Adivasi migrant labour and agrarian capitalism in southern India

Journal of Agrarian Change,


This paper looks at a case of rural-to-rural movement of agrarian capital in southern India and the ways in which capital-labour relations are reworked to maintain oppressive forms of exploitation. Faced with an agrarian crisis, capitalist farmers from affluent communities of Wayanad, Kerala, take large tracts of land for lease in the neighbouring state of Karnataka and grow ginger based on price speculation. Landless Adivasis from Wayanad have served as labourers on these ginger farmlands for the past three decades. Recently, farmers have shifted to employing labourers from a Scheduled Caste (SC) from Karnataka. The change happened not just because of the lower wages the SC labourers were willing to work for, but also because of the farmers’ inclination to move away from Adivasis who have been resisting the poor working conditions on the farm. The story resonates with broader dynamics of agrarian-labour relations amidst capitalist expansion and highlights the centrality of socio-political factors at play.