Archive for the tag “Dhiraj kumar Nite”

Labour of Love, an Unpaid Internship: Dhiraj K. Nite

A popular perception of love, courtship and dating regardsits existence as an elemental feature of the human world since time immemorial.The book under discussion traces the roots of dating and its evolution in American society from the early decades of the twentieth-century up to the present. #Author


Book Cover & Author

Sensual ,Emotional and Material Substance of Love

By Dhiraj K. Nite

‘What is love?’ has received commentaries in several scholarly works. It is an intimate feeling and relationship between couples is what the popular opinion makes it look like. Weigel interrogates the naturalness that characterises this popular belief and proposes a social constructivist viewpoint. She maintains that love is ‘opening and merging of your own life with the lives of others. It is a process of change which involves acts of care you extend to whomever you choose for however long your relationships lasts (pp. 262-6).’ Hence, it is a ‘labour of love’ at one and the same time. Her viewpoint rejects Sigmund Freud’s (1915) idea that love is a derivate of sexual longing, that is, the function of libido (innate sexual force). It remains aloof from Erich Fromm’s (1956) conceptualisation that love derives from the need to return to the mother from whom we have been shorn off by birth, and Margaret Mahler’s (1975) belief that love represents a rapprochement with the mother from whom we have recently learned to separate. Her notion of ‘labour of love’ extrapolates to the understanding of love offered by a psychologist, Donald Nathanson, in 1992. Love is an expression of the combination of innate ‘attachment affect’ on one side and ‘inter-affectivity’ (interpersonal experience and involvement) on the other, maintains Nathanson. Weigel’s work lays down a history of inter-affectivity, with her approach of dialectical materialism.

The crucial components of love between couples are care/emotional involvement as well as physical intimacy. This book suggests that finding love by dating developed from the turn of the twentieth-century and the early decades of the twentieth-century (p. 5). Soon, dating became the most precious form of ‘labour of love’ – an ‘unpaid internship’. It slowly replaced the family and community controlled courtship, called chaperoned courtship. The old ‘calling’ ritual of courtship made men into agents in pursuit, while women the object of desire. Dating undid the clear lines between the world of men and women and took courtship out of the private spheres. It transformed control over the process from the older generation to the younger ones, from groups to the individual. It was a product of urban society, It was a product of urban society, the women performing wage-labour, and a sexual revolt by the educated youth.

The increase in the number of persons passing out of high schools from the 1910s and colleges from the 1930s dramatically altered the ritual of dating. It now began at early age. The moralist school authority merely regulated and oversaw the code of dating culture. The right to freedom of choice was asserted within the economy of consumerism on one side and the civil right movements on the other in the 1960s-70s. These developments and assertion of freedom obliterated the shyness associated with physical intimacy with someone before marriage. Teenage sex soared from the 1950s.

The shift from calling ritual of courtship to public dating was never smooth. The moralist regarded it as obscene, licentious and depraved. The police sought to subdue the young women and men, who explored dating and were declared adrift; the moral policing against daters currently seen in India just reminds us what the rebellious youth in dating encountered a century ago in the USA. Dating developed as emotional labour and became eroticised as well as commodified from the 1920s. Bars, pubs, restaurants and dance halls were the early social media and platforms brought into prominence by the phenomenon of dating. The book, however, falls short of a full-bodied exploration of what accounted for a welcome change in the perception the moralists of public dating.

Dating parted away with courtship towards the latter part of the twentieth-century. The sexual revolution fully succeeded against the prostitution-anxious moralist by the 1960s. Now it was presumed to be a right to love without outside interference. This generation described that no desire could be unnatural. They viewed it as legitimate to have no rules in this regard. However, many of them – barring the hippies – also created aculture of steadies, a kind of serial, monogamous intimacy. The popular perception of the growth in promiscuity is unfounded. Steadies were guided by their concerns for social security against the backdrop of economic instability in the 1930s, subsequent turbulence and the shortage of men caused by the World War II, fears of miscegenation and the threat of apocalyptic nuclear war in the 1950s-60s. Steadies are also credited with having invented the breakup. Most steadies would let relationships run their course. Then they would break up. The dating script gave way to partying and hanging out in large mixed age settings. The emotional aspect of intimacy drastically waned: Previously, a series of daters could lead to physical intimacy and emotional commitment. Now the order was reversed, and sexual activity came first and feeling was emotionally emptied. The reader is left to speculate the reasons responsible for this critical, though intangible, change.

The dating ritual, at last, gave way to the hook-up culture of the late twentieth-century. Love and physical intimacy parted away. Dating, if at all, and intimacy have now been treated as forms of recreation. The new technology of birth control, such as condom and pill has made possible to treat sex as harmless fun. Methods of contraception such as the revolutionary ‘pill’ when it appeared in the 1960s, made it possible to disentangle the effects of unprotected sexual intercourse from its weighty consequences, viz. an unplanned pregnancy.This coincided with the women’s effort at the right to work outside, the inability of men to financially commit to a regular family in the midst of stagnant or falling real wages paid to the non-executive class from the 1970s onwards. In an unequal and financially unstable society, free love began to look a lot like freedom from love, argues Weigel (153). The new digital dating industry has developed to cater to the busy ‘yuppies’ (young urban professionals) looking for emotionless sex; these yuppies also reveal a condition of sociopathy and psychopathy unable to have the feelings, observes Weigel moralistically. There are sex workers to make feelings ‘economically productive/exchangeable’. However,computer erotica (cyber-sex and cyber dater) has become a popular and safer alternative to real, interpersonal involvement in a world where the HIV is deadlier than computer viruses. The shortage of time and therefore inability to invest in the relationship has surfaced as an issue. Precarity and overwork are taking atoll on dating and emotion in the era of informatisation, informalisation and casualization. Here one is reminded of the work of McGregor (2011).

Women have been faced with a demandingly difficult scenario. They also had to date with an eye on the biological clock, thus having to synchronise their efforts at planning a career, marriage, family and home life. With the help of Harmon stimulation drugs, some of them are dating on ‘borrowed time’ as well. The women working in and as the executive class are keeping an eye on the technology, such as egg freezing encouraged by corporations; this is positioned as a benefit for their female employees, intended to overcome gender inequality in corporate work places. However, most women confronted with the inadequacy of maternity and parental leave and child care supports, find every other alternative stressful and uncertain.This condition of life is not a matter of individual behavioural adjustment. Love,with labour as its attendant prerequisite on one side, and the sources of the anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and casual sex on the other, reflect the power of social forces that shape every other aspect of our lives, argues Weigel emphatically (261).Here, Weigel’s argument is grounded in dialectical historical materialism. It eschews from drawing any intersectionality with the Foucault’s (1976/2008) paradigm of the politics of pleasure and body, which is rooted in the nexus of power and knowledge. Did the ‘labour of love’ have any effect on the political economy, given the former’s dialectical link with the latter? In what sense have the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the politics for 99 percent (the commoners) and not just one percent (the super rich), as these being seen since 2011, also been connected with the stressful condition of ‘labour of love’? Such a question still awaits a new researcher.

There are some glaring oversights in the overall narrative of this book. Out of the two components of love – care / emotional ties and intimacy – the feature of the former remains in the shape of some interspersed observations, waiting for an analytical scheme. The discussion on what effect the socio-cultural identities of persons have on ‘labour of love’ is confined to the passing observations on the fear of miscegenation shared by the white Americans and the difficulty of family building faced by the poor black Americans. The shades of inter-racial dating (Indian readers may see it with relation to inter caste and inter religious relationships) would add significant complication to this neat narrative of dating and class. Similarly, the scope of ‘labour of love’ is limited primarily to the phase in life cycle before marriage. The subsequent phase of life cycle rests on another order of ‘labour of love’. A reader is left to satisfy this curiosity through other research works, which will surely benefit from Weigel’s approach and its current lucid exposition.

A Book Review:

Moira Weigel, Labour of Love: The Invention of Dating.New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publisher, 2016. ISBN: 9780374713133.


Foucault, Michel.The History of Sexuality, Vol. I. (Translated by Robert Hurley),Australia: Penguin Group, 2008/1976.

Freud, Sigmund. Instincts and Their Vicissitudes.In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 12, pp. 159-204, New York: Norton, 1915.

Froom, Erich. The Art of Living: An enquiry into the nature of love, New York: Harper & Row, 1956.

Mahlaer, Margaret, Fred Pine and Annie Bergman.The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, New York: Basic Books, 1975.

McGregor, Sheila.‘Sexuality, Alienation and Capitalism’,International Socialism, Issue No. 130, 11 April 2011.

Nathanson, Donald L. Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the Birth of the Self, 1994/1992.

Dhiraj k Nite


Dr. Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist, University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy, Delhi. You can contact him through

What Is Post-Truth: Dhiraj K. Nite

The term of post-truth and post-fact has recently become a commonplace. It is no more confined to the realm of politics, that is, post-truth politics but informs the subjectivity in a wider social life. It seems to constitute the substance of a public sphere of the post-Fordist multitude itself. Our following discussion makes an exposition of its characteristic feature and foundational root. It is, I suggest below, a discourse of the contemporary forms of life. #Author


Via-franck biancheri

Post-truth: A discourse of the contemporary forms of life

By Dhiraj K. Nite

Post-truth relates to a public sphere. It is characterised by the repeated assertion of a set of opinions, which disregards the contradictory fact and ignores the factual rebuttal. Hence, it is, one and the same time, post-fact:the violation of what Carr (1961) and Ricoeur(1984) consider the scientific method.[i] This public sphere is akin to what Habermas(1989) terms ‘the plebiscitary-acclamatory form of regimented public sphere’.[ii] This is a consuming public rather than rational-critical debating public: the latter is the liberal model of the bourgeois public sphere that puts reason to use for fostering public opinion. The latter normally happens to be a critic of the authorities and calls on the public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion. The latter is brought into play as a critical authority in connection with the normative mandate that the exercise of political and social power be subject to publicity. By contrast, post-truth public opinion is the object to be moulded in connection with a staged display of and manipulative propagation of publicity in the service of persons and institutions: what Habermas simplistically terms ‘non-public opinion’ and ‘quasi-public opinion’(ibid: 236, 247). Post-fact public opinions are currently working in great numbers. The commentators have identified these in the contexts of the victorious campaigns of Trump, Brexit and the role of Russia and Syria in the Aleppo humanitarian crisis. As also the jingoist aggression over the issues, including beef, love jihad, the encounterkilling of IshratJahan, capital punishment of Afjal Guru and YakubMenon (2014),the Bhopal Encounter of six SIMI associates (2016) and the likes, is a similar case in India.

The term of post-truth, however, appears to be the elemental feature of the contemporary public sphere. Furthermore, it is supposed to be connected with the very desire of free people to live in a post-truth world, to express a post-truth tendency and work on a post-truth narrative structure cum strategy. It is an epistemological condition in which the attitude towards the very question of truth has become not merely ambivalent,pragmaticand self-serving. Instead, truth itself has become dispensable in this scheme of post-truth.[iii]Here it is marked out from another Habermasian viewpoint. The latter maintains that in a comparative sense the concept of public opinion is to be retained because the constitutional reality of the social-welfare state must be conceived as a process in the course of which a public sphere that functions effectively in the political realm is realised: that is to say, as a process in which the exercise of social power and political domination is effectively subjected to the mandate of democratic publicity (ibid: 244). Post-truth opinion obviates any distinction between public opinion and non-public opinion or quasi-public opinion, at the first place. Then, it affirms its non-dialogical, cynical reality. It valorises the logic of emotion as the final referent and mocks that of rationalism as well as universalism. Consequently, the terms of post-humanism,[iv] post-fact and the politics of America First, India First and the likes, and the society of spectacle and the polity of control tend to feed each other.[v] All this surpasses the negative connotation, whatsoever, attached to Habermasian term of non-public opinion and regimented cum manipulative public.

The desire of free people to live in a post-fact world is, it could be said, connected with some circumstantial factors, which form the materiality and subjectivity of contemporary forms of life, as these are, from the late twentieth-century.One of them relates to the postmodern criticism of enlightenment and modernity.The postmodern thinking has begun to take hold in the aftermath of the golden era of capitalism (1945-70), the crushing defeat faced by the campaigns for emancipatory cum egalitarian transformation (1967-80), the stifling experience of the existing socialism, and the emergence of a political economic scenario in which no promising alternative of the neo-liberal market economy is imminent.[vi]This thinking challenges, inter alia, the notions of objectivity and universal truth. It advances, among others, the idea of relativism. It reduces a treatise to simply a discourse that is a product of the [decentred] power relationship.[vii]

The post-Fordist forms of life connect to post-truth public sphere. The former includes the pre-eminence of immaterial labour, interactive and communicative labour, affective labour, and the roles of general intellect, social cooperation and virtuosity in the work performance (Virno 2004).[viii]The two emotional tonalities of thepost-Fordist multitude are opportunism and cynicism. Opportunism is marked by unexpected turns, perceptible shocks, permanent innovationand chronic instability (ibid:86). It is now a systemic behaviour caused by structural instability. In the post-Ford era mode of production, that is ajust-in-time method and informatisedaccumulation, opportunism acquires a certain technical importance. It is the cognitive and behavioural reaction of the contemporary multitude to the fact that routine practices are no longer organised along uniform lines; instead, they present a high level of unpredictability. Precisely this ability to manoeuvre among abstract and interchangeable opportunities which constitutes professional quality in certain sectors of post-Fordist production, sectors where the labour process is not regulated by a single particular goal, but by a class of equivalent possibilities to be specified one at a time. The information machine, rather than being a means to a single end, is an introduction to successive and opportunistic elaborations. Opportunism gains in value as an indispensable resource whenever a diffuse communicative action permeates the concrete labour process.

Likewise, cynicism is also connected with the chronic instability of forms of life and linguistic games. For general intellect is now associated withthe loss of the principle of equivalency (ibid:87). Cynics are related to certain cognitive premises and the absence of ‘real equivalence’. This is connected with thenon-dialogical renunciation of an inter-subjective foundation and a standard moral evaluation and abandonment of equality (ibid:88).

Idle talk and curiosity are some of other features of the contemporary multitude.Authentic life to unauthentic life, the world workshop to a world–spectacle: a shift has occurred.[ix] These attitudes have become the pivot of contemporary production in which the act of communication dominates, and in which the ability to manage amid continual innovations is supreme. Curiosity is connected with the autonomy from predefined goals, from limiting tasks, from the obligation of giving a faithful reproduction of the truth (ibid:89). These are connected with post-Fordist virtuosity (praxis, technical skill).

An accentuated taste for difference and the refinement of the principle of individuation constitute the selfof post-Fordist multitude (ibid: 111).The latter resists homogenisation, statistical dehumanisation and monotony of secular liberalism, which they consider as the tools of governmentality. The postmodern thinking serves it when it posits real labour, as opposed to abstract labour, in the shape of ‘the diverse ways of being human or the politics of human belonging’ (Chakrabarty2000: 70).[x]Instead of contributing to social integration, the neoliberal administration acts rather as a disseminating and differentiating mechanism in its endeavour of social control from the 1980s (Hardt and Negri 2001: 340).

Post-Fordism, as also the conservative revolution in the political economy from the 1980s(Piketty 2014),[xi]is characterised by the co-existence of the most diverse productive models. The ex-colonies, ex-socialist economies and the advanced capitalist countries are, for the first time, faced with a similar pattern in the organisation of workplace. The instability defines the latter, which is an expression of casualization, subcontractualisation and regulated informality.[xii]This is the material base of valorisation of difference. It is, however, a misleading assumption to regard this materiality as the prime mover. Instead, the very Fordist multitude had emphasised the desire for the personal autonomy or autonomous self, which had mediated the social unrest in the 1960s and 1970s. Such a desire, in the aftermath of the failure of transformative efforts, shifted to the non-socialist and anti-socialist demands, including the politics of the diverse ways of being human and identitarianism and the verncularisation of labour politics.[xiii]

If the publicness of the general intellect of multitude, it could be said, does not yield to the realm of a public sphere, of political space in which the many can tend to common affairs, then it produces terrifying effects. A publicness without a public sphere, this is the downside of the experience of the post-Fordist multitude. In this context, post-truth has surfaced in the form of a discourse of the contemporary forms of life.


[i] EH Carr, 1961. What is History?Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Paul Ricoeur, 1984. Time and Narrative (Translated by Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer). Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

[ii]JurgenHabermas. 1989/1962.The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society (translation by Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence). Massachusetts: the MIT Press.

[iii] It is grounded in the belief that no system of equivalency is stable and certain for any shceme of universal measurement.

[iv] It refers to the context of biopolitical ontology and its becoming, where the transcendent is unthinkable. In such ontology Value is outside measure, for no system of equivalency is stable and certain. Value and justice seem to be determined by humanity’s own continuous innovation and creation rather than transcendent power or measure (Hardt and Negri 2001: 355). Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, 2001.Empire.USA: Harvard University Press.

[v] The society of the spectacle – the control of broadcast and the deployment of dominant as celebrities and their views as an advertisement for manufacturing of consent – isa feature of the postmodern world. It rules through the weapon of the passion, fear – desire and pleasure that are intimately wedded to fear. The politics of fear is spread through a kind of superstition, that is, the negation of rationalism. It takes away from a struggle over the imperial constitution of the world order (Hardt and Negri 2001: 322-23).

[vi]DipeshChakrabarty suggests that the Foucauldian term of biopower and biopolitics – life as part of administration – is the final chapter of modernity. By contrast, biopower and biopolitics are the components of postmodernisation, that is, the control paradigm of government and the society of control, as suggest Hardt and Negri (2001: 318-330, 344-411).

[vii] Michel Foucault, 2008/1976. The History of Sexuality, Vol. I. (Translated by Robert Hurley). Australia: Penguin Group. Colin Gordon, 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-77 of Michel Foucault. New York: Pantheon Books.

[viii] Paolo Virno, 2004. A Grammar of the Multitude: For an analysis of contemporary forms of life. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

[ix] For Heidegger, the authentic life finds its adequate expression in labour. The world is a world-workshop, a complex of productive means and goals, the theatre of a general readiness for entering the world of labour. This fundamental connection with the world is distorted by idle talk and curiosity. One who chatters and abandons oneself to curiosity does not work, is diverted from carrying out a determined task, and has suspended very serious responsibility for taking care of things. By contrast, the multitude, passionate aboutan autonomous self from the 1960s, rejects the very fact that labour or work forms the human essence or being-in-the-world, that is, Heideggerian ontic. Thereby they discard the negative connotation attached to the inauthentic life within the productivist paradigm. To them, the authentic life reduced to labour/work is basically a life sentence. Martin Heidegger, 1962. Being and Time (translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson). New York: Harper and Row.

[x]DipeshChakrabarty, 2008/2000. Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[xi] Thomas Piketty, 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (translated by Arthur Goldhammer). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[xii]PrabhuMohapatra, 2005. ‘Regulated Informality’, in S. Bhattacharya and Jan Lucassen (Eds.), Workers in the Informal Sector. New Delhi: Macmillan.

[xiii]Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and RanaBehal (Eds.), 2016.The Vernacularisation of Labour Politics.New Delhi: Tulika Books.

Dhiraj k Nite

Dr. Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist,  University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi. You can contact him through

Plantation Capitalism and the Working People: Dhiraj Kumar Nite

An informed reader may find a few interpolations here vis a vis Behal’s published articles. A book length exposition of the subject is interspersed with certain improvisation of methods. Behal collects a couple of private papers, diaries, recollections and reportages of some planters. Cambel’s and Cotton’s reportages support the thesis of abuses of ‘coolie’, ill-treatment meted out to them and ‘discriminatory protectionism’ administered to them. Behal uses this archive to analyse world views of the planter and their graduation to the ‘coolie driver’. Planters considered the worker as ‘jungley’, inferior humankind, sub-human species, persons of low intellect and indolent animal. They regarded the provision of penal contract, below-subsistence wages and ostentatious flogging as necessary measures to deal with such native labour. #Author

Cover of Reviewed Book

Cover of the Reviewed Book

By Dhiraj Kumar Nite

Plantation Capitalism and the Working People: A Book Review

The Indian subcontinent established itself as the largest exporter of tea on the international market between 1890s and 1947. The rise and growth of tea plantations in the Brahmaputra Valley, Assam since the late-1830s, was the mainstay of this history. It was the biggest agro-industrial venture and, equally, the largest employer of workforce. The book of our discussion presents exposition ofthe plantations under ‘capitalism of its colonial variant’, its labour-management relationship, and the way the young European planter graduated to the ‘coolie driver’, and labour resistance.

Behal suggests, qua Walter Rodney (1981), the plantations developed as capitalist economy in the colonial context. Labour servitude, the dependency relationship and ‘the appallingly low’ standard of living of workers characterised the labour regime.Behal modifies the thesis that the indenture labour was ‘a new system of slavery’ (Hugh Tinker 1974). He highlights the elaborate ways, which planters devised in the midst of indenture legislation to create generational servitude of workers. They improvised newer methods of control for perpetuating the dependency relationship in the post-indenture era as well.

The plantations adopted a labour-intensive method of production. Workers were subject to legal cum extra-legal and non-market cum market methods of coercion and restrictionwith a view to securing maximum labour during the era of penal contract [Indenture] labour system (1863-1919). Planters often paid workers ‘below subsistence’ wages, provided them little medical, sanitary and educational facilities, and offered nominal maternity and sickness benefits. They asked for heavy nirik(task) that was linked with the pay. They flogged workers for attempts of absconding, non-compliance, defiance and on charges of unsatisfactory performance; at times, flogging resulted indeath of the victim. They were emboldened by the scenario: the bureaucracy and judiciary administered ‘unequal and discriminatory justice’ in their favour.The Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act (1859-1926), additionally, gave supports to labour servitude. The time-expiredand other local workers were contracted under the concerned Act. Here, planters treated the bonus of Rs 12 paid to workers as advances and,practically, adjusted it with workers’ wages.

In the era of so-called free labour since 1927, planters increased employment ofthe faltu/basti labourers (ex-garden workers settled on the government and private lands) at lower wagesthat helped depress wages in general. They continued to deploy the benefits of service tenancy, easy advances, credits and subsidised rice for creating a dependent, bonded workforce. They also devised newer ways of immobilising labourers and restraining the formation of labour market. They adopted a wage agreement among themselves in order to keep wages uncompetitive since 1929. Faced with the impending threat of trade-union movement from 1938-39, they imposed a mechanism of the conditional recognition of labour organisation,promotion of artisanal unions, and repression of agitators. They successfully allied with the new Congress government since 1946-47, and suppressed the Communist-backed agitation. They patronised the Congress-sponsored INTUC activity upon the promise of not upsetting the existing labour-management relationship (p. 308).

Such labour relation was responsible for the crisis of reproduction of humankind and extremely unequal, roughshod social milieu. Planters continuously recruited migrant labourers in the range of 30,000 to 40,000 a year, i.e., more than two million [distant] migrants during 1860s-1940s. However, it could have a workforce of approx. 400 thousands in the 1900s and over 800 thousands in 1934-1947. Women constituted about 45 percent of the workforce. The plantations witnessed high rates of mortality of the recruit in the course of transportation and in the tea gardens as well as desertion. A low birth rate, high abortion and morbidity rates, and absenteeism to the tune of 25 percent further compounded the difficulty.

Behal’s exposition debunks the revisionist historiography. The latter underplays the lack of freedom involved in indenture and gives primacy to the economic rationality of a system, which supposedly benefited employers and labourers alike(DavidW. Galenson1984; P.C. Emmer 1986).Behal highlights the practices that structured the indenture contract, dependency relationship and conditions of live and resistance. However, the history of 1840-61, the period before the indenture system when labour servitude was not a defining moment and the Katcharisworkers did strike in 1848 and others did the same in 1859 for higher wages and fair treatment, calls for a historical imagining that may not dovetail well with that of the ‘hundred years of servitude’.

The indentured labour system was an integral part of capitalism in the colonial context. Its essence (cheap, coerced labour) remained largely intact within the dependency relationship, which was noticeable for long even after 1947, suggests Behal (pp. 328, 335). This tension-ridden assertion provokingly lingers on. It calls for a split between the colonial/capitalist form of exploitation, on one side, and, on the other, its specific mode of power?

The policy of laissez faire maintained by the colonial state actually meant, Behal argues, that the state assisted European capital. It transformed the migrant labourer into the coerced labour through a legal framework. It offered huge acreage to capital at the throwaway prices;invested in the construction of railways and roads for capital accumulation; financed the R&D for improved productivity and a standardised product; and donated fund for the expansion of export market.It did not bother much, Behal argues, for curbing the planters who often did not pay the statutory wages to workers, forced workers to do more than nine-hour long workday and full Sunday work, and discriminatory unequal justice was a rule than exception. Behal’s findings strengthen the thesis that ‘the visible hand of the state’ was a crucial factor responsible for economic growth / underdevelopment at all historical phases (Deepak Nayyar 2013: 119-121). It would critique another revisionist argument: the British state adopted sympathetic approaches on both fronts of addressing the grievance of capital against shortage of labour and indiscipline labour and workers’ complaints of abuse and torture in the ‘coolie trade’ (TirthankarRoy 2008: 987; Peter Robb 2005).

Planters maintained handsome dividends for the investor despite the falling prices in the 1870s-1900s and fluctuating prices in the subsequent period. They deployed various means to intensify labour, suggests Behal. Workload roughly increased by 25 to 30 percent in the 1890s (p. 259). The labour productivity continually rose in the 20thc. New scientific inputs became available from the R&D activity to reduce the number of workers per acreagein the 1930s-40s. What was the connection, if at all, between those two economic phenomena, on one side, and of theirs with workers’ resistance to intensification of labour, on the other? Not explored. Behal clubstogether ‘extensification of labour’ and appropriation of absolute value with ‘intensified labour’ and appropriation of relative surplus. The reinforced supervisory efforts and ticca (additional pay for extra work) benefits helped secure, underlines Behal, continually intensified labour. Ian J. Kerr (1997) modifies the marxian understanding (1863) from his study of a similar socio-economic phenomenon: mechanisation is not a necessary vehicle of intensified labour and relative surplus; and appropriation of absolute surplus and relative surplus could be coeval.

The bookintegrates the experience of workers and labour resistance with the study of political economy. The tea gardens hosted three starkly unequal, divergent and, yet,interconnected life worlds of the European planter, the Indian worker (called ‘coolie’) and other clerical and supervisory staff. The latter group has not received sufficient attention. Workers were not gullible, ignorant and mute victims of labour servitude,highlights Behal.The ex-tea garden labourers displayed an increasing tendency to settle as tenant cultivators on the government cum private land and become service tenants on the plantation land. Behal does not read off whatsoever workers’ resistance to miserable proletarianisation and the desire for a modicum of respectable tenant life. The book shares the dominant discourse that the aboriginals and tribal represented economically and socially the most marginalised strata of the labour catchment area; they constituted 50 to 60 percent tea labourers. Other unprivileged castes constituted 30 to 40 percent. Further, 10 to15 percentlabourers belonged to the underprivileged castes. The book,unnecessarily,reproduces the planter’s pejorative terms, like ‘jungly’,‘coolie’(p. 257).They got dispossessed owing to excess revenue and indebtedness that pushed them to migration(p. 257). This minor point is not exact reference, despite Behal’s claim, to the conclusion of PrabhuMohapatra (1985: 291-97). The latter maintains that the combination of ecological condition in the shape of attacks of famine and drought on the peasants involved in expansion of the arable land, fluctuation and instability in food supply, costlier credit and little savings at the peasants’ disposal, and little investment in irrigation infrastructure undertaken by the colonial state, made emigration as an alternative.

Workers preserved their diverse caste and ethnic identities; yet, they forged solidarity to undertake regular collective protests (p. 277-8). How did they maintain diverse identities beyond the practice of endogamous marriages? What accounted for the co-existence of diverse identities and collective political actions? Oh!Not sufficient elaboration. Was the former resistance to degrading proletarianisation in terms of breaking away from the traditional community and kinship ties and adoption of an abstract individualiation in the social realm? The import of ‘new social history of labour’ seems minimal here. Consequently, the analysis of workers’ notions of indignity, income, reproduction and resentment over it surface as a synchronic entity of fixed texture, which were wrapped in time. The wage struggle simply comes out as a matter of gap between earnings and the cost of living index. The fight against sexual harassment and flogging of women and boys does not come up as a pointer to the social ethic of workers collective.

Women performed household chores and wage work. They were also subject to sexual demands of planters; the latter at times forced women to share a polyandrous relation in the service of labour stability. Placed in a subhuman existence they negotiated the reproduction burden through abortion (p. 260). Behal does not take any issue with Samita Sen’s (2005) finding that women at times saw an opportunity in sexual liaison with the garden sirdar. Needless to say, we are still waiting for a more focused examination of women’s experiences on the plantations.

Workers showed a great deal of awareness of their rights, lodged complaints and increasingly undertook subterranean as well as organised resistance, underscores Behal. Weapons of the weak included the actions, such as Jhumar folksong, which expressed workers’ critique of abuses in labour recruitment, daily drudgery, coercion, and their feeling of disappointment. It accompanied other individual and collective forms of protest. Workers’ attempts of desertion shot up in the 1880s; assaults on the manager frequented in the 1890s onwards. The mass exodus in the 1920s and strikes and trade-union movement in the 1930s on joined the repertoire of protest. Behal suggests that workers articulated grievances and demands in a clearer language by the late 1930s; their demand now became economic-in-nature. Workers’ awareness of the rights, notions objectionable issues and resolutions to the problem did emerge and develop, it could be said, in a sequential manner that unfolded with own historical specificity. Damn! We still wait for this history to come. A notion of dastur(customary practice)and its violation prompting workers’ protest also seems to have been at work.

The history of workers’ awareness and resistance should have been, it could be said, interwoven with the earlier discussion, where the planters looked as despotic ruler and workers as servile, reflexive persons.Such split, as it is, in the narrative structure conveys an impression that workers’ resistance had little impact over the planters’ behaviour pattern – excepting the fact that the abolition of the penal contract labour system in 1908 and Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act in 1926 partly owed to labour resistance. For instance, following brawls and riots between workers and managers, complaints were brought to the magistrate by labourers and planters in the 1890s on (p. 282). After 1908, the manager abused labourers; he apprehended retaliatory assaults and sought prosecution by lodging legal case against the labourers (p. 285).Therefore, a slippage like this occurs: ‘The planters enjoyed unquestioned control over the labour force’ (134). An analytical framework is needed, where the social struggle is the vehicle of development.

No unified labour organisation developed across the gardens. Behal explains it: Planters succeeded in immobilising workers, restricting and regulating access of outsiders, and securedsilence/apathy of the Assamese nationalist towards garden labourers. Nationalist leaders enjoyed links with native planters and maintained social and cultural distance with garden workers (p. 310).

An informed reader may find a few interpolations here vis a visBehal’s published articles. A book length exposition of the subject is interspersed with certain improvisation of methods. Behal collects a couple of private papers, diaries, recollections and reportages of some planters. Cambel’s and Cotton’s reportages support the thesis of abuses of ‘coolie’, ill-treatment meted out to them and ‘discriminatory protectionism’ administered to them. Behal uses this archive to analyse world views of the planter and their graduation to the ‘coolie driver’. Planters considered the worker as ‘jungley’, inferior humankind, sub-human species, persons of low intellect and indolent animal. They regarded the provision of penal contract, below-subsistence wages and ostentatious flogging as necessary measures to deal with such native labour. Jean Breman (1989) and Michel Taussig (1985) have studied the effect of ‘estrangement’ shared by planters on their brutal cum cruel attitude towards workers. DipeshChakrabarty (1989) has underlined the co-existence of modern/capitalist arrangement of production, on one side, and precapitalist/premodern form of power, on the other. The latter explains, argues Chakrabarty, the fact that the manager conducted public violent punishment to discipline and control the labourer. Behal shuns such distinction; instead, Behal’s findings reveal the cultural locus of ‘mode of power’, which planters wielded.

Behal suggests that the language of sources distorts our view. His narrativeundertakes in-itself a judicious assessment of divergent view-points and roles of the different actors available in archive; which juxtaposes various types of source; underscores fudging of figures. This is par excellence over the history of wage and wellbeing. It discovers substantial underreporting of those of workers’ attempts of desertion that got caught up and punished in the garden. Such cases were not reported to the police and labour inspector (p. 231). The imperfect [i.e., low] official statistics of desertion cum prosecution, as it were, led T. Roy (2008: 988) to conclude that neither wages nor the quality of life were actually worse on the plantations; that historians have exaggerated reports of the involuntary nature of migration. Behal’s narrative applies ‘a close reading of conventional sources’, including a better-known Jhumar(folksong of the teagarden) for especially writing about the notion and perception shared by workers and their self-activity.

Behal, Rana P, One Hundred Years of Servitude: Political Economy of Tea Plantations in Colonial Assam, Delhi: Tulika Books, 2014.ISBN-10: 9382381430.

Dhiraj k Nite Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist, University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi. You can    contact him through

The Postmodern mores and Cinematic Expression: Dhiraj Kumar Nite

Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR) is a commercial movie, and all signs are to make it a big money-grossing of this year. That said, let’s proceed. All commercial movies are necessarily an expression of socio-cultural and political proclivity of the movie maker. The logic of Investment shapes technological inputs; but the narrative strategy, cinematography and the conceptualisation of characters are, equally, the product of cultural and political locus of film makers. Let’s call this non-economic aspect of film making as the ethico-political logic and craft logic. The sexist form of cinematic characters are as much guided by the image of target audience shared by film makers as by the sexist discourse i.e., ethico-political logic, which the former often entertains. The movie of our discussion presents an enchanting ethico-political logic; the craft logic and the economic logic accompany the former to make it commercially viable. A superb combination of three distinguishes it from the so-called art movie.@Author

TWMR (2015)

TWMR (2015)

By Dhiraj Kumar Nite

Ethico-Political Logic of Cinematic Expression

TWMR brings two enamouring female characters who do share as much similarity as contrasting attributes. Both are women-in-rebellion in their own rights. They defy the tradition of cultural restraints set on the women by patriarchy. Tanu [Trivedi] embodies as much self-seeking modern conceit as, I suggest, a post-modern autonomist self. She seeks to freely flow in pursuit of a boyishly unrestrained, hedonistically rich and thrilling newness. However, she is bereft of any wishes for financial self-sufficiency. The financial foundation of her sparking adventurous life is the wealth of her parents, the boyfriend and the husband. She recognises dignity in labour, but she keeps herself away from such demanding fact of human life. As a whole her character is altogether novel imagination. She is not Anita (Praveen Boby) of Deewar, who was an equally infectious, iconoclastic discovery of the 1970s. She neither satisfies the definition of modern [bourgeois] womanhood, who is a companion of her male member to support his productive life and perform the role of an emotional anchor. Nor does she fit with the image of a modern female antithesis, who relishes financial self-sufficiency and transformative womanhood. I tempt to look at her as a post-modern womanhood in her status as a female thesis. The refusal to productivist paradigm of modernity is her distinguishing attribute. Abundance of necessaries of humankind to life is conducive to her refusal. At the same time, she does not regardthe female’s virtue in her reproductive function for the manly world. For any association with such considerationwould be a hindrance to realisation of her exploratory self. Marriage is a means than an end in-itself.

Datto, alias Kusum is one of the strongest female characters ever imagined in the Bollywood. She is distant from the retrogressive feudal tradition and the self-seeking moderns [bourgeois] conceit. She is at the cusp of refreshing transcendence. She seeks to win the world that is competitive. She takes pride in her ability of financially supporting the family or socially dependent kith & kin; relishes her agenda [rather than any burden of responsibility] of fostering a web of social relations/network; and commits to resist the latter when it attempts to overwhelm her autonomist, exploratory self. She nurtures the ethic of care, cooperation, and progressive transformation. For instance, in the course of seventh round of the Brhamanical ritual of marriage she enquires on her groom, her beloved if he is well-disposed to the final step. She decides to walk out, for she was not simply reluctant to marry to someone who is still emotionally attached to his first wife. She is careful of and cooperative towards a possibility of consolidation of love between self-deprecating Tanu and unsure Manu. She represents an image of, I tempt to suggest, a post-modern female antithesis. The latter transcends the self of feminist or socialist female antithesis, which was born in modern world and contributed to its progress. She is anyone but Indrani Sinha (Raakhee of Tapasya).

TWMR is decidedly neither a naturalist feature film nor realist. Damn, what to celebrate! It is in the league of some movies made in the recent times, which explore the grey areas of their characters. Dabang’s inspector, Piku’s daughter, Haider’s mother and son, Queen’s Rani: all of them perform their social functions with certain peculiarities. The villains are also grey characters; the hero and heroine also pleasingly indulge in the necessary ‘social vice’. Different classes intersect – at times collide with – eachother here and there. Tanu as a distraught person stumbles across a quiet beggar; the latter kisses her outreached palm and intends to offer a price for such weird thrill that visited him. Disconcerted Tanu moves on. It reminds the penultimate episode of Manto’s story A Woman’s life. In the latter Saugandhi was flustered at her rejection by the customer. Tanu is taken aback by her own realisation of the extent of dissolute condition, of acceptance by a destitute man. All this orchestrates something as much palpably earthly, which one would believe that a natural course of life witnesses; as fantasy for the world to entertain, even if not in the sight to descend soon.Needless to say, the realm of imagining of social characters is perilously fraught with the logic of investment. What is saleable sets the circumference, the limit. Therefore, Tanu and Manu return to each other to produce not just a happy ending, so notoriously characteristics of the Bollywood, but to satisfy the moral compass of the target audience. No explanation is sought for the change of hearts and minds between Tanu and Manu, who were so reasonably disposed to undertake separate strayed journeys till the previous moment. Here, TWMR loses an opportunity to lend us a cult movie. This is a recurrent feature of the story authored by Himanshu Sharma. There was no explanation on offer for the appearance of an uncommon lady, TanuTrivedi, known as batman, in Kanpur city in the prequel movie (TWM). Hobsbawm writes (On History: chapter, Postmodernity and History) that there is an increased tendency of exploring the meaning at the cost of explanation, which we find as a defining trait of the postmodernist literature.

The anti-foundationalist and anti-essentialist approach presents the aesthetics of meaning; of the politics;of the form; of the hierarchy. Let me digress to support my observation with what I borrow from a recent article of a cultural theorist,Fredrick Jameson, ‘The Aesthetics of Singularity’, New Left Review, vol. 92, March-April 2015.1. In our postmodern age we not only use technology, we consume it, and we consume its exchanges, value; its price along with its purely symbolic overtones. Similarly, the form of the work has become the content; and that we consume in such works is the form itself. In the modernist texts the effort is to identify form and content so completely that we cannot really distinguish the two; whereas in the postmodern ones an absolute separation must be achieved before form is folded back into content. Further, there is centrality of the postmodern economy, which is characterised as the displacement of old-fashioned industrial production by finance capital. 2.Only thing capital cannot subsume is the human entity itself, for which the attractive theoretical terms excess and remainder are reserved. The post-human is the final effort to absorb even this indivisible remainder.3.We have not yet entered a whole new era rather a new age of third, globalised stage of capitalism as such. Here, postmodern philosophy is associated with anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism. This is characterised as the repudiation of any ultimate system of meaning in nature or the universe; and as the struggle against any normative idea of human nature. 4. What further distinguishes it from the old critiques of modernity is the disappearance of all anguish and pathos. Nobody seems to miss god any longer, and alienation in a consumer society does not seem to be a particularly painful or stressful prospect. No one is surprised by the operations of a globalised capitalism. This is called as cynical reason. Even increasing immiseration, and the return of poverty and unemployment on a massive world-wide scale, are scarcely matters of amazement for anyone. So clearly are they the result of our own political and economic system and not of the sins of the human race or the fatality of life on earth. We are so completely submerged in the human world, heideggerian ontic, that we have little time any longer for what he liked to call the question of being. 5. In our time all politics is about real estate. Postmodern politics is essentially a matter of land grabs. … Not to surprise,one protagonist of TWMR is a builder, another is a squatter, and the third is the issue of the location of housing in London between Tanu and Manu than the condition of house.

The craft logic of TWMR is scintillating. Every character is well chiselled. Every cast moulds herself/himself into the concerned social character. The use of close-up camera, not so popular in the Bollywood, demandingly tests calibre of actors. The narrative maintains suspense and well-proportioned subplots till the end. Editing carries pace of the narrative at an enjoyable and captivating scale. Cinematography weaves locales, which the audience would identify with and also chew it. The content, dialogue and body language successfully present a refreshing social drama rather than an electrifying comedy, for which it had immense spice to grow into at the hand of a director like Priyadarshan. Music and the songs are as much to bring out glittering, tormented or repenting inner self as to advance the story line. Finally, Kangana’s dancing effort is the rare occasion,where she bursts out as one actor involved in double roles.

Dhiraj k NiteDhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist, University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi. You can contact him through

Becoming South African Citizens: Dhiraj Kumar Nite

An Exposition of the Formation of Political Identity between the Indian Diaspora

Abstract: This essay analyses the political efforts made by the diasporic Indians for attaining South African citizenship. During a remarkable political journey from the status of indentured workers to citizenship, the diasporic Indians took certain decisions, articulated their positions and incurred risks for the stand-point, which had positive bearing upon their political journey. They identified themselves as colonial patriots and stressed South Africanist identity in the early 2thc for making a case for settling down as free persons. With time, they recognised unity of their interest with other oppressed nationalities, thereby involvement in anti-apartheid struggles and constituting their popular embeddedness in the widest-possible social fabric of South Africa. The overwhelming size of them once again reaffirmed their African embeddedness by defeating the divide and rule policy through boycott of a Tricameral Parliament in 1984. They have refrained from paranoia of BEE and committed to the society as contributors to growth and social business. Thus, our exposition interpolates an under-researched issue of political adaptation undertaken by the Indian diaspora in the diasporic studies. Moving away from the narrative of victimhood, it underscores the contours of their human agency.

@Dhiraj kumar Nite

Early Indian labourers in South Africa

Early Indian labourers in South Africa



This essay discusses the ways in which the Indian diaspora qualified themselves for citizenry right in South Africa. It analyses their political effort and decision which proved historically critical for making their claims for South African citizenship successful under multi-racial democracy which dawned since 1994.

The Indian diaspora forms about three percent of the population (49 millions) in South Africa, and about 6.5 percent of the population in its Kwazulu-Natal province in 2011. Their politics for citizenry right in South Africa marked, it could be said, certain distinction as compared with the politics of the native Blacks and other Coloureds who successfully fought for the same in the 20thc. The distinction had to do with the fact that the Indians migrated to South Africa since 1860; the overwhelming number of them were indentured workers in the British-controlled Natal Colony, one of the regions on Indian ocean-coast of South Africa; and the White-controlled Union of South Africa, formed in 1910, considered them along-side other Coloureds good for only semi-skilled labour against the status of unskilled labour accorded to the native Blacks. The diasporic Indians, the native Blacks and the Coloureds were subject to the rule of racial segregation, which graduated in the regime of apartheid since 1948. Furthermore, their foothold in South Africa came under severe duress under apartheid polity. For the Nationalist Party, the architect of apartheid, came in power with the political slogan: ‘The Kaffer (the native Blacks) in his place and the Coolie (Indians) out of the Country’ (Bhana 2000).

In the face of the circumstantial and political challenges, the historic decision taken by the diasporic Indians to settle down in the country of economic-destination, and their successful fights for citizenry right, it could be said, were remarkable in its own right. They received much more than citizen status under multiracial democracy. The cabinet of Nelson Mandela included six Indians among its 16 odd members. Jay Naidoo headed the politically most important portfolio, called Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). He was the first general secretary of the largest workers organisation – Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) formed in 1985. Currently, Pravin Gordhan has been the Finance Minister in the Zuma-led ANC government. Mac Maharaj has been the advisor and spokesperson of the President Zuma. Both of these South African Indians have been respected anti-apartheid crusaders since the 1970s. Little wonder, the Indian diaspora presently represents what we know in the language of international relations as the soft-power of India in South Africa.

Relevance and hypothesis

Several scholarly works contribute to our understanding of life and experiences of the diasporic Indians. Four approaches are discernible in the literature. First considers the creation of indentured labour in the Indian subcontinent and its impact on life of indentured Indians and their family members at Indian villages. It argues that the colonial authority duped the Indian rural poor for recruiting as indenture labourers on the overseas plantation. According to it, indenture labour was akin to slavery for the period of contract of three to five years between the labourer and the employer. Indenture labour caused moral and social degradation (the loss of family life, religion, indulgence in prostitution, the existence of high death rate) in their life. This approach characterised the nationalist discourse on indentured Indians and informed the nationalist demand for the abolition of indenture system, which came to fruition in 1917-1920 (Kumar 2013; Tinker 1974).

Second studies the conditions of work and social life of the indentured Indians on the sugar plantations. It reaffirms the argument that indenture labour was a new form of slavery. It argues that the indentured Indians were subject to gruelling long working hours, confinement within the plantation premises, inadequate payments for availing of a healthy life, and corporal punishment for failing to complete assignments and infringement of plantation regulations. They received little opportunity for a regular family life because of crowded ‘cooly’ barracks and highly unequal gender ratio (29 percent female of the indentured Indians). Therefore, they indulged in the instances of wife murder, suicide, prostitution, heavy drinking and consumption of other narcotics (Beall 1988; Tayal 1977; Tinker 1974; Mohapatra 2007, 1995).

The third approach deals with the experiences and adaptation pattern of the indentured Indians. It moves beyond the narrative of victimhood and unmitigated suffering of those wo/men who were caught in the coils of indenture. It argues that the Indian poor frequently made considerate choice in favour of migration to the overseas destination; many of them decided to settle down because of comparative advantages found there. According to it, these wo/men carved out their niche overseas and, in the long-run, seized opportunities of betterment (Lal 2000; Freund 1995; Brain 1985; Bhana and Pachai 1984; Tayal 1983; Swan 1984; Bujis 1986). And, fourth engages with the social, cultural, educational and political practices of the Indian diaspora. It suggests that the diasporic Indians did not simply carry over the Indian custom to the destination-economies. Indeed, they selectively attached to the old custom and, over time, transformed it in a way that suited best to the social economy and labour regime which they were part of (Hiralal 2013; Naidoo 2010; Mohapatra 2007; Bujis 1986; Freund 1985).

My discussion below pursues the thread of the above-mentioned last two approaches, and fills a gap related to the political adaptation. The latter included, I suggest, not only some landmark events and activity which fell upon them; but, more importantly, the discursive articulation of the stand point and risks incurred for one’s political conviction to have bearing upon the course of social change. There were four crucial conjunctures, I propose to highlight, in the early 20thc (the moment of South Africanism or Colonial Patriotism), the mid 20thc (Unity of the Oppressed), the 1980s (Rejection of Divide and Rule), and the 2000s (Refraining from Paranoia of BEE).

Moment of South Africanism

The early Indian diaspora in South Africa were the Indentured workers. Between 1860 and 1911, 152,184 indentured Indians recruited under the 1837 regulations of indenture labour were shipped to Natal sugar plantations – approximately 1/3rd out of Calcutta port, and the rest out of Madras port (Swan 1984: 241). It stopped in 1911 at the request of the government of Union of South Africa established in 1910. Only 52 percent of these migrant workers took historic decision of settling down in Natal after their term of indenture expired. From there, several thousand drifted north to the Transvaal region which developed gold mining. Most of them remained in Natal and gradually moved on to the works at the sugar mills and other occupations, and gave way to the local Zulus on the plantation by 1930.

The free persons, after completing their tenure of indenture (three to five years or 10 years under the pressure of re-indenture owing to tax of pound three imposed on free Indians since 1895), seized numerous opportunities in petty enterprises in agriculture, fishing, market gardening, fruit and vegetable hawking. They decided to settle down despite the burden of an annual three pound tax. The tax was introduced by the first parliamentary session of the responsible government and was part of a package which sought to control Indians who were not of direct and immediate use to the White planters and farmers who dominated the legislature (Swan 1984: 241). The tax was a mechanism to push Indians either back to India or back under indenture. The escape route to this tax was migration to the Transvaal goldmines. The British administration started clamping down on these immigrants in Transvaal in 1903-04. It imposed the law of registration of trade and population on them.

The diasporic Indians felt aggrieved of the poll tax and other restrictions. The Natal Indian Congress (NIC) was formed by the Indian merchants (migrants as free passenger) and Gandhi in 1894 for specific purpose. But, it was failing to represent other diasporic Indians. In order to pursue a solution to their grievances and articulate their embedded reality in South Africa, the young Indian colonials formed the Natal Indian Patriotic Union (NIPU) in 1908, the Colonial Born Indian Association (CBIA), and the South African Indian Committee (SAIC). They unified themselves and expressed new locally-embedded identity under the ideology called South Africanism or Young Patriotic Colonials. It distinguished them from the foreign-born commercial class and laid claim for formal equality with other residents and settlers. They demanded the repeal of poll tax, annulment of the law of registration of population, and recognition of customary Hindu and Muslim marriages.

The developments in the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) prompted them to fashion a unifying ideology. The post-war brought to them depression, salary cuts, the introduction of a new form of taxation, and an attempt by the new White-controlled state to debar Indians from the civil service. These developments made it increasingly difficult for the western educated Indians to maintain existing standards (Swan 1984: 245). To note, they established contact with Gandhi over these matters and joined Satyagrah between 1911 and 1914. Thambi Naidoo was one of their leaders. Naidoo was also popular president of the Johannesburg Tamil Benefit Society. Indian colliery and plantation workers went on strike in 1913 in this resistance. The state and employers brutally intervened in the matter to bring the workers back to work. Violent treatment meted out to strikers drew public criticism in India and London. The government announced the appointment of a commission. Its findings in April 1914 recommended the abolition of the poll tax and long sought settlement over the immigration law. The outcome was able temporarily to resist full proletarianisation of Indians by securing the abolition of the poll tax. No change in the immigration law came. Conditions of these workers were often no better by the World War II than those which had produced the groundswell of militancy in 1913 strike a success (Swan 1984: 256-66).

Unity of the Oppressed

In the early 1940s, a new generation of Indian radicals set in motion the large scale Indian labour organisation underpinned by the ideology of class struggle. The NIC was transformed into an organisation defending the rights of all Indian people. It occurred under the leadership of Dr GM Naicker and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, who argued that ‘the political rights of the Indian community could not be divorced from those of African and Coloured people’ (Naidoo 2010: 44), who were equally suppressed under the rule of segregation and the subsequent regime of apartheid. They called for a multiracial front and a relationship with the African National Congress (ANC), which became evident in the Doctor’s Pact in 1947 – on the eve of election that ushered the apartheid ruler (the Nationalist Party) in power. In 1952, Mandela was appointed by the joint planning committee as Volunteer in Chief and Ismael Cachalia of Indian descent as his deputy to execute three stages of disobedience in the Defiance Campaign against the pass law, the group areas act and the suppression of communism act. The pact recognised the all-encompassing identity of Black, including the native Africans, settled Indians and Coloureds, as oppressed and as against White’s injustice. An identity was built against injustice of the apartheid regime (Naidoo 2010: 45). To note, such momentous politico-social regrouping came in force despite the infamous Indian – Zulu riot which occurred in Durban in 1949. The anti-apartheid Indians now maintained duel or triple membership – NIC, ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). As participants in the defiance campaign they faced prison, house arrests, deportation to the Robben Islands, armed struggle, exile, and underground community work.

The diasporic Indians were increasingly educated and urban dwellers. In 1985, they numbered some 900,000. In 1975, over 50 percent of them were under the age of 19. They had the falling birth rate. They had initially benefitted from schools run by the Christian Missionary between them. Subsequently, they coaxed the government to provide affordable schools to their children in the 1930s and 1940s (Bujis 1986: 230). Like the White settlers, they were passionate about schooling of the children. Gender differentiation was at work here only at the higher education level, and that too was withering away. They were adopting ‘an African attitude’ toward equal education of daughters (Bujis 1986: 231, 242). They aspired for white collar jobs. Now husbands felt elated over wives’ educational attainment. The Tamil and Telgu speakers were switching over to English language. There were 23 percent Christian converts. Their South African General Mission focused on modern subjects in education and other social matter and outlook. Other practicing Hinds thought caste as a system of discrimination in many ways similar to apartheid and one which was irrelevant in the modern world. Until recently caste was an important factor only in marriage negotiation (Bujis 1986: 233). They made efforts to restore family and maintain an extended family, which proved wherewithal of social progress. In a way, it marked a reversal from the tyranny of nuclear family to joint and extended family (Bujis 1986: 235). These participants in social upliftment drive expressed their anger against apartheid constraints by establishing new unity with other South African oppressed and investing in Freedom Charter adopted in 1955. It resolved to have multiracial democracy and the recognition of the birth-right.

Rejection of Divide and Rule

The apartheid government launched a new Tricameral Parliament with an Indian, Coloured and White chamber (the largest by far being the white chamber which also had the veto power). It attempted to co-opt the minorities into a conservative alliance in face of the mass revolts since 1976, and a new spate of trade restriction imposed on South Africa by the western countries in the 1980s.

A massive boycott campaign confronted the election schedule in September 1984. To utter surprise to government, an overwhelming majority of Indians and Coloureds preferred to support the boycott campaign (Naidoo 2010: 89). They saw the Tricameral system as a ploy to perpetuate White domination. However, a minority of Indians took part in the elections for the House of Delegates – the Indian Chamber. These Indians – largely commercial persons who came to South Africa as free passangers – did benefit materially under the model of separate development. Other Indians saw the lack of a chamber for Blacks was to prove a stumbling block for the system. The ANC and SACP intensified the political struggle. Jay Naidoo, as general secretary, led the largest mass front – the COSATU. African workers sang: ‘this is our coolie, he is our leader’. ‘In all my years in the labour movement and our struggle against apartheid, I was never once made to feel my ‘Indian-ness’’, writes Naidoo (Naidoo 2010: 100). Mac Maharaj, an ANC member in-exile from the 1970s, intruded South Africa and acted to rebuild mass base for the ANC. De Klerk became the State President in 1989 and took the purposeful decision to retract the ban on the ANC and all other political organisations in exile.

Refraining from paranoia of BEE

The anti-apartheid struggle succeeded to actualise the political content of Freedom Charter through setting up new multiracial democracy in 1994. The latter began de-racialisng the institution and inclusive economy. Frene Ginwala, a seasoned activist and a woman Indian South African, saw such social progression as the first speaker of the new parliament. Jay Naidoo supervised the redistribution programme – RDP. Some professional Whites found these changes demoralising and looked out for greener pasture abroad.

The government moved on to the neo-liberal policy called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GER) in 1997-98 – the last year of Mandela’s ministry. Mabeki, Mandela’s successor, initiated the scheme of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). The latter meant an affirmative action for the Blacks. The company, the employer and educational institution showing accommodative approach toward the Blacks, received financial favour of the government. Equally, the demand for proportional access to resources and equity in development surfaced under Mabeki’s slogan of South Africanism and African Renaissance. Jay Naidoo experienced that his Indian ancestry was now used against him to oust him from the seat of RDP (Naidoo 2010: 293). Other diasporic Indians shared reservations in a meeting with Mandela in May 2000 over new South Africanism centred on BEE. They received reassurance and reposed pride in South African identity (Bhana 2000). They have been poised to seize newer opportunities. White capital, management know-how, and professional skills have been leaving the country. Unlike them, the South African Indians have been filling up the vacuum. Under White rule, the Group Areas Act dictated that the Indians could operate only in areas demarcated for use by the Indian community. In their own areas there were limited facilities for trading and minimal facilities for manufacturing. Several enterprising Indians used White nominees or formed companies with White shareholders to set up manufacturing operations in the main industrial regions of the country. Under ANC rule, the Indians have been getting into the mainstream manufacturing and service industries. Their educational attainment has yielded them a comparative advantage.

The promising and reassuring field of progress informs the following opinion of Jay Naidoo: ‘a sense of accomplishment became possible because his great-grandmother, Angamma decided to abandon her life in her [wretched Indian] village and travel across an ocean to a new land’ (Naidoo 2010: 248). It is not an irony that Naidoo opines so against the backdrop of his ousting from Mbeki’s ministry in favour of social equity in development.


The diasporic Indians had a remarkable political journey from the status of indentured workers to citizenship. They took critical decisions, articulated their positions and incurred risks for the stand-point, which had momentous bearing upon their political fate. They identified themselves as colonial patriots and stressed South Africanist identity in the early 20thc for making a case for settling down as free persons. In a short span of time, they recognised unity of their interest with other oppressed nationalities, thereby involvement in anti-apartheid struggles and constituting their popular embeddedness in the widest-possible social fabric of South Africa. The overwhelming size of them once again reaffirmed their African embeddedness by defeating the divide and rule policy through boycotting the Tricameral Parliament in 1984. They have refrained from paranoia of BEE and committed to South Africa as contributors to growth and social business. Thus, our exposition interpolates the issue of political adaptation undertaken by the Indian diaspora in the studies of the subject at issue. Instead of reinforcing a narrative of victimhood, it highlights the nature of their human agency responsible for shaping their political journey.

Dhiraj k Nite

Dhiraj K Nite, A Social Scientist,  University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi. You can contact him through



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Photo Courtesy: The Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre, University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa


A ‘Third Way’ in the Hills: Bela Negi’s Film Daayen Ya Baayen(2010)

By Dhiraj kr. Nite

 It has been a refreshing feel of watching a movie Daayen Ya Baayen, directed by Bela Negi. I share my opinion over this two-year old movie at a time when the cinematic technique, storytelling, and plot of Gangs of Wasseypur (directed by Anurag Kashyap) have successfully drawn rave reviews from the viewer. This discursive backdrop of Gangs of Wasseypur urges me to present my commentary on Daayen Ya Baayen (hereafter DYB), which appears in a certain way an antidote to the former movie. Take an example. The plot of DYB could have perfectly combined a few fight scenes. Instead, Bela Negi gracefully concentrated on two different orders of violence and fight. One relates to the ecological violence committed by new mining activity on the Himalayan hills. Second concerns itself with the emergence of fighting awareness regarding the on-going calamitous path of opulence; and the resolution adopted to move away from such an anomaly.

The story prima facie narrates the desire, dream, and initiatives of a city-returned man – a schoolteacher (Ramesh Majila) – who is disillusioned with the life in Bombay and returns to the Uttrakhand hills. He intends to do something in the village itself for a descent, free life. By sheer coincidence he receives a red car to become locally popular. The red car also invites jealousy of others to its owner. He is interested in getting opened a Kala – Kendra in the hill village with a view to have opportunities for local artists to nurture and express their talent. They would not migrate to and face a rough tide in the un-embracing cities.

The subscripts of DYB illuminate more shades of collective hill life than its main plot. As a whole its delivery of plot and cinematic presentation are finesse and enjoyable. Like the movie ‘Om Dar Badar’ directed by Kamal Swaroop, DYP is a cinematic representation of a space. Or, to put it in other words a space (Uttrakhand hills) is the character itself than a passive backdrop in the movie. The movie captures varieties of physical and human activities, voices, emotions, and exchanges taking place in that space. It engages with their manners of manifestation. The fleeting appearance of forest fires and captivating presence of the TV serials between the women serve that intent. Likewise is the transient appearance of a sedate, beguiling woman clad in the red sari on a bus. The characters are rooted in the intersection of time and space; hence are there a number of sub-scripts harmoniously interwoven. The hill, the forest fires, and the buffalo – calf are as much symbolic representatives of the space as the rest of social being.

The plot embodies the narrative realism. The non-linear progress of life course characterises both the large trope and other sub-tropes. There are incidental happenings, like the lottery of a red car won through submission of a jingle. At times, the protagonist regresses in his life course. Liquor embraces him like other hill youth. Such a moment is as ordinary incidence as the effort of the protagonist to bounce back on the path of a hope in a new rise of the red son in the hills. There is no extraordinariness either with the moment of regression or the recovery from it.

The movie interweaves the director’s critical message about the development path seen in the hills. It argues in favour of the ecological sustainable path of betterment. The message impressively comes through, for the storytelling does not become preachy. The message remains interwoven with the life course of the protagonist and the hills. Not ironically, whenever the protagonist’s attempt to preach his new vision and judgment invariably draws flak from other characters. Two significant messages come along in an understated way. The Ramesh Majila submits to the charm of a beguiling woman clad in a red sari who is always on move. She refuses to accommodate the kid of Ramesh on her bus-seat. The facial reaction of Ramesh conveys his dismal with the reality: the beguiling physical appearance does not necessarily incubate a humane, pleasant inner-self. The latter should receive more attention and regard than the former one which could be misleading. At one point, Ramesh agrees to campaign for the incumbent chief minister of the state. In return, he hopes to materialise his dream of a Kala – Kendra in his village. He explains this bargain to his inquisitive son: he is making a small sacrifice in favour of an important, big thing to come. There is not much time spent on making his statement exemplary. The director undertakes a rapid movement of scenes towards the protection of a buffalo – calf at the expense of a popular car. This is tantamount to a virtual protection of the hill life and its environ.

The deployment of symbolism and frames of the camera immensely enriches the plot and comes out smoothly to convey the message of the director. Two examples are worth to note. The sedate, pretty woman on the bus was effectively beguiling. But, she embodied the misleading superficial goodness. Her nasty treatment of the child (Baju Majila) exposes her ugly inner spiritual being, and thus, functions as repellent to Ramesh. The latter saves his buffalo-calf by putting at stake his life and car. He installs the gate of a new Kala – Kendra next to the place where his jettisoned car has been irrevocably hanging. The car initially appeared as a means to attain community respect. The calf was presumed as a burden. Towards the end, this equation undergoes a turn upside down.

The title of the movie Daayen Ya Baayen refers to the right and left paths of development or social change. Bela Negi does not intend to resolve the conflict between the two models of development by showing her any simplistic prejudice for one against the other. The third way suggested in the movie bursts forth as a case by case choice. The people in Uttrakhand hills need a Kala – Kendra, but the mining appears destructive and undesirable. DYB is possibly only one movie in the recent time where the Ramesh returns to the village with intent of discovering an opportunity of descent, free life. Only the malefic spirit moves away from the village to a town. Urbanisation and industrialisation are no longer universal signs of social progress as per Bela Negi’s third way. Accolade!

 Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist, University of Johannesburg,  Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi.

The Earliest Global Labourer: Predicament, and Cosmopolitanism: Dhiraj Kumar Nite

Balachandran, G. Globalising Labour?: Indian Seafarers and World Shipping, 1870-1945, New Delhi: OUP, 2012.

A Review By Dhiraj Kumar Nite

The seafarer was a man of the world. Indian seamen, officially called lascar (coolies or manual workers) employed by British shipping companies were the earliest global workers in the subcontinent. Their working life spanned from Calcutta and Bombay ports, engine-room and deck of ships, and to other Asian, African, British and American ports. They were nearly 44000, i.e. one third of total employment on British vessels in 1937.

Balachandran brings to us a lucid and elaborate account relating to the world of Indian seafarers. This account makes exposition of the condition of existence, experience, and agency of these men, and of their relationship with the employer, the colonial government, British officials, recruiters (the Ghat Serang or broker), supervisors on ships (the Serang), and seamen who hailed from other Asian and African nationalities. This area has been under-researched in historical studies of labour. Six chapters and an epilogue of this book present a couple of arguments to further the studies of labour and South Asian history.

Like all other colonial labourers Indian seafarer was cheap labour at the disposal of shipping companies. They worked longer hours – seventy to eighty-four hours a week were not unknown. The Geneva Maritime Conference of the ILO reduced their work hours in the 1930s. Indian seamen continued to sweat longer hours, and received time-off in place of any overtime wages. They shared crammed accommodation on ships. The availability of this labour helped the ship owner resist the demand of unionised British crews for wage increases frequently made from the 1890s.

Balachandran reveals the ways employers secured and maintained such cheap labour until the late 1930s. Social constructivism and agency focused explanatory tools come to his service. The employer, like the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O) discursively worked out an image as coolie/lascar of Indian seamen. The latter were classified as unskilled, trepid, lacking independent competence, and Asian race of lower necessaries for their living. The racial discourse diminished the constant and everyday challenge and hazards of their work. Such workmen did not deserve, the employer insisted, any substantial revision of wages, accommodation on ships, food supplies, workday, compensation, rescue equipment, and of the practices of flogging and penal contract. The demand of National Union of Seaman (NUS: composed of British seafarers) for a comparable facility for Indian seamen was fatal philanthropy. Such racialised work hierarchies and attitude, Balachandran suggests, was an expression of colonial difference. The societies in Southern Africa, for instance, witnessed a similar racial attitude and discourse without any proper colonial difference. I wonder how much colonial difference reveals or obfuscates an explanation of the racial labour relationship.

The discursively diminished stature of Indian seafarers was never a sufficient perquisite to maintain the lascar – employer relationship. Employers maintained the authoritarian environment on ships in order to put in effect the discourse of denial. They enjoyed favour of the metropolitan and colonial state-power. The racial attitude of British seafarers reinforced their privileges and the image of coolie. Employers and officials invested in the second trope of heroic masters bearing the necessary wisdom, experience, and manner to subdue hopeless and potentially threatening rabble into useful. They invented, manipulated and entrenched a new image of the serang as a traditional, village-based headman who would control the seamen. Balachandran suggests that the serang was not any jobber or sardar of traditional authority. One of the earliest demands of the Indian Seamen Union was to eliminate recruitment through intermediaries and the abuses and corruption it gave rise to. The ship serang was also a victim, not a beneficiary of corruption.

The authorities externalised the costs of labour reproduction to ‘subsistence agriculture’. They wove nexuses with the broker (Ghat Serang) known for providing advances, and owners of boarding houses at the ports. Such nexuses worked to stabilise the maritime worker as habitually unattached, dissolute, unstable, and nominally free labour force. The latter entered into cohabitation and irregular family life and bore its unhealthy marks in their pursuit of satisfying emotional necessaries. Seamen burdened by debts to crimps and under pressure from them to ship out, also had little chance of holding out for better wages. These were wages of success of the navigation industry.

The author suggests that racial and cultural fluidity and cosmopolitanism characterised the dockside. The seafarers belonging to many communities (India, Arab world, China, and East Africa) interacted and explored opportunities for income. They devised ways to maintain their niche despite an opposition to their employment on British vessels articulated by the British NUS from the turn of the 20thc. The cosmopolitan environment crumbled at British ports in the aftermath of the world war one (WWI). The post war scenario lent a sharp jingoistic edge to the opposition. Race as a marker of identity and citizenship turned out popular in the public discourse, hence the endorsement to the campaign of repatriation and restriction. A similar development occurred at Indian ports in the aftermath of the partition. The concept of cosmopolitanism appears to me as loosely applied and that too more a descriptive than an analytical category. What the author highlights is the spirit of seamen and the ways that they improvised to subvert the new exclusionary regulations. This made the authorities finding it impossible literally and metaphorically to tie many seamen down to place, nation or category. The new regime faced the resilience and solidarity of seafarers in case of South Asia in 1947-1965. Thus, the author challenges the historical description which suggests that a subcontinent rent apart at one blow in 1947 rather than one whose divisions were realised piecemeal over at least the next two decades.

Unlike Chinese and African seamen Indians were not known for desertion until the 1920s. Such propensity emerged amongst them to draw a flack in the midst of the great depression. They did so despite the increased risk involved in doing so owing to tightened immigration control. A perverse co-relationship appeared between desertions and the scenarios of regulation. This shift owed to the distressed hope of peasant standing of these men in colonial India. Such Indians looked out for an opportunity on vessels involved in Atlantic trade. Those who could not succeed in it became peddlers in neighbourhoods of British working poor. A reciprocal sympathy between colonial peddlers and working poor was noticeable. The anti-black campaign and the principle of only-white of the NUS drove many British seamen and activists close to the left-wing organisations in the 1930s. This fact stands with unease across other arguments of the author related to the hardening of identities in the aftermath of the WWI.

The seafarers noticeably developed the spirit of unionisation in the 1920s. Indignities of the WWI (the refusal of fair war compensation and corruption in actual disbursal of compensation money) borne by them were responsible for the drive of unionisation. Balachandran underlines the fact that well before unions seafarers produced and led collective lives through the traditional collective bodies and held a wage strike in 1914 at Bombay deck. The Indian Seamen Union (ISU) followed the rank and file rather than led them when seafarers staged militant strikes at Indian and British ports in 1938-39. Alongside economic demands they began mobilising idioms of international working class solidarity in the hope of countering racial attacks and breaking out of the coolie lines. They displayed astute awareness of themselves and the world emerging around them in the 1940s. They expressed solidarity with the liberation struggle of Indonesians. They refused to work ships ferrying troops and arms in support of the Dutch reconquest of Indonesia after the WWII. Through these actions they challenged the stereotypical image of trepid, peasant-cum seaman, and made a shift from their ascriptive image of coolie to worker. This transformation of coolies into workers was, Balachandran argues, thus heavily mediated (by protests) and profoundly hybridizing (conjunctural to the owner and British officials).

The seamen staged carefully chosen protest methods. The latter embodied seamen’s awareness of the power relations, and assessment of success and failure (the regulated nature of maritime employment, the coercive power of the state, and the isolated and disaggregated forms of action of Indian crews) in pursuit of a better deal. They rooted their actions within the law. They had few protest action on board, and looked out for opportunities to renegotiate unsatisfactory engagements. Desertion and flight were an expression of such negotiations. Yet, such action meant a withdrawal of labour: an industrial action rather than reinforcement of peasant traditions of resistance. Opposed to the existing three historiographical positions, Balachandran argues that seamen were not victims of an ‘original mentality’ (peasant traditions) and a workplace culture where they could not explore or deploy norms of bourgeois legality. They improvised informal (and formal) modifications in the rules of engagement. These were the function of a careful weighing of costs, benefits, and opportunities. Balachandran questions the implicit naturalness found in the structuralist historiographies about the formation of the working class whether through an emphasis on objective conditions or subjective orientations. These historiographies obscure the negotiations and other constitutive processes that helped establish at any given time, the boundaries of the category on the ground, and its rules of closure. This non-determinist and non-essentialist line of reasoning of the author, I suggest, needs to address a question: what accounts for a particular notion and manner of appreciation of benefits, opportunities, and costs?

Some methodological niceties make this book engaging and tangible. About half a dozen short life histories are interspersed in the larger narrative. They enliven and uplift the mood of the reader. The application of a good number of maritime photographs is in-itself telling. The archival sources do not come simply as raw materials, which an author conventionally processes externally to present final points. The very processing of primary sources is integral to the narrativisation and analysis. It further adds cogency to the account. Some of the pronouncements of authorial judgment on historical developments seem careful of resisting a sensibility of sterileness.

Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist, University of Johannesburg,  Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi.

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