Caught between Survival and Exploitation: Tenancy as a route to Labour Tying Arrangements among the Female Classes of Labour in India

Authors: Taneesha Mohan*,
Topics: Rural Geography, Gender, Development
Keywords: political economy, feminsation of labour, tenancy, tied labour, agriculture, farming,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Rural female labour in India consists primarily of Dalit (Scheduled Caste) and Scheduled Tribe communities. The rural poor constitute what Bernstein refers to as the classes of labour, who straddle multiple realms of economic activity to reproduce itself. Rural female labour, which is predominantly agrarian in nature, employ various subsistence strategies to secure their livelihoods, where they work as wage labourers, tenant farmers and cultivators. The growing insecurity of work and survival often draws these female classes of labour into exploitative work contracts which result in labour tying arrangements. These labour relations are shaped through interlocking relations of land, labour and credit that are manoeuvred through debts, obligations and duties.

Land is one of the resources for subsistence for the labouring class, whether they own it or not. One of the ways in which they access land is through tenancy relations. Women entering land contracts are conditioned by socio-cultural norms associated with their capacity to cultivate and plough land. Drawing on data from my comparative study of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the paper investigates the extent to which agricultural wage work and labour relations are altered through tenancy patterns in these two regions. This paper explores the multi-scalar power relations, operating in the two regions under distinct and diverse socio-political conditions that shape access to land, the degree of exploitation and unfreedom experienced by female labourers. Moreover, the paper uncovers how labour attachment., driven by tenancy, is a mechanisms used by the capitalists to appropriate surplus.

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