As India emerges as a major economic power, producing dollar billionaires rising at the rate of 17 per year, more than 800 million Indians eke out a living on less than two dollars a day. This book takes the reader to the underbelly of the Indian boom, an India that is not shining but is struggling to survive. From the Indo-Soviet Bhilai Steel Plant in Chhattisgarh, where an aristocracy of labour is increasingly being replaced by a more vulnerable contract labour force, we move to the banks of the Hoogly River. Here, Norwegian shipping companies exploit a precarious labour force that is as vulnerable to the vagaries of global finance and its crisis as the elderly, especially women and wage-workers, who live in the slums of Chennai. Also in Tamil Nadu, but this time in Tiruppur, we find that the garment and textile industries boom has nurtured new regimes of debt bondage among industrial workers. Though public concern about the vulnerability in which poor people find themselves has resulted in new nation-wide schemes framed in the language of rights, we find in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh that the practical workings of these schemes are dependent on the regional political systems in which they are enmeshed. We end in the belly of the Maoist-inspired Naxalite insurgency, denounced by the Indian government as the country’s greatest security challenge, where the poor are being mobilised to rise against the injustices of the Indian state.
This book was originally published as a special issue of Economy and Society.