Cotton mill worker, Bombay, 1910

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Any general narrative on labour in India needs to be a historical narrative, for occupational structure has changed relatively slowly. Historians have often attributed the inertia to various forms of inequality and repression. Such an approach underestimates the capacity of individuals to make a difference by utilizing opportunities offered by expanding market transactions.


Rethinking Economic Change attributes poverty and inertia to the continued dependence of livelihoods on poor quality natural resources (dry land, degradable land, and expensive irrigation, for example), and the dynamic element to commercialization of labour, enabling moves to break out of poverty by reallocating work between places, occupations, and institutional conditions.


Rethinking also explores the ramifications of another peculiarly Indian condition - extreme forms of gender differences in respect of livelihood choices. Until the late-twentieth century, the average age at marriage of women in India was one of the lowest in the world, and slow to change. Such low age for the start of family meant, among other things, that new earning options that entailed migration were used mainly by men. The book explores these dimensions of work with historical data.


Rethinking Economic Change in India: Labour and Livelihood, London: Routledge, 2005.

Articles in journals and in Economic and Political Weekly

Bringing Economics back in Labour History: A Study of the Historical Patterns of Labour Supply in India, Indian Journal of Labour Economics, 47, 2013.

The Role of Labour Institutions in Industrialization: Japan and the Crisis of the Cotton Mills in Interwar Mumbai, EPW, 2008.

Sardars, Jobbers, Kanganies: The Labour Contractor in Indian Economic History, Modern Asian Studies, 42(5), 2008, 971-998.

Subaltern Studies: Questioning the Basics, 2002, Review article of David Ludden, ed., Reading Subaltern Studies. Critical History, Contested meaning, and the Globalization of South Asia (Delhi: 2001), EPW, 2002.