chapter  1
33 Pages

Criminal capital

I had arrived in Jamshedpur several weeks earlier to begin 15 months of ethnographic research on Tata labour politics, and I first met Ashok at the reception desk of the Tata Motors plant while attempting to schedule a meeting with the plant’s corporate communications department. As he passed by me on the way to his office, Ashok stopped to talk. He was a likeable and softly spoken man in his mid-forties, who spoke impeccable English with the clipped tones of the Indian upper middle class. After listening to a loose summary of my project for a few moments, he offered to take me on a tour of his workplace, after which he would introduce me to his senior colleagues. A few weeks later, with a freshly laminated Tata Motors gate pass hanging around my neck, Ashok and I made the 8-km journey from his home in a suburban company township to my apartment in the city centre. I had spent the evening talking with his wife and young son, and with an unshakeable concern for the well-being of lone foreigners, Ashok now insisted that he accompany me home, lest I be cheated or misplaced by a rogue rickshaw driver. We walked through the silent, clean streets of his neighbourhood to a nearby junction, where Ashok negotiated a fair price for the 30-minute round trip with a waiting rickshaw driver. Climbing into the back of the vehicle, Ashok and I watched a model steel town go by as we drove towards my home.