Caste: From farm to factory

Jens Lerche, faculty member, SOAS, University of London, on agrarian change, labour and caste in India

Econ club-31 Mar 2023

The Economics Club at Azim Premji University invites everyone to a guest talk by Jens Lerche. The presentation focuses on the relations of exploitation and accumulation, and of oppression and discrimination between Dalit and Adivasi labourers in agriculture and the dominant farming groups, and on the same issues for Dalit and Adivasis circular migrant labourers.

It first zooms in on a case study from two villages in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It shows that in the neoliberal period, the landowning castes here embarked on very successful non-agricultural accumulation strategies. Dalits on the other hand continue to be at the receiving end of economically exploitative relations, even as they move out of agriculture. 

The second part of the presentation draws on a set of case studies and shows that as circular migrant labour, Dalits and Adivasis are super-exploited’: their cost of reproduction is externalised from the obligations of the employers. 

The presentation reinforces the view that the co-constitution of class relations and social oppression is entrenching Dalits and Adivasis at the bottom of social and economic hierarchies, also in the modern economy. Moreover, it also suggests that there are significant changes to the relations of oppression and discrimination under neoliberalism in rural India.

About the Speaker

Jens Lerche teaches in the Development Studies Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. He works on agrarian change, labour and caste in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

His recent publications include articles on agrarian transition and agrarian crisis; work hierarchies and social mobilisation; and affirmative action for low castes, all in an Indian context. 

He is an editor of the Journal of Agrarian Change, a peer-reviewed academic journal established in 2001 covering agrarian political economy, and has edited books on Uttar Pradesh and agrarian transition and labour in India.