Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Modern-day slaves or modern-day workers?

The Socialist Party objective is to have more of a shared humanity and it can only be achieved when people everywhere understands and cares.

India’s Adivasis often work in conditions commonly described as ‘modern-day slavery’, but they are not slaves. Their unfreedom is both the fuel and product of modern Indian capitalism.

Who are India’s Adivasis? Put very simply, the term Adivasi—which means original inhabitant—refers to a range of ethnic groups that predominantly inhabit hilly and forested areas across rural India. They are classified by the Indian constitution as belonging to the category of 'scheduled tribes', a designation which reflects the fact that Indian authorities do not recognise Adivasis as being indigenous people, but rather define them as ‘tribal’ according to a specific set of features. These include their dependence on subsistence agriculture and their distinct ethnic and cultural identity, which tends to position them beyond the pale of even the ‘lowest’ rungs of India’s caste system. Constituting roughly eight percent of the country’s population, the Adivasis are vastly overrepresented among the poor in India: according to recent data, almost half of all Adivasis—some 44.7 percent—live below a very meager poverty line of 816 Rupees (£8.32/$12.75) per month for rural households…

… We must begin with poverty if we are to understand why Adivasis so often work under conditions that Walk Free refers to as slavery. Adivasis are overwhelmingly poor, a fact acknowledged in the Global Slavery Index, and it is this poverty that compels Adivasis to turn to labour migration. This is often the first step to working under varying degrees of unfreedom. Let us ask then ask a very basic question: where does that poverty come from?

Speaking broadly there are two causes that stand out: the twin losses of livelihood and land. Firstly, Adivasi poverty stems from the erosion of their agricultural livelihoods. Historically, the core of tribal livelihoods is subsistence cultivation, which is now rarely capable of sustaining a household for a full year. While some aspects of this situation are specific to Adivasi livelihoods, this state of affairs is symptomatic of a larger crisis of small and marginal agriculturalists in the context of neoliberal reform in India. This crisis is most acutely manifest in the quarter of a million farmers who committed suicide in India between 1995 and 2011, due to severe economic distress.

In addition, many Adivasis who have turned to labour migration have been dispossessed of their land due to the construction of the large dams, industrial plants, and mines that are intended to bolster India’s emergence as an economic superpower. Let’s recall the figures for a moment: Adivasis constitute eight percent of India’s population. However, even conservative estimates suggest they also constitute 40 to 50 percent of the 20 to 30 million people who have been dispossessed by large-scale infrastructure and development projects since independence in 1947. Given that policies for resettlement and rehabilitation have been woefully inadequate, the vast majority of those who have been dispossessed have no other choice than labour migration—and whatever work can be found within migration circuits—in order to survive. In other words, the poverty that compels Adivasis to resort to forms of labour that are profoundly unfree is produced by the fundamental workings of Indian capitalism...


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