols 1, 5, and 11,
K.P. Chattopadhyay, A
Socio-Economic Survey of Jute Labour, Department
of Social Work, Calcutta University, 1952.
see, Sen, ‘Gendered Exclusion’ and Sachetana,
fn 7 above. Also
see Pratima Paul Majumdar and Anwara Begum, ‘The
Gender Impacts of Growth of Export Oriented
Manufacturing: A Case Study of the Ready Made Garment
Industry in Bangladesh, Workshop on Policy Research
Report on Gender and Development, World Bank, Oslo,
23-25 June 1999.
‘The Experience of Job Loss’.