ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gold Jewellery Making and Migrant Labour Force in Kerala

The extent of the gold jewellery market in Kerala has widened and consumption patterns have drastically altered. The increasing presence of migrant workers in the industry is a direct consequence of the deregulation of the gold industry in the early 1990s. While resorting to a labour process framework, this paper elucidates the process of recruitment and the composition of workforce. The empirical data is based on the findings and observations gathered through intensive fieldwork conducted during the course of three years, from 2010 to 2013, in the gold jewellery making industry in Thrissur and Kozhikode districts. This work also relies on a larger data set, the Inter-State Migrant Survey conducted by the Centre for Development Studies in 2012, which collected data on migrant workers from four districts of Kerala.

This article is part of the author’s PhD thesis titled “Labour in a Globalised World: Inmigration to the Gold Jewellery Making Industry in Kerala, India” awarded by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, submitted at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

The author is indebted to their supervisors S Irudaya Rajan and K N Harilal for all critical inputs. The author sincerely thanks the referee of this article whose invaluable comments have helped in improving this article. Discussions with Vamsi Vakulabaranam and G Vijay have immensely benefited this work. Thanks to Rahul for all the suggestions. The author is grateful to the workers for their whole-hearted support during the fieldwork.

All names in the article are pseudonyms.

The gold jewellery industry has become a significant part of the economic and social milieu of Kerala. The massive surge in the demand for it is perceived as a direct consequence of Kerala’s emigration pattern, especially to West Asia, from the late 1970s. With the economic reforms and the deregulation of the gold industry in the early 1990s, this sector has become a lucrative investment opportunity for investors. The government’s policy shift abolished the system of certified goldsmiths and licensed gold dealers and liberalised imports. This arrested the illegal import of gold into the country, facilitated more import of gold through government-authorised sources and nominated commercial banks. Job opportunities increased in proportion to the investment in the gold industry. The new production needs were met largely by workshops that depended on migrant workers. If deregulation allowed for more employment opportunities, it also saw the growth of a new and powerful group of investors who began to control the industry. The traditional goldsmith became a rare entity. Gold retail houses have mushroomed within the state and have pursued an active expansion path outside the country, catering primarily to emigrants from India. The place of the artisan was redefined as he shifted from home-based work to workshops. The rising price of gold and the growth in the retail market present the demand-side of the story of change.

Place of Migration in the Industry

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Updated On : 17th Jul, 2019
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