Social Scientist. v 13, no. 143 (April 1985) p. 3.


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Indian Labour and its Historiography in Pro-Independence Period

ABOUT thirtyfive vears ago, I undertook a studv on the origin and growth of Assam tea garden labour along with the nature and growth of tea industry itself. It was published by the All India Trade Union Congress (A.I.T.U.C.) as a monograph, Capital and Labour in the Indian Tea Industry, in 1954. Let me frankly confess, the motive behind this study was not academic. It was rather guided by my youthful enthusiasm as a trade unionist, to draw the attention of other fellow trade unionist, particularly those working among tea garden labour, to this little known field of labour history so that thev would be better equipped to organise, guide and lead tea garden labour in its genuine struggles against all forms of oppressions. From my own limited experience, I realised that to be an effective trade unionist, one must be familiar with the historical background in which an industry along with its labour force emerged. I chose Assam because, firstly, it was an uncharted field of study and,^secondly, even from my limited knowledge of modern Indian history I was convinced that the basic characteristics of Indian colonial economy in their sharpest features could be observed in the working of the Assam tea industry. The A.l!T.U.C. not only encouraged me to take up this study but also took the responsibilitv of publishing it, as mentioned above.

It was in connection with this study that I also became interested in the general history of this region. I have however no illusion about my knowledge of the latter. As my own specialisation (whatever it is worth) is confined to the history of the origin and growth of Assam plantation labour, I have chosen as my theme a broad review of the genesis of labour history study in India, with emphasis on Assam plantation labour.

During the early fifties this subject matter (i.e. history of Indian labour) had not vet acquired the status of'respectability' and hence 'popularity' in the academic circles at least in the eastern region. I do not think anv research scholar in this region offered or was encouraged to offer labour study for his Ph.D. thesis, with the probable exception ofNirmal Chandra Sinha, who wrote an excellent though short chapter on colonial labour emigration (from India) for his P.R.S. Thesis (1944), which was subsequently pubHshed as a book in 1946, under the title Studies in Indo-British Economic. As a matter of fact, it was only from the sixties that labour study became popular among students and scholars of modern Indian history. Till this time those who did show some interest in this subject, were by and large associated not with the academic world, but with industry, government or trade unions with or without political involvement. Not that there were no exceptions (like R.K. Das or R.K. Mukherjee) but they were verv few in number. This was probably because con-

^Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.



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