ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Labour and Management-First Twenty Years of Assam Company Limited (1839-59)

First Twenty Years of Assam Company Limited (1839-59) Kalyan K Sircar Not much work has been done on the labour-management relations in Indian industries of an early period when there were no formal trade unions, political parties or special labour legislation as such to mediate This paper enquires into the conditions prevailing in the plantation industry during its formative years, 1839-59. In those days, the Assam Company was the sole representative of this industry in India, and recruits from the Kachari tribe of Assam accounted for, unlike in later times, most of its labour force. Because of ethnic homogeneity, proximity of the plantations to their home districts and the free mobility they enjoyed, the Kachari labour force was often able to fight back and gain important concessions from the Company management. Themselves illiterate though, they made continuous efforts to settle wage rates and disputes through collective bargaining and to obtain written undertakings from the management Keen on pushing the wages further down and on resisting labour combination, the Assam Company therefore decided after 1859 to recruit the bulk of its labour from outside Assam and keep (hem bonded. To facilitate this, the colonial government introduced restrictive labour legislation, thereby permitting the planters to restrict free mobility and right to combination of their labourers. Kacharis opted out of the new indenture system, even as famine-stricken people by thousands were recruited thereunder from new labour catchment areas outside Assam, during the decades that followed. Among, such new recruits were various groups of tribesmen, designated in the records as 'hill cooli, dhangar and boonah (jungle-dwelling), etc.

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