The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, March 16, 2003

Insight into mechanics of labour
M. Rajivlochan

Development and Deprivation in Gujarat: In Honour of Jan Breman.
edited by Ghanshyam Shah, Mario Rutten and Hein Strefkerk. Sage, New Delhi. Pages 345. Rs 580.

Development and Deprivation in Gujarat: In Honour of Jan BremanI would recommend this book to anyone interested in Indian history and society for two reasons: one, that it celebrates the work of Jan Breman and, two, for its informative and high-quality essays.

Born in a working class family in the Netherlands, Jan Breman chose the history and sociology of the labouring classes as his metier. Since 1963 he has published over 150 books and articles of unexceptionable standard on labour relations in India and Indonesia apart from numerous reports for international agencies like the ESCAP, ADB and ILO and even more numerous newspaper articles. His studies have set the tone for discussions about labour relations and policymaking. India and Gujarat have been lucky to have in Jan Breman a friend who has uncovered much that was hidden.

The present volume, with its 16 essays, is an effort by his friends to thank him for all that he has contributed to intellectual life. The essays cover the three areas in which Breman has made considerable contribution: labour relations, politics of cultural assertions and migration of labour. Contributors include academics like David Hardiman, Ghanshyam Shah, Hein Streefkerk, Indira Hirway, Mario Rutten, Parita Mukta, Sujata Patel and activists like Stany Pinto, Chandu Matheria and Harshad Desai.


Uma Kothariís essay about labour migration tells how the even cheaper labour migrating from the Khandesh area of Maharashtra displaced local Halpati labourers. The few Halpatis who could find work locally had to make do with their entire family working for the farmer on a single wage. Very soon, however, the younger among them began to move away from the shelter provided by the Patidar farmers and formed themselves into groups which could then negotiate for better wages and look for work opportunities other than agricultural.

Satyakam Joshi traces the history of assertion in south Gujarat. He describes the conflicts that the tribes had with "feudal-minded bureaucrats" when asserting their right to control the forests. Some activists were even arrested under the NSA. Reading the hair-raising story of tribal struggle as told by Joshi one wishes he clearly said that it was the forest and revenue departments of the government that were the worst enemies of Indiaís forests.

Shalini Randeria informs about the conflicts generated in local society as a consequence of the World Bank-led globalisation. With the government blindly following policies made in Washington and various internationally funded NGOs pursuing their own agendas in the name of helping the poor, the deprived people have had to find ways and means to assert themselves.

Amita Shah discusses the patterns of migration within Gujarat. She notices that while the overall migration of people has declined, there has been an increase in the number of people who commute long distances daily for work as also the seasonal migration of people from the poorer agricultural areas to those with intensive agriculture. She suggests that were there to be more balanced development of the regions within Gujarat even this kind of migration could be reduced thus providing people work near their place of residence.

The most interesting essay of all among those presented in this book is by Miranda Engelshoven. She describes the migration among the Saurashtra Patels to the city of Surat and their undertaking diamond work. She suggests that their caste structure played an important role in enabling them to do well economically and correspondingly angle for a higher social status. It was caste that ensured a sense of belonging among them, enabled them to have faith in each other in business and negotiate with other social groups to ensure power for themselves. Those among the Saurashtra Patels who wanted to begin a business venture were provided financial support and business advice from other more established and experienced Saurashtra Patels. This would seem the usual story of solidarity within a caste group that has existed for many centuries were it not for the fact, illustrated in great detail by Engelshoven, that this community actually came into existence just a few decades ago!