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Gender and Class: Women in Indian Industry, 1890–1990


In India, investigations into patterns of industrialisation and the formation of industrial labour began during the colonial period, soon after the inception of modern industry in the mid-nineteenth century. After Independence in 1947, the development of a ‘working class’ became the primary focus of enquiry into conditions of industrial labour.

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1 Kelman, J.H., Labour in India. A Study of the Conditions of Indian Women in Modern Industry, London, 1923, p. 55.

2 Samaresh Basu, Jagaddal, (Calcutta 1966), ed., Saroj Bandopadhyay, Samaresh Basu Rachanabali, 4, Ananda Publishers Private Ltd., Calcutta, 2000, pp. 165. Translations mine.

3 Ibid., pp. 165–168.

4 Dasgupta, Ranajit, “Indian Working Class: Some Recent Historiographical Issues”, de Haan, Arjan and Sen, Samita (eds.) A Case for Labour History, K.P. Bagchi, Calcutta, 1999.

5 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Sasipada Banerjee: A Study in the Nature of the First Contact of the Bengali Bhadralok with the Working Classes of Bengal”, Indian Historical Review, January 1976, pp. 339–364.

6 Geraldine Forbes (ed.) From Child Widow to Lady Doctor: The Memoirs of Dr. Haimabati Sen, Roli Books, New Delhi,; also see Samita Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India. The Bengal Jute Industry, Cambridge, 1999.

7 Ratnabali Chatterjee, “Prostitutes in Nineteenth Century Bengal: Construction of Class and Gender”, Social Scientist, 21, 9–11, 1993, pp. 159–172. Sumanto Bandopadhyay, The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Cultures in Nineteenth Century Calcutta, Seagull Books, Calcutta, 1989.

8 Chatterjee, Partha, ‘The Nationalist Resolution of the Women's Question’ in Sangari, Kumkum and Vaid, Sudesh (eds) Recasting Women, New Delhi, 1989.

9 Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. Community, Religion and Cultural Nationalism, New Delhi, 2000.

10 C.M. Matheson, Indian Industries—Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Oxford, 1930; Margaret Read, From Field to Factory, London 1927; Indian Peasant Uprooted, London 1931; and Land and Life in India, London, 1934.

11 R.K. Das, “Women Labour in India”, International Labour Review, October–November 1931, pp. 372–545.

12 P.S. Lokanathan, Industrial Welfare in India, Madras, 1929. B. Shiva Rao, The Industrial Worker in India, London, 1939.

13 Forbes, Geraldine, ‘Medical Careers and Health Care for Indian Women: Patterns of Control”, Women's History Review, 3, 4, 1994, pp. 515–30.

14 de Haan, Arjan, “Towards a Single Male Breadwinner: The Decline of Child and Female Labour in an Indian Industry”, Economic and Social History of the Netherlands, 6, 1994.

15 Mukherjee, Radhakamal, Indian Working Class, Hind Kitab, Bombay, 1945.

16 M.N. Rao and H.C. Ganguly, ‘Women Labour in Jute Industry of Bengal—A Medico-Social Study’, Indian Journal of Social Work, 2, 1950–51, pp. 181–91; ‘VD in the Industrial Worker’ Indian Journal of Social Work, 2, 1950–5, pp. 122–34.

17 Vidyaratna, Ramkumar, Kulikahini [Sketches from Cooly Life], Calcutta, 1888, pp. 67.

18 Ibid., p. 30.

20 Harilal Bandopadhyay, Arkati Natak, 1304 BS., Calcutta.

21 Kelman, Labour in India, p. 14.

22 Report of Dr. Dagmar Curjel on the conditions of Employment of women before and after childbirth, 1923, unpublished. West Bengal State Archives, Calcutta, Commerce Department, Commerce Branch, April 1923, B77 (herafter Curjel Report), Main Report, pp.1–2.

23 Kelman, Labour in India, pp. 91–92.

24 Mukherjee, Indian Working Class, pp. 261–262.

25 Engels, D.A.E., Beyond Purdah? Women in Bengal, 1890–1939, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996.

26 Mukherjee, Indian Working Class, pp. 262–63.

27 Indian Factory Commission, 1891.

28 Report of the Royal Commission of Labour in India, London, 1931,5,2. For examples see Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India, p. 34.

29 G.M. Broughton, Labour in Indian Industries, London, 1924.

30 S.G. Panandikar, Industrial Labour in India, 1933, p. 219.

31 Curjel Report, Main Report.

32 R.N. Gilchrist, Labour and Land, Calcutta, 1931, p. 10.

33 Basu, Jagaddal, p. 273.

34 Ibid., p. 283.

35 Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India.

36 Kumar, Radha, 1989.“Family and Factory: Women in the Bombay Cotton Textile Industry, 1919–1939” in Krishnamurty, J. (ed.) Women in Colonial India, Essays on Survival, Work and the State, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

37 Chandavarkar, R.S., The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India. Business Strategies and the Working Classes in Bombay, 1900–1940, Cambridge, 1994.

38 Annual Report of the Working of the Indian Factories Act in Bengal, Calcutta, 1931.

39 For more details see Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India, p. 172.

40 Annual Report of Factories Act, 1953, p. 10 quoted in Arjan de Haan, “Towards a Single Male Earner”, p. 156.

41 Report of the Indian Jute Mills Association, relevant years.

42 Report on Survey of Labour Conditions in Jute Factories in India, 1971, Labour Bureau, 1973.

43 Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India.

44 This section draws on evidence and arguments presented in Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India, Chapter 6.

45 For more details see Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India.

46 Sen, Samita, ‘Honour and Resistance: Gender, Community and Class in Bengal, 1920–40’, in Bandopadhyay, Sekhar et al. (eds.) Bengal: Communities, Development and States, Manohar, New Delhi, 1994, pp. 231–43.

47 Kelman, Labour in India.

48 Kumar, ‘Family and Factory’.

49 Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India.

50 Interview, November 1989, Bauria. Also see Renu Chakrabarty, Communists in India's Women's Movement, 1940–50, New Delhi 1980.

51 Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India.

52 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’.

53 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.

54 Sachetana, 1997.

55 Jayati Ghose, ‘Gender Concerns in Macro-Economic Policy’, EPW, 30 April 1994.

56 Banerjee, Nirmala, Indian Women in a Changing Industrial Scenario, New Delhi, 1991.

57 Sachetana, 1997, Section II.

58 Nandita Shah, Sujata Ghotoskar, Nandita Gandhi and Amrita Chhachhi, ‘Structural Adjustment, Feminisation of Labour Force and Organisational Struggles’, EPW, 30 April 1994.

59 Sachetana, 1997, Section III.

60 Vina Satrughana, panel presentation, IAWS, Pune, 1998.

61 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) [henceforth Policies and Strategies for Working Women], pp. 10–11.

62 Sujata Ghotoskar, ‘Women, Work and Health: An Interconnected Web. Case of Drugs and Cosmetics Industries, EPW, 25 October 1997, WS45–52.

63 Sen, Women and Labour in Late Colonial India.

64 Sachetana, 1997.

65 Policies and Strategies for Working Women, p. 21.

66 Rohini 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.

67 Standing, Hilary, Dependence and Autonomy: Women's employment and the family in Calcutta. London, Routledge, 1991, pp. 142–3.

69 Also see Kumkum Sangari, ‘Politics of Diversity: Religious Communities and Multiple Patriarchies’, Economic and Political Weekly, 23 and 30 December 1995, pp. 3287–3310 and 3381–9.

70 Ghotosker, ‘Women, Work and Health’; and Sachetana, 1997.

71 Sen, ‘Gendered Exclusion’.

72 Indian Factory Commission, Government of India, 1891.

73 Curjel Report; Kelman, Labour in India; Report of the Royal Commission on Labour, Vols 1, 5, and 11.

74 Sen, ‘Gendered Exclusion’.

75 Sachetana, 1997.

76 K.P. Chattopadhyay, A Socio-Economic Survey of Jute Labour, Department of Social Work, Calcutta University, 1952.

77 Sen, ‘Gendered Exclusion’.

78 Ibid. Also, Sachetana, 1997.

79 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. 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.

80 Amrita Chhachhi, ‘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.

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Modern Asian Studies
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