[We’re pleased to welcome authors Jatin Pandey and Biju Varkkey of the Indian Institute of Management. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Impact of Religion-Based Caste System on the Dynamics of Indian Trade Unions: Evidence From Two State-Owned Organizations in North India,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Pandey reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
Caste and trade unions are two important stratification schemas prevalent in India but their interaction has been under-researched. Ramaswamy’s study in South India, which was conducted in 1976, had dealt with the issue of caste and trade unions directly and was based on empirical data collected from the unions of textile workers in Coimbatore. After that, there has been passing references to caste as an important facet in unions or opinion pieces by authors based on their personal observations; but there had been a paucity of studies, which look at the interface of caste and unions based on systematic data collection and analysis.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings surprise revelations?
Gathering data on the sensitive topic of caste was the most challenging. The political undertones of the topic make people skeptical about discussing it freely. In our research, initially, the trade union members negated the influence of caste in modern times however as we continued with the interview they revealed that caste not only had an impact in the workspace but their social space as well.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Caste is a very sensitive and politically active topic in India and while interviewing researcher must be aware of these controversies and tensions. Continuous engagement with the respondents, developing trust and having an open communication regarding your intentions as a researcher aids during the interview process. Once the respondents get to understand that you are a “researchers” and not “politicians”; they open up easily and reveal data in the form of lived experiences and actual stories that provide rich data useful for in-depth studies. Also, it is not a good idea to start with the questions on caste during the initial phase of the interview, it’s better to start with topics like trade unions and then move on to caste