May Day: Intersectionality in the Indian Labour Market

May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, is celebrated on May 1 to commemorate the struggles and victories of the labour movement and to revisit the ideas of social and economic justice. This May Day, we bring you seven research paper recommendations that contextualize labour issues in India through the axes of caste, religion, and gender identities.

1. Caste and Economic Discrimination: Causes, Consequences and Remedies.

This paper provides a theoretical introduction to the study of discrimination with particular reference to the caste system. It sets the stage for four empirical papers that follow, by highlighting the ways in which caste persists as a system of inequality that burdens the Indian economy with inefficiencies in the allocation of labour and other critical resources, reducing the full development of human capital in society. Far from disappearing as the economy modernises, discrimination remains a problem that, for reasons outlined here, is not amenable to self-correction, but rather requires interventionist policies to remedy.

Thorat, Sukhadeo, and Katherine S. Newman. “Caste and Economic Discrimination: Causes, Consequences and Remedies.” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 41 (2007): 4121–24.

2. Ruptures and Reproduction in Caste/Gender/Labour

This paper views labour, specifically gendered labour, through the lens of caste; and that which lies concealed within the relations of labour, despite its linkages with other social hierarchies, specifically caste relations. It throws light on the contributions of those who take on the burden of social reproduction, and whose labours continue to be devalued. It also addresses the relationship, if any, between stigma/the stigmatised body and the devaluation of labour. Finally, it locates a quest related to notions of autonomy and emancipation, which perhaps has led the mainstream women’s movements to distance themselves from the burden that caste places on the lives and labours of women.

Gopal, M. (2013). Ruptures and Reproduction in Caste/Gender/Labour. Economic and Political Weekly, 48(18), 91–97.

3. Poverty, Wealth Inequality and Financial Inclusion among Castes in Hindu and Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh, India

This paper is based on primary survey data, collected by the Giri Institute of Development Studies (GIDS) from Uttar Pradesh to analyze sub-caste level disparities across a spectrum of socio-economic dimensions, such as financial inclusion and land ownership. The biggest takeaway from the study is that Dalit Muslims are equally or more deprived compared to Hindu Dalits but are almost entirely absent from affirmative action programs of the government.

Tiwari, C., Goli, S., Siddiqui, M. Z., & Salve, P. (2022). Poverty, Wealth Inequality, and Financial Inclusion among Castes in Hindu and Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh, India.

4. Gender, Caste and Labour: Ideological and Material Structure of Widowhood

In this paper, Uma Chakravarti looks at widowhood among the upper castes, contextualizing it within the larger structures of relations, material, and ideologies, through which patriarchal practices enforce permanent widowhood on women. Conversely, widow re-marriage is not only an ideological rationale for low caste rank but provides a demographic basis for production relations. A single caste framework functioning both at the level of ideology and material arrangements requires distinctive patriarchal arrangements and cultural codes among the hierarchy of castes to reproduce the structure of production.

Chakravarti, U. (1995). Gender, Caste and Labour: Ideological and Material Structure of Widowhood. Economic and Political Weekly, 30(36), 2248–2256.

5. Caste, Sexuality and Labour: The Troubled Connection

This article examines the troubled connection between feminist research and activism. As a member of the autonomous feminist collective Forum Against Oppression of Women, in Mumbai, the author draws on her participation in the ongoing discussions and dialogue, both within the group and with other organizations, and uses the case of feminist thinking on caste and sexual labour to discuss the challenges and prospects of linking research with practice. The article begins by briefly outlining the relationship between caste, labour and sexuality, drawing particularly on Dalit feminists’ reflections of the lived experience of caste. It highlights the dialogues between multiple women including those involved in different forms of sexual labour. The article seeks to capture the challenges of linking research and practice as feminists attempt to generate dialogue through multiple viewpoints to guide feminist understanding and actions.

Gopal, M. (2012). Caste, Sexuality and Labour: The Troubled Connection. Current Sociology, 60(2), 222-238.

6. Caste Discrimination in the Indian Urban Labour Market

This pioneering quantitative analysis of caste in the Indian urban labour market examines the age-old problem of caste in the light of discrimination theory and government policy. Using a survey of workers in Delhi, the gross wage difference between ‘scheduled’ (untouchable) and ‘non-scheduled’ castes is decomposed into its ‘explained’ and ‘discrimination’ components and, from a model of occupation choice, into wage- and job-discrimination. Discrimination is found to exist, and to operate at least in part through the traditional mechanism, viz. assignment to jobs, with the scheduled castes entering poorly-paid ‘dead-end’ jobs. Even if caste discrimination was no longer practised, the effects of past discrimination could carry over to the present, for instance in the choice of occupation.

Banerjee, B., & Knight, J. B. (1985). Caste Discrimination in the Indian Urban Labour Market. Journal of Development Economics, 17(3), 277-307.

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