ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Making of Industrial ‘Peace’ in Post Colonial India


Sharma Megha - Jawaharlal Nehru University, School of Social Sciences, Delhi, India


36 – Interrogating Deviance and ‘Crime’ in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia


The transfer of power from the colonial to the Indian national government is a critical moment in South Asian politics. The government undertook planning initiatives to build a democratic and socialist nation. The desire to carve an autonomous and sovereign identity for India prioritized rapid industrialization. The government’s ambitions made labour’s contribution critical to the task of nation-making. Workers’ responded to the calls for increased production with demands to improve their conditions. The tensions between the pressures from above and expectations from below led to increased strikes in the initial post-independence years.  

In this paper, I will study the legislation introduced to avoid any industrial disputes and work stoppages. State-led interventions criminalized any spontaneous collection action from the workers. The labour courts became the primary site to contest workplace injustices and workers’ demands. Workers approached the court to rectify the injustices they experienced in their everyday work life. Employers justified surveillance of workers’ movement under the garb of industrial productivity. Case proceedings elucidate how workers’ transgressions at work became grounds for their dismissal and how they countered employers’ actions. The court archive provides critical insights into how a new national state employed legislation to criminalize and penalize workers’ independent actions and movement.