Books exploring workers’ rights in South Asia
Every year on May 1st, nations around the world including those in South Asia celebrate the International Workers' Day. The efforts of employees and labour organisations for decent working conditions and pay are central to the history of Labor Day in South Asia. The day honours and commemorates the economic contributions made by the working class population while highlighting their challenges and calling for improved working conditions and pay. In order to understand the background of the labour movements in South Asia or the plight of workers, here are some books to add to your reading list.
Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia
Columbia University Press, 2014
Written by Siddharth Kara, this book is an explosive investigation into slavery practices. It is a result of 11 years of thorough research conducted in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and captures an antiquated and constantly changing kind of slavery that captures about six out of every 10 slaves worldwide. In the process, the author travelled to remote areas of South Asia, from cyclone-ravaged southwestern Bangladesh to the Thar desert on the India-Pakistan border, to uncover the brutal realities of diverse industries such as construction, brick manufacturing, and the production of frozen shrimp. Through this work, he highlights the plight of destitute workers who are violently forced into slavery in order to produce a wide range of goods at a low cost.
The White Tiger
Simon & Schuster, 2008
Aravind Adiga's debut novel provides a darkly humorous perspective on the working class struggle. The Booker Prize-winning book explores the unpalatable realities of the contemporary world economy and its crippling consequences on labour. It blends several themes like family dynamics, religious conflict, and governmental and police corruption into a fictional narrative and tells the story through the eyes of Balram Halwai, a poor driver from rural India who rises to become a successful entrepreneur in the city. While this psychological thriller does not shed much light on the history of the labour movement, it brilliantly captures the plight of the working class, and how stark the class differences are in South Asia.
Such a Long Journey
McClelland and Stewart, 1991
Set in Mumbai, Rohinton Mistry's book revolves around the life of Gustad Noble, an ordinary bank clerk who gets caught up in a political plot. The book explores issues such as social and political instability, working-class conflicts, and the effects of colonialism and imperialism in a post-independence India. This critically acclaimed book offers a vivid portrait of life in Mumbai during a time of great change and upheaval, emphasising specifically on the struggles of the working class population. This turmoil, which includes family drama and tragedy, espionage and office politics, bureaucracy and damaging modernization, military and cultural civil wars, as well as the middle class's economic precarity, is what author Rohinton Mistry draws the reader. While it does not necessarily provide a historical background of the labour movement, it does include a detailed account of the everyday struggles of middle class workers in the Indian subcontinent.
Bangladesher Shromik Andoloner Itihas
This book chronicles Bangladesh's labour movement's history, right from the colonial period to present times. The author, Amjad Hossain, offers a thorough overview of the movements and conflicts of workers. He discusses a number of topics related to the history of labour, such as the function of labour unions, evolution of labour laws, the effects of globalisation on the labour market, and difficulties faced by workers. The text provides a thorough explanation of the various stages of the labour movement in Bangladesh, highlighting the significant occasions that shaped it, and the various labour organisations that developed over time. By offering insights into the ongoing struggles of the working class in Bangladesh, it acts as an informative read for people interested in the history of the labour movement.
Maisha Islam Monamee is a student of IBA, DU, and a freelance journalist who likes reading, scribbling, and blogging. Follow @monameereads on Instagram.