Suravee Nayak is a doctoral researcher at Centre for Development Studies (CDS), India and was a Visiting Doctoral Researcher (Jan-Mar, 2019) at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, UK. Her six years-long research engagement focuses on political economy of coal mining and dispossession in India, and its impacts on the rural communities by looking at the intersections of their caste, class and gender positions. Her ongoing PhD project concerns with labour process in coal mines in Talcher coalfields of Odisha. She has published with Economic & Political Weekly and a chapter in an edited book with Routledge.
Coal Mining induced Dispossession: An Enquiry into the ‘Classes of Labour’ in Talcher Coalfields of Odisha
Coal mining has been a means of capital accumulation in both colonial and post-colonial India. The expansion of open cast coal mines soon after independence, not only resulted in the plethora of environmental destruction but also dispossession and displacement of agriculture-based rural communities. On this backdrop, the present paper attempts to contribute to the discussions on the differentiated experiences of rural communities in the process of dispossession, by addressing the pertinent questions of land and labour using the framework of ‘classes of labour’. Drawing upon fieldwork using survey questionnaire, ethnographic interviews and participant observation carried out in Talcher coalfields of Odisha, the paper tries to, firstly, understand the land and labouring inequalities that existed before the land acquisition; secondly, analyse the negotiations between the different classes, state and capital for job compensation; and thirdly, examine how the ‘classes of labour’ produced and/or reproduced in the new capitalist settings of coal mining.The paper argues that the interaction of unequal agrarian relations with the processes of dispossession has resulted in different negotiating power for dominant class (Upper caste and Other backward castes- OBC landowners) and ‘classes of labour’(Dalit and Adivasis landowners and landless) for job compensation with the state and capital. In particular, majority of Upper Castes and OBCs from the dominant class have been able to maintain their dominance through securing formal employment in coal mines. On the other hand, the ‘classes of labour’ comprises different hierarchical wage labour and self-employment in the informal works of coal mines such as emergence of local contractors for labour supply and societies for carrying out subcontracted coal mines work, and different kinds of contract and casual labour. Field findings suggest that most of the Dalits and Adivasis engage in contract and casual labour whereas Upper castes and OBCs are the labour contractors and members of societies. Moreover, at the bottom of the labour hierarchy are the landless Dalits subjected to variety of precarious informal work and coal collection. The paper concludes that the process of dispossession reproduces caste inequality and produces hierarchical ‘classes of labour’ in coal mining regions.
Affiliation: Centre for Development Studies, India