Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

Looking beyond aspiration and opportunity rhetoric in rural-urban migration

Regardless of economic class or place of origin, migration is synonymous with opportunity. The question of whether migration is something people are forced into or whether is a choice people make has intrigued researchers and academics; in my opinion, it isn’t an either/or situation.

However, the ‘normalisation’ of migration as an experience struck me hard in my fieldwork with migrant workers who live in Gurgaon’s (Haryana) urban villages and illegal colonies. Especially in large cities as well as rapidly growing small cities, large concentrations of migrants living in close proximity creates a community of migrants who, despite differences of income, caste, religion and region, exchange stories and engage with multiple narratives of the migration experience.

The common thread in these narratives remains the one about aspiration and opportunity; however, differing migration strategies produce varied responses in how migrants interact with physical spaces, host communities, employers and even with their families ‘back home’. For instance, Bengali migrants in Gurgaon tend to migrate as a family unit with an objective of saving for life events like marriage, buying land, etc. This influences their choices to live in jhuggis (slum dwellings) where they pay relatively low rents. In contrast, male migrants from Bihar almost always precede their families and choose to live in pucca tenements where their families will be safer.  In my experience, therefore, it’s a good idea to delve beyond the rhetoric of aspiration and opportunity if we are to understand a phenomenon as complex as migration.


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