Concluding Discussion


The three cases whose data extracts are presented here illustrate both individual and collective agency.


Bangarappa has family connections which, although limited, have recently helped him to get a cow and thus to have regular work. Later, this cow will produce milk to generate a regular income. Otherwise, Bangarappa is very poor and socially excluded. His work watching the cow precludes him from doing other forms of wage labour.


Hydamabee used considerable personal freedom in choosing a love marriage with a Hindu man. She engages in reflexive consideration of her varied and autonomous work relationships.


Eswaramma (pseudonym) gave a good interview with D. Aktawallah but we are now having difficulty matching up her household questionnaire with her personal interview and photo.  There are 3 women called Eswaramma in one small area of Yetavakili village. Revisits showed up only empty houses due to their long working hours.  All 3 Eswarammas are out all day, and so are all the other adults n their households. By working from 4 pm till 8 pm, we were able to catch some other people but we didn’t catch up with Eswaramma so far to sort out the matching of household data and personal interviews.  We think that this is a photo of the front of the new government house she and Muniramaiah own – pretty impressive for an off-road village (dish photo).  Her other photos is in front of her old hut which is still in use.


Another woman interviewed, Radhamma, acted extremely shy around us, since we are strangers. Radhamma claims to have very little control over her employment decisions. She tends to follow norms commonly found in the Dalit community. As a result, her options seem rather narrow, but she has recently joined a women’s self-help group and so there are prospects for change in her future.


All four respondents are very poor, and Bangarappa does not even have electricity. Yet these are all people from above the ‘lowest’ (poorest and with lowest status) class in these villages – the kuulies without land.  They illustrate the prevalence of tenancy among kuulie workers as a way of managing the work relationship.  It various ways the tenancy arrangement allows the worker to give some priority to certain work, to work unsupervised, to take some autonomous decisions, to manage time independently of others on an ongoing basis, and to earn food instead of money.


These four people’s efforts to work for a decent wage reflect their impulse to improve their lives within a context of having very few economic or social resources compared with others in their area.  Their limited access to land - mediated by the local land tenancy arrangements – is compounded by the ongoing shortage of water for production of crops.  One can almost imagine them struggling to move upward in the income distribution, but never really getting very far (compared with their neighbours). 


When fish are caught and placed on a riverbank, they struggle to get back into the water; they flap and flip and wriggle.  This may be a suitable metaphor for the efforts made by these worker-farmers to get better off.  Some succeed, as our photo of a Government House With TV Dish suggests.  Others fail, as Bangarappa’s lack of electricity tends to suggest.  Like fish, too, these workers don’t find it very easy to talk with outsiders about their work arrangements.  (A famous book about Sri Lanka was titled :  The Fish Don’t Talk About the Water, based both on a famous proverb there and on a Bourdieuvian theoretical framework similar to the one used here.) 


But the difference is that, unlike dying fish, these people are living human beings with schemes and plans and options.  Many mentioned the Bangalore wage-rate and the seasonal migration option.  We are currently looking at who migrates to see whether it is landless kuulies or the worker-farmer class who tend to do seasonal migration work. In any case, the migrants’ activities when they are away create marker-events that every workers harks back to during interviews and discussions.  The migrant wages are influencing the local wages upward through active bargaining processes. Pretty successful flipping fishes, in a certain constrained way.


A study of social mobility in these 2 villages is now underway, since panel data on social class are being developed for the 40 from which these 3 cases are drawn, and also for another 80 households in the two study villages.  The panel data arise from a 1994-5 study, whose sampling frame is being reused at present. 


Bangarappa, Eswaramma, and Hydamabee are thus struggling for a better life in ways that maintain their self-respect.  In this context, family support, social protection and collective action are important.  Bargaining of individuals for higher wages occurs in a context of social discussion about wage differentials.  Migration to other areas for wage labour is an important source of upward movement in wage demands.  Government ‘works programmes’ are also setting up important events that mark new wage negotiations and new wage levels.  Full details will be presented at the Conference of the Global Poverty Research Group, July 2006, in Manchester.


Web-based Data Extracts Compiled by Wendy Olsen and Vincent Ortet


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January 2007