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From Bonded to Industrial Labour: Precarity, Maoism, and ethnicity in a modern industrial factory in western Nepal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2018

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This article focuses on how people who formerly worked as bonded labourers adapt to the new realities of an insecure capitalist labour market. It examines how the past shapes the uncertain labour situation of the present, including resistance. The article reflects on the current experiences of precarious labour at industrial sites in western Nepal. It describes how former bonded labourers and their descendants have begun working as contract workers in a modern industrial food-processing factory, with the help of contractors related to them by kin. The article further shows that one of the defining features of their new life as contract labourers is its chronic precariousness. Undisguised forms of confrontation, such as open disregard for management instructions, are also part of their new reality in the labour market. Contract labourers are often strongly assertive in the face of managerial authority, and this assertiveness has been shaped largely by either past experiences or memories of bonded labour. The article contributes to debates about bonded labour and its transformations in South Asia. It also offers a reflection on the limited impact of the Nepali Maoist Revolution on precarious labour and on the ethnic dimensions of this segment of Nepali society. Finally, it contributes to discussions about industrialization and Adivasi communities in South Asia and beyond.

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