Far from Home, But at Home: Indian Migrant Workers in the Iranian Oil Industry

Research abstract: 
This article revisits the life and times of Indian migrant workers in Persia/Iran during the first half of the twentieth century, and discusses their contributions to the founding, development and eventual consolidation of the Persian/Iranian oil industry. A number of factors that shaped this experience are investigated. They include the geographic and ethno-religious origins of Indian labourers; the policies adopted by the oil company (APOC), labour agencies and the Government of India to recruit workers and regulate their working conditions and terms of contract; and the lived experience of the workers once they were hired and began working in the Persian/Iranian oil industry. Across nearly half a century, Indian workers in the Persian/Iranian oil industry faced a variety of labour experiences ranging from coerced recruitment as indentured workers during wartime, to wage labour with a negotiated contract and protection under colonial labour laws. I will discuss how these workers responded to the various recruitment policies, the demanding working conditions and labour discipline imposed on them, their remuneration and wage-structures, and their living conditions and housing situation. Records of the lengthy presence of Indian workers in the oil industry provide us with numerous stories of contestation, resistance and negotiations for better working and living conditions. Ultimately, the story of Indian migrant workers is also a story of accommodating within an emerging multinational corporation. I situate the history of migrant labour agencies within the framework of colonial labour practices. By examining the workers’ encounter with multiple class, ethnic and territorial identities, I survey the changing relations of both solidarity and discord between Indian migrant workers and indigenous Iranian workers.