Agricultural Employment in a Vidarbha Village: Results from a Resurvey
Vidarbha is a region in which, historically and in the contemporary period, the share of agricultural workers in the working population has been among the highest in the country. This paper discusses the ways in which changes in production conditions between the 1960s and 2000s in one western Vidarbha village Dongargaon influenced (a) the number of days of employment for agricultural labourers; (b) the levels of labour absorption in agriculture; and (c) the changes in the nature and extent of labour absorption in agriculture. Such a comparative study was facilitated by the availability of data and information from two surveys of the village: the first in 196364 by V. H. Joshi, and a resurvey in 2007 by a team led by the first author. The paper argues that the aggregate number of days of employment gained by agricultural labourers in Dongargaon increased between 196364 and 200607. This argument is based on indirect evidence with respect to changes in labour absorption in the cultivation of different crops. However, the data and analysis presented in this paper show that, because of increases in the absolute number of agricultural workers and in the share of agricultural workers in the work force, increased labour absorption did not result in a proportionate rise in the number of days of employment available to an individual worker. In 200607, primary agricultural labourers in Dongargaon were employed only for about 111 days a year. Underemployment was thus a feature of the life of agricultural labourers. Lack of access to adequate non-agricultural employment, rising landlessness, and large-scale immigration of workers into the village undermined the potential gains of a rise in labour absorption.
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