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Conscripting Kinsmen: Labor Contractors and Peasant-Workers in India and China, by T G Suresh

Monday, September 23, 2019 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

The thekedar in India and the baogong tou in China are seemingly similar social actors; both are vernacular designations for labor contractors who typically band together a group of rural peasants for working in the urban sectors. Familiar to labor historians in the colonial context of India and in the late imperial and Republican periods in China, they are essentially traditional labor recruiters. Their historical presence is assumed to be confine to pre-industrial period or found most active in agrarian contexts.  But what seems like an apparent paradox, the thekedar and the baogong tou made dramatic reappearance when India and China were ushered into the new economies since the early 1990s. They become the key social agents through whom the peasant workers from rural areas are mobilized, recruited, and brought to the cities for work. Like in the earlier era conscripts, once recruited, the peasant worker become attached to the labor contractor who is his de facto employer, wage giver, the gang master, superintendent etc. Since the peasant-workers are gathered from the same native – places such as a village, district or province, they tend to share certain levels of social affinity akin to kinsmen. What provides sustenance and energy to their relationship is traditional and quasi-martial conceptions of trust, loyalty, fortitude etc.  This paper seeks to demonstrate how these complex social relationships emerges, how they are sustained and remain coherent for long and at what social cost for the peasant – workers.   

T G Suresh is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India and a Fulbright – Nehru Visiting Scholar at the South Asia Program, Cornell University. He was born in Kerala in Southern India and received his Ph D in Chinese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. His research interests include urbanization and labor processes in India and China and comparative development studies. He has published book chapters and journal articles on labor regimes in construction industries in China and India, labor in global production networks, and India’s labor reforms.  In 2008, he has received the ASIA Fellows Award of the Asian Scholarship Foundation (ASF) to conduct research on the development experience of Sichuan province, China. In 2012, he was a Visiting Research Scholar at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore to study how the urban processes in India and China are creating new forms labor flexibilities. Since 2008, he has lived in and conducted research in many Chinese cities including Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing and Guangzhou.  At the South Asia Program, his research will focus on how the social security reforms are affecting the urban informal workers in India and China.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, East Asia Program, ILR School, Cornell China Center, Migrations





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Gloria Lemus-Chavez

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T G Suresh

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Wheelchair accessible from Tower Road, and from the back of the building across The Statler Hotel. For additional requests please email

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