Distraction Free Reading

“India’s Gig-work Economy” Roundtable

This roundtable discussion marks the end of our series on India’s Gig-work Economy. In this discussion, we reflect on methods, challenges, inter-subjectivities and possible future directions for research on the topic. Here are some highlights from the discussion. Listen to the audio track below or read the transcript for the full discussion

Part 1: On continuities between traditional and newer forms of work in cab-driving:

Anushree (researcher, taxi-driving in Mumbai): “Something that came out during field work was the flow of workers from traditional services to app-based services which kind of happened in phases and all these platforms have played a different function in the history of this. While the radio taxis were more important in teaching workers to become professionals in the service economy the new platforms have given them a larger customer base and hired access to audience.”

A smartphone displays an Uber driver's pickup screen. The screen reads "Waiting for customer"

Ridehailing drivers only get the user’s name and pickup location as details about an upcoming trip. Photo by Noopur Raval

Sarah (researcher, taxi-driving in Delhi): “Prior to Ola and Uber there were radio cabs, but they were not the same phenomenon obviously. They used to work in specific pockets better, such as the airport route.”

Part 2: The State’s response to disruptive technologies in India has always accounted for worker groups as electoral constituents as well. This means that there are no neat divisions between older black and yellow cabs and the newer ride-hailing app-based cabs. To pacify the threatened black and yellow cab drivers, they were accorded a special category on hailing apps as well:

Anushree: So there were a lot of issues around the emergence of the app-based platforms and services and how they were disrupting the existing arrangements so in a bid to pacify the yellow and black cab drivers who are already operating in the city, these platform companies decided to go ahead and provide access to traditional taxi services as well. But also the related development that happened there is at the Maharashtra state government also provided another app to the black and yellow Cab drivers and as far as I found out during my fieldwork there hasn’t been any resolution on that front and most black and yellow cab drivers also use the State government made app but they also log into apps and every time I tried to book a black and yellow cab using Ola and Uber I could not get one.

Part 3: On motivations and perceptions of gig-work:

Simiran (researcher, food-delivery work in Mumbai): “So, I felt that these non app-based workers had difficulty joining apps because they lack domicile proof to prove they live in the city. There is also a perception that one needs to be English speaking. I am not implying that app-based workers have no rural roots or are all English speaking or educated but this is the perception that was held by non-app workers that was interesting.”

Rajendra (researcher, food-delivery work in Delhi): “In case of the food-delivery workers in Delhi, they push them to deliver orders on time. This pressure makes them violate traffic rules, they ride on pavements, they break traffic signals. This also disrupts the social understanding of how to move in the city.”

Part 4: On studying the gig-economy in India: how did you recruit, why?

Noopur: Why not order and recruit because so many people seem to be taking this pathway to approach gig-economy workers?

Simiran: “…One thing is that I have never ordered food online so I wanted to keep it a bit blind that way but also the other thing is that I did not want my first interaction with the worker to be as a consumer or in a consumer-provider relationship. So, I was searching on Youtube, looking for city names and looking for search terms such as strikes or protests. Looking for videos about these things and their views on the companies…This was very interesting because there were also people from non-metro cities, from small towns doing this work who were also very eager to speak to me. They were expressive already and wanting to speak…”

Anushree: “Apart from them fleet owners and union members were very eager to talk to us. They saw the study as a way to put their voice out. I had to establish my identity as well as a researcher. I used Telegram and facebook groups extensively…I think I relied on Telegram the most. It was also surprising that such a diverse set of people were on that platform. I had never used Telegram before this project but the comfort levels of all the people using it was really surprising. Drivers in the union members group was sort of surprising to me, they were posting images from the road, they were posting audio notes, they were moderating conversations in the group. Telegram was my major source of responses and I also got to know what was happening on the ground.”

Sarah: “So, when you identify as a researcher and ask them these questions there is a certain expectation of allyship. So, I started asking them what they think is a good customer. That was a good entry point to assuring them that I was on their side. Some of them were still very cautious. We were talking about things like drunk women and they would be quick to tell me that not all women are bad. Or not all customers are bad. But discussing customers and their behavior was generally a good way to connect with them…”


  • Sreeja Dutta says:


    I was interested in knowing how was telegram used to connect with the service providers?
    Did they have the app downloaded in their phone or was requested by the researcher to do so?

    • Noopur says:

      Hi Sreeja, the drivers already had Telegram on their phones. That is what the researchers were surprised to find as well.

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