Migrant labourers, free from rural bondage, are now bonded to other sources of debt, contracted from the agro-industry or construction sectors. The flows of migration in the brick-making and sugar cane sectors in Tamil Nadu, where bondage coexists with many public welfare schemes, illustrate the persistence and renewal of this phenomenon. The welfare schemes play the role of a safety net, but also contribute to low wages, and impunity on the part of employers. Alliances between capital and the state, through the politicisation of employers, are instrumental in the continuation of all forms of labour exploitation. When workers resist, employers tighten working conditions and start recruiting migrants from North India. And even if these forms of labour management obey a capitalist logic, they are inseparable from the caste hierarchy.
Isabelle Guérin is a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) and French Institute of Pondicherry. Isabelle has been researching aspects of indebtedness and microcredit among rural communities in Tamil Nadu. She has recently co-edited a book on gender and development studies titled ‘Under Development: Gender’ and is also co-editing a forthcoming volume titled ‘The Crisis of Microcredit’.