Onderzoekt en verzamelt de geschiedenis van werk, werkenden en arbeidsverhoudingen wereldwijd

Lecture by Rana Behal

8 mei 2018
IISH, Amsterdam, 15.00 hrs

'Three Moments of Workers’ Struggle in their own Words: Oral History of Labour in post-Independence Amritsar city’

In this paper Rana Behal proposes to study the history of working class struggle in Amritsar city in three phases over a period from 1950s till the contemporary times. The sources for this study are oral testimonies of former and current workers, both in the organized and unorganized sectors, trade union workers and leaders and employers of labour and ethnographic fieldwork inside the walled city and its industrial suburbs of Chhehrta, Putlighar and Batala Road in Amritsar. Historically and contemporaneously the labour force came from within the city, its agrarian hinterland, and the migrants from outside both in the organized and unorganized sectors. These labouring communities invariably remain below the radar of official information recordings or any written word by anyone else. Behal is mindful of Alessandro Portelli’s argument that the concern of orality is the daily life and material culture of people or groups. Oral history provides us with information about illiterate people or social groups whose history is either absent or distorted in written records. Conversations and interviews with some of the marginal social groups in the city opens up different and new perspectives of labour life.

Here Behal wishes to remind the readers/listeners Gayatri Spivak Chakarvarti oftspoken rehetorical query ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ During the course of his field work and meeting numerous workers including former mill workers, some of the surviving sons relating memories of their worker fathers, workers in small power loom and knitting factories, autorickshaw and taxi drivers, rickshaw pullers, daily wage earners who gather at city chowks seeking work, migrant workers, women doemstice workers in the city Behal learnt that the subaltern articulate their feelings, can speak and speak very well. It is the labour historian’s job to go and listen to them. The paper also raises methodological issues in the study of global labour studies in areas where there are no voices of workers are available.

Rana P. Behal taught history at Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi. He has also held teaching assignments at Cornell  University, Syracuse University and Oberlin College. He was a fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi; South Asia Centre, Cambridge University; Re:Work, Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History, Humboldt University, Berlin; and Centre for Development Studies, Geographic Sciences, Free University, Berlin. He is author of the book'One Hundred Years of Servitude: Political Economy of Tea Plantations in Colonial Assam'. The book presents a hundred-year history of tea plantations in the Assam (Brahmaputra) Valley during British colonial rule in India. It explores a world where more than two million migrantlabourers worked under conditions of indentured servitude in these tea plantations, producing tea for an increasingly profitable global market.

IISH Seminar
This lecture is part of the monthly IISH Seminar series. In principle, seminars take place every first Tuesday of the month. The seminar is open to the public, but with regard to accommodation and distribution of the paper in advance, we would like you to register with Jacqueline Rutte, jacqueline.rutte@bb.huc.knaw.nl.  You will receive the paper after registration. After the lecture we serve drinks. We are looking forward to meeting you.