Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 12: papers


by Suman Chaudhary


The Alang Sosiya Ship-Breaking Yard (ASSBY), which occupies an important place on the world map, is situated near the village of Alang, 55 km from Bhavnagar City. The unique geographical features of high tidal range and wide continental shelf, coupled with a mud-free coast, allow very heavy ships to reach the coast easily during high tide. The 'necklace' shape Alang ship-breaking yard is the second largest ship-breaking yard in the world today, next only to Taiwan. At present there are 182 plots and about 30,000 to 35,000 labourers make their living there. 

ASSBY plays an important role in the development of nearby villages. Coastal villages are linked with ASSBY, which provides services and employment to the villagers. In these villages people have found new avenues of work in ship-breaking ancillary industries such as consumer and utility services. Originally, there were no industrial activities in these villages, now they have developed as industrial towns, giving economic opportunities to the workers from outside states, as well as to the local people. ASSBY has attracted a flow of capital from rich countries, and workers from all over the country. 

Behavioural conflict 

Differences in social behaviour patterns were observed during a study of people from ten villages within a 10 km radius of ASSBY. Distinct changes are noticeable when comparing behaviour before and after the advent of ASSBY. The population of these villages comprises mostly communities of Palewal Brahmins, Koli and Rajputs. Traditionally, these communities live with their families. They possess property and are trained in martial arts. Traditionally they are seafaring communities and their social behaviour is guided by their social policies and customs. 

Workers at ASSBY have migrated from different states like Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, Rajasthan, Utah Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra. Initially these workers migrated to ASSBY because of their acute poverty and an absence of any work opportunities in their native state. To take advantage of the work opportunities at ASSBY, they came on their own and sent their wages home to their families. They reside in rented shanties in different villages around ASSBY.  Being from different states, their clothes, dress patterns, language, social behavioural patterns differed from those of the local residents. These outsiders were used to eating non-vegetarian food, visiting cinemas, etc.  Such behaviour was opposed by local residents, especially since the woman folk of these villages observed purdah.

As a result, social conflict resulted in fighting and complaints to the police. A fear of damage to their society and their culture developed among the local society, resulting in actions such as not renting house accommodation to the migrant workers, and not entering into any social relationship with them. Moreover, the migrant workers, being experienced in hard, risky work, were able to work faster and more efficiently than the local inexperienced workers. As a result the ship-breakers preferred assigning them the harder and higher paid jobs such as cutting and ship breaking.

This situation resulted in local workers developing a feeling of inferiority and a fear of missing out on the better-paid jobs.  This gave rise to cliques and uneasy social relationships. 

Conflict resolution 

The local residents were quick to look for ways to resolve the conflicts, which they realized were essentially about economic opportunities. They devised complementary and supporting economic activities, such as providing consumer and utility services for the hundreds of migrant workers, who lived singly without their families. In these villages, there were few hotels, so more hotels were required.  The local people established hotel restaurants, pan-shops, cinema houses, grocery shops, cutlery/clothing/laundry shops, tea shops.  They also provided electrical services and furniture fittings. Thus abundant self-employment and local earning opportunities became available to the local people.

The local people also established ‘khadas’ for the sale of different articles coming from the ships. Thus a division of economic work opportunities took place.

In the beginning, the local people offered rooms for rent in their own houses to the workers, but due to the differences in cultures and patterns of living, this arrangement created conflicts, and the local people refused to rent out accommodation. The workers started living in illegal shanties and tents on open land.

Thus, in spite of the development of economic and occupational co-operation mechanisms, the social differences and lack of social interaction produced residential and social segregation between the workers and the local people. The local people did not invite the workers to their family celebrations such as marriages, nor did they mix with the migrant workers at social gatherings. Thus the two cultures exist side by side by keeping a proper distance and simultaneous adjustment.

The differences between the local language and the languages of the migrant workers also prevented social adjustment. Local people considered the workers as outsiders and kept their distance.  The local people deliberately observed traditional and customary practices to prevent the migrant workers from mixing with their women, daughters and young members of the families.

However, the local people realized that they had access to better job opportunities because of the migrant workers.  For example, migrant workers carried out the hard labour of cutting and breaking ships while the local people sold articles from the ships; steel plates are cut by the migrant workers, but transported by the local people; the cabins of the ships are dismantled by the migrant workers, while wooden articles are sold by the local people; a variety of articles including oils are retrieved from the ships by the migrant workers but the commercial business is done by the local people, who also run telephone, rickshaws, communications and conveniences.

So in spite of the differences in cultures and the social incompatibility, the local people accepted the need to co-operate with the migrant workers


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