Migrants in Coal Mines: Peasants or Proletarians, 1850s-1947
THIS PAPER describes and examines some of the problems associated with the formation and growth of a mining labour force in the Bengal and Bihar coal fields of Raniganj, Jharia and Giridih, the former being located in Burdwan and the other two in Manbhum and Hazaribagh districts respectively, and some implications of these problems.
The mines in both Bengal and Bihar came to be located in remote, formerly jungle areas inhabited by tribal and semi-tribal populations and low-caste Hindus engaged in a somewhat crude form of agriculture and also partly dependent on the gathering of forest produce.' In the early years virtually the entire mining labour force was composed of tribal and low-caste peasant and artisan groups- From the earliest days of mining, labourers were drawn from villages either within the two coal bearing districts or neighbouring districts. Till 1921 the overwhelming majority of the mine labour force consisted of local people or at most short-distant migrants.2 In later years too there was no substantial change.3 Given the locational background, all of them were close to the soil. Even those who later on came to be recruited from relatively distant U.P., C.P. and Bihar districts came from rural areas. This pattern did not undergo any significant shift by the close of our period. The 1944 Labour Investigation Committee noted:
"The essential aspects of the composition of the labour force in coal mines in India have remained the same during the last half a century or so, namely that the labour employed in the different coalfields mostly belongs to the surrounding villages and districts of the province in which the coal mines are situated".4
In addition, despite the growth of the mining labour force stretching over several decades, even at the end of the period under study a settled, full-time labour force having no substantial links with rural economy failed to emerge. With regard to the jute mill labour force, it has been noted that the preponderantly male migration and the imbalance in sex and age composition of the mill area population had been important indicators of, as well as factors contributing towards the survival of rural links. But the converse, i.e.,
* Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.