Matter in Motion: Work and Livelihoods in India’s Economy of Waste
All human society produces waste matter which has no value: in the circuits of capital in production, distribution, consumption, the production of labour and the reproduction of society. Some waste matter remains without value indefinitely, and other regains value in reuse, recycling and reprocessing. India’s waste sector is one of the fastest growing in the world. This chapter analyses the livelihoods and life worlds generated by liquid and solid wastes in the circuits of capital of a small town in South India. It combines the analysis of 84 such livelihoods with four workers’ own descriptions, chosen to represent the livelihoods and life worlds of the public sector salariat, informal wage work, self-employment and petty capital. The workforce is disproportionately Dalit and Adivasi. Conditions are dangerous, and the work is extremely hard. Formal contracts prove incomplete and informal labour depends on patronage, discretion and bonding. This chapter concludes with reflections on incomes and social stigma in this sector.
KeywordsWaste India Poverty Informal work Formal work Social discrimination
The fieldwork reported here has been supported by a British ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) grant to the London School of Economics’s (LSE) project on Poverty and Inequality (http://www.lse.ac.uk/anthropology/research/Inequality-and-Poverty/Home.aspx). The essay does not represent the views of either the LSE or the ESRC. I am grateful to Alpa Shah who directs the LSE project and to Gilbert Rodrigo who carried out the field research with me.
- Adnan, S. (2015). Primitive accumulation and the ‘transition to capitalism’ in neoliberal India: Mechanisms, resistance and the persistence of self-employed labour. In B. Harriss-White & J. Heyerv (Eds.), Indian capitalism in development (pp. 23–45). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Anand, S. (2014, April 4). Death in the drains. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/deaths-in-the-drains/article5868090.ece.
- Cavalcante, M. (2015). Feeling rich on an empty stomach: Agrarian crisis and rural consumption choices. In B. Harriss-White (Ed.), Middle India and urban-rural development: Four decades of change (pp. 251–274). Heidelberg and New Delhi: Springer.Google Scholar
- Centre for Environment Education/CEE. (2014). Sourcebook on solid and liquid waste management in rural India. New Delhi: CEE.Google Scholar
- Charsley, K. (1997). ‘Children of the forest’ or ‘backwards communities’? the ideology of tribal development. Edinburgh Papers in South Asian studies. Google Scholar
- Ehrenrich, B. (2014, January 13). It is expensive to be poor. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/it-is-expensive-to-be-poor/282979/.
- Gorringe, H. (2010). Shifting the ‘grindstone of caste’? Decreasing dependency amongst Dalit labourers in Tamil Nadu. In B. Harriss-White & J. Heyer (Eds.), A comparative political economy of development: Africa and South Asia. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Harriss-White, B. (June, 2017). Formality and informality in an Indian waste economy. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy.Google Scholar
- Harriss-White, B., & Rodrigo, G. (2017). Discrimination in the waste economy: Narratives from the waste workers of a small town. Journal of Social Inclusion Studies. Google Scholar
- Heyer, J. (2000). The changing position of agricultural labourers in villages in rural Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, between 1981/2 and 1996. (QEH Working Paper Series 57). Oxford: University of Oxford.Google Scholar
- Human Rights Watch. (2014). Cleaning human waste: “Manual scavenging”, caste and discrimination in India. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org.
- IBRD. (2015). Health expenditure as a percentage of GDP. Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.TOTL.ZS.
- Jitendra, C. (2014). The new poverty line. Down to Earth. Retrieved from http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/new-poverty-line-rs-32-for-rural-india-rs-47-for-urban-india-45134.
- Khan, M. (2001). Rents, efficiency and growth. In M. Khan & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), Rents, rent-seeking and economic development: Theory and evidence in Asia (pp. 21–66). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Parker, L., & Blodgett, P. (2008). Greenhouse gas emissions: Perspectives on the top 20 emitters and developed versus developing nations. Congressional Research Services. Report for US Congress. Retrieved from http://americancorners.or.kr/articlealert/crs/en01f08.pdfs.
- PTI. (2016, March 9). High death rate among scavengers while on duty: BJP MP. The Hindu Business Line. Retrieved from http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/high-death-rate-among-scavengers-while-on-duty-bjp-mp/article8331909.ece.
- Rajan, R. (2015, February 20). Democracy, inclusion and prosperity. DD Kosambi Ideas Festival. Goa. Retrieved from https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/FS_Speeches.aspx?Id=941&fn=2754.
- Sampath, G. (2016, February 20). Labour in the 21st century. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/labour-in-the-twentyfirst-century/article8258164.ece.
- Singh, B. (2012). Unseen: The truth about India’s manual scavengers. New Delhi: Penguin.Google Scholar