Knowledge Resource

Women beneath the Surface: Coal and the Colonial State in India during the Second World War

Urvi Khaitan
In British India, a six-year ban on women working underground was lifted in 1943 as a result of a quickly intensifying Allied coal crisis. Between August 1943 and February 1946, more than 70,000 low-caste and adivasi (indigenous) women saved the monthly loss of 385,000 tonnes of coal by maintaining output levels and fighting the war's-induced Bengal Famine. Their employment aroused enormous indignation from the general public, the press, and parliaments, leading for the first time to a transnational discourse on Indian women labourers. While this was going on, the desperate colonial authority threatened miners with famine in order to punish them.