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Congratulations Professor Jasbir Puar! Follow us on Twitter. She teaches our undergraduate students how to podcast, lead int…. Support WGS. Connect with Rutgers. Explore SAS. Hailing from a Sonar 6 family in a village in the Rohtas district of Bihar, Aman 7 who is in his early thirties, came to Ludhiana in the early s with his paternal uncle chacha. At the time we interviewed him in the summer of , he was working as a welding operator at a factory manufacturing cycle parts. Back in their native village, his father ran a small business as a jeweler, which eventually ran out of steam as he grew older, since neither Aman nor his brother wished to take it up.

Realizing that opportunities in the village were linked to his caste, and to notions of status and dignity—implying therefore that he could either continue to work as a jeweler or not—Aman decided to move out to fend for himself and for his family. After having tried his luck in Delhi for about fifteen days, he came to Ludhiana, where his uncle helped him find a job as a helper in one of the factories.

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He learned on the job and eventually graduated to working as a machine operator, working for about 11—12 hours a day on a piece-rated basis. Even as he visits his village annually and sends money each month to his family back there, like many others, he places emphasis on Ludhiana as a place that allows him to earn a livelihood.

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In the same vein, however, he perceives the village as lacking in opportunities for the occupational mobility he desires, and thus, looks to migration as a way out of his situation. We never had any financial problems back home [in village]. We have a substantial plantation to feed the entire family. But the problem is I belong to a low caste, and when upper caste people look down on us, it angers me. That is why I came here [to Delhi]. Here at least there is respect no matter what work I do. No one here asks me about my caste, they only talk about my work.

Nandan, 24 years, Wazirpur industrial area 8. There are opportunities to do better work here [in Delhi] … the money is less, but the work is fine. I cannot do good work back in the village … Good work means work above that designated to my caste. I cannot even open my own shop in the village.


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  8. Ajay, 26 years, Wazirpur industrial area 9. Most male workers interviewed in the two cities did not migrate with their families the very first time they moved to the city.

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    Often, mothers and wives of migrating workers stayed behind in the village. Women who travelled to the city did so after their husbands had spent some time there, a few years or more. This suggests that the caste-determined frame of social mobility through migration is not the same for women and for men. For women, the ability to challenge caste through migration is only attained once they have moved to the city, but not necessarily at the point of making the very decision to migrate.

    It is the low castes who send their women to work. The need to conform to the expectations linked to a higher caste status was particularly striking in the accounts of home-based women workers industrial outworkers in Delhi. Most of the home-based workers we interacted with in Delhi were upper caste, and spoke of home-based work as a preferred option over work in factories.

    This was because it allowed them to preserve notions of honor as expected of their caste status, while supporting themselves and their families through their earnings, however meager they might be. They say that it is tradition parampara. We belong to the Rajput caste—my husband emphasizes that women from our caste jaat and community biradri do not go outside [the home] for work. I argue, therefore, that the intersections of caste and gender shape migration decisions, and that migration is not independent of these identities.

    Rather, these are reconstituted and reshaped in the urban space. I discuss this below. On a deeper note, however, the accounts reveal how the meaning of work is recast within the steel factories of Wazirpur for the migrants, who find the relative anonymity offered by the city with respect to their caste identities welcoming and liberating. These narratives are situated within a larger context of work in the steel factories, which itself involves exposure to soot and dust, as can be visibly observed in the blackish-grayish marks on the clothes of most workers in the vicinity.

    In village, since we do not have our own fields, we are wandering around always in the sun [from field to field]. If in the village people work hard to earn their grain, here in the cities, likewise we work hard to earn money [cash] … There, you work through the day in sun.

    Here, you work in shade. In village you get everything fresh but after a lot of physical effort. Lakshmi, 38 years, factory worker, Patparganj industrial estate In other words, the nature of industrial work does not seem to determine whether one finds factory employment attractive or not—knitting machine operators in Ludhiana state this as emphatically as the steel workers of Wazirpur and the women employed in packing and packaging work in Patparganj.


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    This comparison is repeatedly invoked in the accounts of younger informants, who have had access to some level of education. On average, male workers earn between 6, and 8, rupees a month, which can reach up to 10, rupees if overtime work is undertaken on a more or less daily basis. On the other hand, women earn between 4, and 5, rupees a month on average. The specific references to the city in contrast to the village serve to highlight the spatiality in relational terms, something I take up subsequently.

    Workers speak about the respect and prestige that factory work commands, both in the city and back in their villages, unlike occupations like rickshaw pulling and paid domestic work. One is always tensed about being seen by acquaintances.

    Public Urban Space, Gender and Segregation: Women-only urban parks in Iran

    We have explained this in terms of the differing social relations that typify the two worksites—domestic work as work that takes place in the private space of households, as compared to work in a conventional workplace like a factory. It could be further suggested that the shop-floor is constructed by workers as symbolic of a modern workspace, with a clear demarcation of tasks.

    We know from the work of Ray and Qayum that servitude in contemporary India is deeply linked to notions of caste: to that of dignity and stigma, purity and pollution. I suggest, therefore, that such symbolic articulations of mobility and the expectations from what is deemed modern, industrial employment 13 relative to agricultural work in the village, and to other forms of wage employment in the city, are essentially tropes through which workers negotiate the precarity that marks their everyday lives.

    It may be suggested, therefore, that this economic downside and indignity is negotiated by dignifying the workspace and the nature of the work involved by invoking comparisons with other forms of wage work which come with a historical baggage of caste and servitude. In doing so, the factory is presented as a site where work identity takes precedence over caste identity. This is often expressed in terms of the machines being operated, the skills required and subsequently, a heightened sense of self.

    Instead, the meaning and significance of caste is reshaped by the process of migration. I suggest that caste does not fade away into the background at all; it subtly provides context and new meaning s to migration. What then is a matter of interest is its relevance or lack thereof in everyday spaces like urban neighborhoods, and whether and how it intersects with migrant identities, and how gender shapes these experiences.

    It is to these that I turn next. When there are no Punjabis in our colony, what is there to be worried about?

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    Rajiv, male factory worker, Rajiv Gandhi colony, Ludhiana industrial area. Contrary to images of alienation and exclusion of migrants, a substantial proportion of the workers stated during the interviews that they were more or less unaffected by the Dhandari and Jugiana incidents, and generally felt safe both at their workplaces and at their living places.

    Workers attributed this to the nature of the colonies where they reside which are typically, as described earlier, pockets of tenement housing densely populated by industrial migrants. The caste and regional composition of these residential localities were found to be quite heterogeneous.