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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Changing social conditions and the ship breaking industry / Alang-India.

Posted By: Vidyut Joshi and H. C. Dube
Date: Wednesday, 8 September 1999, at 10:33 a.m.

Key words: caste, marriage, migrant workers.

INTRODUCTION: Labourers at the Alang ship breaking yard are migrant labour. The mass migration and unorganised nature of ship breaking activities create problems with working and living conditions. Those labourers who do not have social relations in nearby villages face more difficulties as they do not get integrated into the local population. They stay in isolated labour camps near the ship breaking yard.

THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE: The marriage circle (GOL) is a circle of villages in a defined area. Each caste has its own marriage circle. Marriages are preferred with this circle. This could be known as area endogamy.

The Koli caste, a caste generally of fishermen and sea faring people living in ten villages near Alang, are a case in point. They marry their daughters within a periphery of 20 km. This makes the Koli community a close knit community in the Indian caste system. As per the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, parents choose the life partner for their children from their own caste within the periphery of the marriage circle. Inter caste marriage within the periphery is discouraged. This practice in the ten villages surrounding Alang has not only helped in maintaining a close relationship but it has also created an occupational relationship, whereby the in-laws help each other in their life work and life chances. The practice is that a daughter from one of these villages is married and sent to the in-laws' house in the village in their marriage circle.

CHANGES IN THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE RESULTING FROM THE ALANG SHIP BREAKING YARD: The entire scenario of the marriage circle started changing with the development of the ship breaking yard at Alang and Sosya. With the prospering of the Alang ship breaking yard and ancillary industries in the adjoining area, more and more life chances developed here. The social economic status (SES) of Kolis living in the ten villages near to Alang improved considerably. This attracted parents of potential grooms from the same caste, but outside the periphery of the marriage circle. Thus the traditional institution of the marriage circle evolved in two new ways:

1. It extended the marriage circle beyond a range of 25 km and now parents of young grooms from Surat and Bombay want their sons to be married to brides from these ten villages. So the marriage circle has been automatically extended and the choice has become wider.

2. Earlier brides were married and sent to the bridegrooms' house. Now it is groom who comes, after marriage, to the bride's village, gets a job either at the ship breaking yard or in some ancillary industries and settles down in the bride's village itself. Since he has married into a village he gets easily integrated into the village community. He is given a piece of land where he can construct his own house and settle down. All the villages have incorporated this 'matrilocal' practice. The place in a village where all the sons-in-law live is the sons-in-law hamlet (Jamai Faliyun). The living conditions of such a son-in-law are markedly different from the remaining migrant labour. Sons-in-law are well integrated into the villages whereas the remaining labourers are not. Sons-in-law stay with their wives, whereas the remaining labourers do not. Sons-in-law enjoy all the infrastructural facilities, whereas remaining labourers do not. Thus the extension of the marriage circle and the reverse practise of 'matrilocal' has helped in bettering labour conditions at the Alang ship breaking yard.


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