IMRANA QADEER* DUNU ROY**
Work, Wealth and Health: Sociology of Workers' Health in India***
Ghanshyam Das Biria was a member of the 1931 Royal Commission on Labour1 and a respected adviser of the 1969 National Commission on Labour.2 The 1931 Royal Commission found the state of working and living conditions of Indian labour to be 'appalling' and made 357 recommendations for remedying this. Of these 357 recommendations many concern the passing of new legislations and the rest involved administrative action by governments, public bodies, employers' associations, and workers' unions.3
The 1969 National Commission, almost forty years later, found that both working and living conditions had improved somewhat in some sectors but, more than that, workers had 'got used to a rhythm of work with all the good and bad points thrown in/ 'He (the worker) accepts certain environments associated with certain types of work. It is only when these get changed for the worse, and that too beyond a limit, that protest begins. This limit is itself elastic'.4 The Commission made 300 conclusions and recommendations wherein it found that, in general, statutory provisions were adequate but effective encorcement was lacking.
Nathuram was a labourer employed in a Biria concern manufacturing caustic soda in eastern Madhya Pradesh. He was employed through a labour contractor and, on the days he found employment, he earned Rs. 71, well below the stipulated minimum wage. Most of the work he did was maintenance and repair work which, the management argued, was 'non-process'. Curiously enough, when the permanent 'process' workers struck work in 1980 over economic demands the Biria management closed down production for two months;
but when Nathuram and his other 'non-process' colleafgues resorted to a strike in 1984 for regularisation and implementation of statutory requirements, the management agreed to negotiate within two days.
Nathuram's father had been displaced from the land when the
Centre for Community Health and Social Medicine, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
Senior Investigator, Environmental Education Project, Shahdol.
Paper read at the XIth World Socilogical Conference, August 20,1986.