Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Mumbai | Tuljapur | Guwahati | Hyderabad

TISS Patna Centre Migration Lecture Series, Lecture 12


Venue: Kedar Bhawan (adjacent to Jan Shakti Bhawan), Amarnath Road, Patna – 800 001

Title of the Lecture: Contract Labour, Informalization, and Workers' Struggles in the Gurgaon Industrial Belt                              

Speaker: Rakhi Sehgal



Gurgaon is celebrated as one of the most iconic representations of the new India emerging from neoliberal reforms, with its shiny buildings and highways; automobile and garment export industries; BPOs and IT industries; 26 shopping malls, golf courses and luxury shops selling Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Alongside its story of becoming a runaway 'success' as an industrial hub and contributing over 40% to the state's revenues, a narrative in local news headlines points to the underlying stresses, tensions, fractures and contestations – “Gurgaon's eight lakh migrant workers live and work like animals”; “Illegal migrants are responsible for rising crime in Gurgaon”, etc. 

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) estimates that there are 8,00,000 invisible migrant workers in Gurgaon. Migrant workers from Bihar, UP, West Bengal, and a few other states form the bulk of the workforce employed in conditions of extreme informality in the garment industry in Gurgaon, while migrant contract workers from across the country staff the machines in the automotive sector. 

The struggle of the Maruti workers focused the country's attention on the issue of contract workers and the fact that a large proportion of contract workers are also migrant workers. Yet the narrative of the migrant worker did not catch the country's attention. Perhaps the fact that most workers in our urban and industrial centres are migrants, functions to normalize and invisibilize the specific challenges they face. Trade unions too tend to consider migrants primarily as workers rather than as migrant workers with particular and overlapping forms of oppression.  There have been some efforts to address the plight of migrant workers, especially in the garment sector but overall the labour struggle in the Gurgaon belt has not focused on the challenges of being migrant workers.

Alongside the vulnerability that migration induces, increasing flexibility and informalisation of employment, non-implementation of labour laws (and now reform of labour laws), increasing inequality and extreme exploitation, also act as disciplining force on labour. However, a system of 'extreme exploitation' necessitates a repressive apparatus founded on armed police force, securitisation of society and criminalisation of dissent and protest – be they workers demanding their rights, citizens resisting development induced displacement, tribals and adivasis resisting corporate takeover of their natural resource commons and eviction from their historical habitats. 

The issues of increasing informalization and contractualization of labour; repression of labour struggles; and challenges faced by migrant workers will be discussed during the course of the presentation.

About the Speaker:

Rakhi Sehgal is a labour researcher and trade unionist. She is the vice-president of a contract workers union (Hero Honda Theka Mazdoor Sangathan) in the state of Haryana and member, National Executive Committee, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) - a national federation of independent trade unions.  

Ms. Sehgal is currently working on issues of contract labour, social reproduction of labour, violence at the workplace, industrial relations and discrimination.


Jointly organised by:   Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Patna Centre; and

                                           Kedar Das Institute for Labour and Social Studies, Patna

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