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Stepping Out

Ranjana Sen Gupta

By Amrit Wilson
Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1980, pp. 179, Rs. 24.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 2 September/October 1980

This book won considerable acclaim when it was first published (by Virago) in 1978 for its exposure of the terrible condition of Asian Women workers in Britain. This book is more a political document than a sociological monograph—while it is based on a series of inter­views with Asian Women it is not so much a survey of conditions as demons­tration of their nascent political unity. The strike at the Grunwick photo processing plant in 1976 was the catalyst. It showed for the first time that Asian women could come together and fight their oppressive working conditions. That they could step out of their traditional roles of passive submission as defined by the feudal and patriarchal society of their origin. The women were thus taking a stand not only against their white emp­loyers but also against their subordi­nation by Indian men. The book des­cribes various stages of the Grunwick struggle. The formation of a union, the increasingly comprising stand of the white trade union bureaucracy, and the Asian workers' decision to take the strike into their own hands. Asian women were active in the strike's leadership at all stages. Thus two things were achieved at Grunwick: one, the anti-Asian face of the British trade union movement was ex­posed; and second, Asian women, so long preferred over white women by factory managements for their passive acceptance of low wages and appalling work condi­tions, were a force to reckon with. In other chapters, Wilson describes the social and emotional isolation felt by Asian women immigrants in Britain. Her conclusion is that the transition from a feudal society—where the exten­ded family made for support and sym­pathy between its female members—to a nuclear capitalist society, proved trau­matic. Yet, the picture of this cohesive support structure is perhaps not totally accurate. Divisiveness in the extended family over property or maintenance is frequent, and women are not excluded from such disputes—a fact which Wil­son acknowledges in later chapters. The chapters on Asian children grow­ing up in Britain are perhaps the most moving. In school though they are plagued by racism at its most brutal—­the scorn of white children—they have relatively more freedom to think and develop. This world is totally divorced from their homes where they have to conform to tradition roles. The tensions they experience in trying to accommodate both ...

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