Friday, September 26, 2014

Namit Arora on Birla Nagar

A Place Called Home. Excerpts:
"Within the last few years, the new owner of Gwalior Rayon has revived a dyeing unit (no pun intended) by tapping the residual labor pool of employees who never left. But the township remains a pale shadow of its past, with derelict houses and roads, untended public spaces, meager municipal services, and piles of rubble and garbage.Outside Birlanagar, Gwalior’s trajectory resembles that of many cow-belt cities: A newly prosperous class is evident in its malls, big cars, and gated apartments. Abject poverty is less visible now than in my time."
"This list confirmed my long held suspicion that the supposed diversity of Birlanagar was deeply deceptive. I found not a single Muslim, Shudra, Dalit, or Adivasi among the Staff. No women either. In short, not even one person from the constituencies that make up almost 90 percent of Indians! ‘Our management had an unwritten policy of not hiring Muslims,’ father remarked casually. Labor employees did include lower-caste men but almost all Staff employees at this ‘temple of modern India’ were twice-born Hindu males, with a profusion of Marwari banias—especially in senior management, starting with Aditya Birla himself—the rest being a smattering of privileged Christian, Jain, and Sikh men. Father told me that other Staff members quietly resented the domination of Marwari banias. Staff hiring and promotions pivoted mostly on caste, not merit, and diversity wasn’t valued at all."
"It’s tempting to think that Birlanagar’s regressive business and social practices contributed to the mills’ demise in the era of globalization, but that would be wishful thinking. Caste, with its hydra-headed ways, has adapted to modern capitalism; both caste and communal discrimination continue to flourish in 21st century corporate India. Yet notably, Birlanagar was then widely admired by outsiders; even the Labor jobs were in much demand. This suggests that most people, across the social spectrum, saw Birlanagar as no worse—and better in some ways—than the society at large."
See also the comment by Ravi Verma.

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