Macroeconomic Processes, Gender and Labour in India. Chirashree Das Gupta Ambedkar University, Delhi. Introduction: Two Stories in the Economics of Gender and Labour. The plug-in narrative: Insert gender as a variable (Sinha 2009)
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Chirashree Das Gupta
Ambedkar University, Delhi
Our point of departure
Responsiveness of Growth to Policy Regimes in India : 1955-56 to 2011-12
The evidence from the formal factory sector shows that for a product worth Rs 100, labour value was Rs 2.57 in 2009-10 (Acknowledgment: Surajit Mazumdar). In 1989-90, it was Rs 6.54.
Real wages in casual work in rural India other than public works, has increased merely by 20 percentage points between 2004-05 and 2009-10. Disaggregated by sex, real wages for rural males have increased by a mere 14 percent while that for the women have increased by 22 percent, (albeit wages for women were much lower in 2004-05 and is still substantially lower than the male wages in absolute terms). (Mitra 2011)
Between 2008-09 and 2011-12, while real wages for non agricultural occupations like masonry (4%) and blacksmithing (4%) , have seen a modest increase in rural areas, most other occupations have registered either stagnating (carpentry and cobbling) or falling real wages (sweeping and unskilled labour). (NSSO data, various years)
Stringent labour laws in the organised sector the most significant barrier to competition (demand for ‘second generation economic reforms’).
Capitalism has advanced in India solely on the basis of labour cheapening based on caste and gender hierarchy.
Institutionalised between 1947 and 1961. Spans all policy regimes in independent India
The First Five Year Plan laid down that an abrupt increase in wages was detrimental to the economic stability of the country, as it would get reflected in the costs of production and, consequently, in the rise in prices of products.
From the Second Plan period, however, wages had come to be determined by industrial tribunals whose approach reflected the growing strength of the labour movement.
So by 1960, the doyens of industry were already appealing to members of parliament and legislatures to ‘bend their legislative energy to review and rationalise the present Acts and regulations’ (FICCI 1960).
The Industrial Disputes Act 1947 had applied to all cases where one person was employed by another irrespective of the type of employment, the resources of the employer and his income from his business.
Thus in the period of liberalism between 1946 and 1955, an Act had actually envisaged the formalisation of all employer-employee relations in India at least on paper. Indian capitalists wanted this to be changed and industry needed to be defined very specifically.
The 1953 amendment did not include this even though there was pressure from the organised sections of the industrial top brass to do so (FICCI 1954).
Due to pressure from the leading trade unions (Ranadive 1990), the Act widened the definition of “workmen” to cover supervisory personnel drawing up to Rs.500/- per month.
On the definition of workplace in the original draft of the Industrial Disputes Act:
…a university, a hospital, a restaurant, a boarding house, a shop, a circus, a theatre, a zoo, a charitable institution and even an educational institution have come within its scope. If a liberal interpretation is given to the definition, it will be within the law to include a church, a temple and a mosque or other places of worship and a private dwelling house. (FICCI 1954: 9)
The right of trade union formation could not be denied. But flexible corporate governance structures ensured narrow ambit of TU formation.
The definition of worker and work place where workers could take recourse to the provision of industrial disputes law and forming trade unions was narrowed down to definitions based on scale; power consumed and type of economic activity.
The adjudication machinery powered by the labour movement had made a serious effort to cover the entire area of labour exploitation encompassing the informal sector under the Industrial Disputes Act. However, resistance from capital, led to multiple amendments that significantly reduced the scope of adjudication based on a narrowing of the definition of industry to the formal factory sector. This was the institutional basis of sustained informalisation of the labour force without any adequate legal option for taking retributive action in all sectors of the economy.
Definition of the Hindu in the Hindu Code Bills:
a Hindu was defined as anyone who was not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew and thus by default included followers of other institutionalised religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism as Hindu, not to mention theistic practices outside the domain of organised religion like those of adivasis.
...The result is that if a tribal individual chooses to say that he is not a Hindu it would be perfectly open to him under this Code to give evidence in support of his contention that he is not a Hindu and if that conclusion is accepted by the Court he certainly would not be obliged by anything contained in this Bill...
(Constituent Assembly. (Leg.) D.L Vol. I, 17th November 1947, p. 41.)
Thus, even as families went nuclear, the ‘HUF’ could be perpetuated as a legal entity as each nuclear family marked the beginning of a new ‘HUF’.
According to Ramanujam (2006: 6), a former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax:
The HUF is an entity peculiar to the Indian tax law. The law recognizes it and there is nothing sham about it. Surprisingly, the Government carries out any amount of amendment to the Hindu law without looking into the revenue loss caused by the recognition of the HUF as a separate taxable entity. The HUF may be a boon to the taxpaying Hindu. But it is definitely a bane to government revenues.
Both ‘old’ and ‘new’ capitalist business houses of Hindu origin use the provision of HUF to consolidate family holdings and ensure the control of capital within the family through transactions between the HUF and individuals within the HUF who held key positions in the share-holding and managerial patterns of the companies within the fold of the business house.
The HUF has often been considered to be a legalised tool for tax evasion and its importance in the holding structures of assets for the family owned business groups have not been sufficiently investigated.
4. Thus the payouts to the HUF as well as to the individual who is part of an HUF is simultaneously maintained.
5. At the same time, the HUF can hold other property eg houses, cash, gold, share certificates, fixed deposits which would not be considered in the asset accounting of the business group.
6. The income and wealth holdings in HUF do not get counted in the business group’s accounting of ownership and control of assets.
7. The central role of legal facilitation of holding structures of family owned business groups and the continuing provision of Hindu Undivided Family accounts in the personal laws that ensured assets remained within the male line of descent of family and insulated from business risk has seen no significant change in the period of transition to neoliberalism.
8. It ensures corporate and individual income tax exemption over and above the other universal forms of exemptions.
9. No such provision was available to business houses held by Muslims or Christians, Parsis and Jews.
Within the structure of the family owned business group, the importance of Hindu Undivided Family assets have not declined even as the groups in question have forged relationships based on technological dependence and spates of mergers with and acquisitions of both indigenous and foreign companies.
Institutionalised patriarchal basis of holding structures, property rights, tax privileges and definitions of work and worker to facilitate labour cheapening as the sole basis of profitability and capital accumulation in India privileging the Hindu capitalist.
Combining these with ways of controlling labour on the basis of gender, religion and caste identity, appeals to feudal patriarchy in the name of tradition and using bogeys to deny security of citizenship rights to Muslims and Dalits (with both direct coercion expropriation and violence; and using indirect modes of labour control), the macroeconomic system works to perfection in its ability to deliver labour virtually free to India’s capitalists – big and small.