Making Bombay Women Mill Workers Productive: Infant and Maternity Benefits in Early Twentieth-Century Bombay

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:50 PM
Sheraton Ballroom V (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Priyanka Srivastava, University of Cincinnati

This paper examines how the desire of millowners for greater productivity stimulated belated efforts to improve working conditions for women textile workers. In early twentieth century, women were 20 to 25 percent of the textile labor force where they dominated the ‘low’ skill and lower paying reeling and winding departments. This gendered division of skills and wages lowered the cost of labor for millowners.  Initially their financial conservatism, the pressures of discriminatory excise duties and competition from Japan and Manchester kept millowners from investing in measures such as crèches or maternity benefits.   However, the proceedings of the factory commission of 1908 documented that the maternal duties of women lowered their productivity.  Without any crèches, women brought their infants to work and took time away from their departments to care for them. Similarly, reproductive labor adversely affected women’s vitality and ability to work efficiently. By the 1920s concern for the maternal and infant health of mill workers triggered discussions about protective provisions including crèches and maternity benefits.  A few mill groups such as the Tatas and Petits established creches.  In addition nine mills started maternity benefit schemes in 1921.  Still most millowners resisted substantial financial commitments to fund either these voluntary measures or to implement mandatory measures such as the Maternity Leave Act of 1929.  Instead they encouraged voluntary groups and the municipality to assume primary responsibility for infant and maternal welfare.