Energy Transitions

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3 June 2022

Migrant Workers in the Coal Mines of India: Precarity, Resilience and the Pandemic (Social Change)

Suravee Nayak

Abstract

This article analyses the lived experiences of migrant workers in India under different regimes of coal mining and engages with their contemporary precarious labouring conditions and resilience. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in the Talcher coalfields of Odisha, I argue that the labouring lives of migrant workers from marginalised communities have been invisiblised in a ‘shadow economy’ of coal extraction through subcontracting and labour recruitment by local contractors working with state-owned coal companies. The process of invisiblisation has taken place at three levels: first, at the workplace which includes recruitment patterns, contracting systems and precarious labouring conditions inflicted by the employer; second, through the exclusion of migrant workers in the land and labour politics of local dispossessed communities for coal mining jobs; and finally, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdowns, observed as ‘invisible’ essential workers under the Essential Services Maintenance Act of 1981.

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