Steel Town Adivasis: Industry and Inequality in Eastern India presents an analysis of class formation in the industrial town, Rourkela in the eastern Indian state Odisha, and the ways this process relates to regional ethnicity and caste. This study is based on long-term ethnographic research conducted in the 2000s and oral histories covering the period from the inception of the steel plant, and it focusses on the region’s ‘tribes’, indigenous people or Adivasis who lost their land when the Government of India established a large steel plant in Rourkela in the 1950s.
The study explores how the widespread stereotyping of Adivasis as the backward Other of urban-industrial modernity serves upper-caste migrants dominating local society to legitimate the placing of Adivasis at the bottom of the shop floor hierarchy in the steel plant as well as in other local industries emerging around it, and at the fringes of the modern township. It also explores how Adivasis contest their stereotyping, exploitation and dispossession in everyday interactions as well as in political parties, unions, and protest movements. The book further demonstrates how the class polarization that has grown since the 1990s between public-sector steel workers and other workers also cuts through Adivasi communities and families, and how this reflects in different experiences of being Adivasi, and in divergent politics.
Steel Town Adivasis reveals that the relationship between class and caste or local notions of hierarchical difference in Rourkela has changed over time and that this dynamism is entangled with historical changes at the wider national and global level.
The book will be of interest to anthropologists, sociologists, historians interested in industrial labour and work, in class, caste, Adivasis, ethnicity and their dynamic entanglement, as well as students and activists.
Christian Strümpell is Research Associate at the Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies, Delhi, and affiliated to the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Universität Hamburg. In addition to his research in Rourkela presented in this book, he has undertaken further extensive ethnographic research on workers of hydro-electric powerplant in southern Odisha, India, and on metal workers as well as export garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His publications include single-authored and co-edited books with LIT Verlag, Cambridge University Press, and De Gruyter, chapters to edited volumes, several articles in journals such as Contributions to Indian Sociology, Citizenship Studies and Modern Asian Studies as well as blogs in TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research and in Workplaces: Pasts and Presents.