By Aanchal Khulbe:
The Indian Constitution abolished the last remaining form of slavery in 1976 by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. However, slavery persists. In the little dark concealed pockets around the nation, we see the diluted form of slavery. Which, being unsung, unprotected and legally unrecognized finds its stronghold in the lowest sections of the society- The Below Poverty Line families, the Dalits and women. Temporary recruitment, permanent exploitation- the strategy is simple. Boasting of more than 94% of the employment, the lucrative unincorporated sector is undoubtedly the nation’s most formidable, and the most infuriating.
Contract labour is characteristically not only the sale of one’s labour when there is absolutely no scope of job security, a regular pay, gratuity or pension, but also that of one’s dignity. It is the workforce not run by legal provisions, but solely on the mercy of the employee industry.
In this destructive framework of opposing identifications to ‘development’, the role of states need to be emphasized. The industries glean the urgency of the minimum classes, and this has supplemented momentum to the system. Being devoid of legal provisions or state protection, this process has had unprecedented access to almost-free labour. The prospect of “healthy employment” through this has been epitomized so much so that the former Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, legalized the setting up of SEZs or Special Economic zones in Gujarat and this had been welcomed as the supreme-most constructive policy n the line of national development. SEZs offer unhindered control of industries over the amount and type of labour they desire , and this is how he was able to present a 5% increase in industrialization on paper (I would have mentioned other leaders who have implemented the SEZs as well but the Gujarat Model of Development has been potrayed as the best model in India, and this, I thought, needed a closer look!). Nobody highlights what is beneath this industrialization – a class of unprivileged labour being raised from the shackles and dumped back, devoid of rights, devoid of means. A legal form of slavery this is, a working institution called Contract Labour.
For the Indian patriarch, the female gender endorse a form of such submissiveness that the task of mobilizing labour on unequal wage basis and sheer discrimination becomes very easy. Therefore, the unorganized sector has seen a large ‘feminization’ of the work place. This easy to recruit, cheap to maintain and easy to un-employ community has come out as the clear majority in the total amount of labour recruited on contract basis. Women are also subject to sexual harassment at workplace which, like all other forms of exploitation, goes unregistered because the perpetrator is generally a person of authority. About 96% of the employed women come under this sector.
When we talk about economy, an increase in investment or industrialization, we are not talking about development as a whole. In fact, the upward directed arrow on paper is a downhill ever-falling graph of exploitation, and this is not what growth is about. It is about raising the complete standard of living, providing resources even to the marginalized, including them in your schemes as well. The growth in economic development is an illusion. Development of half the state is still half the story. And the gap between the two sides is ever-increasing.
Consecutively, it does not guarantee a future for their children. Parents have to force their children to go out and work in order to contribute to the family economy. Children themselves grow up in an early realization of this band grow up to be labourers themselves. Therefore, the occupation takes the form of a hereditary chain.
The industries make huge profits by exploiting the already exploited, thereby limiting any opportunities for their growth. The unorganized sector is that successful milking machinery of the economic right wing which works on a simple agenda of maximum exploitation and minimum pay, which shows the Dalits their eternal place – inferior.