Dispossession and the class concept in industrial India
When we met in 2006, Rajiv was in his late twenties, and like his father before him, constructed heavy goods vehicles on the assembly line of the Tata Motors plant. Today, Tata steel builds bridges in Europe, Tata vehicles travel the roads as far afield as Southern Africa and Tata cell phones connect people across the whole of India. In my native country of Great Britain, millions drink Tata tea under the label of Tetley, government ministers travel in luxury Jaguar cars built by the Tata group and New Statesman magazine lists former company CEO, Ratan Tata, as the 28th most important person alive.1 Overall, this is an ambitious and successful company that has seen its place in the world change dramatically over the course of the previous 20 years. Accordingly, many company employees look to be the type of enterprising individuals that economic liberalisation was supposed to create in India – ambitious and well-qualified people who are willing and able to step into the global marketplace of labour, skill and ideas. Rajiv corresponds to some aspects of this template rather well. He speaks fluent English, possesses a master’s degree in political science and discusses global economics with a great deal of insight. He is also hard working, adaptable and fiercely ambitious and comes from a family inured to the experience of formal sector employment. These are all characteristics that must be nurtured with a certain amount of cultural capital, which the majority of Indians lack due to an uneven distribution of education, wealth and access to the state. It seems clear then that in this new Indian marketplace of enterprising individuals, some are destined to lose at whatever game is being played, while
many more will never even begin to play at all. With his stores of cultural capital, Rajiv should be an obvious winner; however, a closer look at the more tangible issues of job security and wages reveals that by most measures, Rajiv and almost all of his peers employed in Jamshedpur’s formal sector industries are actually losing the game.