Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

Book Review: The Prism of Internal Migration: The Indian Experience.

One can look at ‘Internal Migration in Contemporary India’ (Edited by Deepak K. Mishra) as a companion book to Partha S. Ghosh’s book, ‘Migrants, Refugees and the Stateless in South-Asia’ (2016). If the former addressed the issue of Migration within the context of South-Asia, then the latter engages with the same, from within the lens of contemporary India. The book is composed of eleven chapters. They collectively address a spectrum of issues  ranging from women’s mobility, North-East migrants and migration from agrarian classes among a host of other topics, all pertaining to the context of migration occurring within the landscape of India. My review shall examine and analyse each chapter individually and conclude with my overall thoughts on the book.

Deepak K. Mishra lays out the scope the book in the introductory chapter. Addressing the overall issues and concerns which will later take fruition in the book, he gives the reader a sense of the magnitude of the various dimensions of migration. He states that there is a parallel growth of jobs on the one hand as well as the rising tides of chauvinist, anti-migrant, nativist politics, on the other, in many parts of India. There has also been an increase of violence on women, both in rural as well as in urban areas (this can also be seen as a shaking up of the traditional patriarchal system) as they leave their homes for better opportunities outside. The migration discourse is also heavily informed by the continuing significance of the informal economy, recruitments based on caste and kinship networks, labour bondages of various kinds and exploitative labour relations in the global integrated sectors. Mishra has also bifurcated the chapter into two sections: the first section deals with three distinct perspectives on economic development that have implications for understanding contemporary issues in labour migration  (they are namely, the agrarian question under globalisation, the questions of uneven development, poverty and migration and finally the informal sector perspective) and the second section deals with the broad empirical patterns of migration.

Urbanisation is a emerging and critical issue in contemporary India. One of the most overlooked aspects while studying urbanisation is through the context of migration. In the second chapter, ‘Nature of Migration and its contribution to India’s Urbanisation’, R.B. Bhagat outlines the various changes occurring across India due to migration. He says that the ideology of nativism in various states also plays a significant part in deciding the inflow of migrants into those states. He names Delhi, Maharashtra, Goa, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat and Karnataka as states which account for the majority of interstate migration. The complex relation between poverty and migration is also highlighted in this chapter. A major section of the poor, particularly those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder do not have the physical and human capital, risk-taking ability as well as the access to institutions, information and networks to migrate out of rural areas. On the other hand, the exclusionary nature of urban growth marginalises and discourages migrants to come to large urban centres. In this sense, Bhagat argues that the contribution of migration to urbanisation has been limited.

A trio of authors, namely Meenakshi Thapan, Anshu Singh and Nidhitha Sreekumar chronicle the experiences of Muslim women in a locality of Delhi in the third chapter, ‘Women’s Mobility and Migration: An Exploratory Study of Muslim Migrants in Jamia Nagar, Delhi.’ This is an interesting study and is the first among three chapters to examine identity based migration. Methodologically the authors link mobility and migration to the idea of agency on the part of the migrant women and unravel the deeply layered dimensions of these women through their difficulties, problems and dilemmas of being a migrant women in a metropolis. Most of the respondents are from Bihar. They narrate the stories of their escape from the clutches of violence that they face within their domestic sphere (families) as well as outside (communal riots). As they negotiate with their new lives in the urban landscape they become interesting raconteurs of narrating stories of living, earning and even acquiring property in the city. They also say that their experience is built on a dynamic base of gender, class, region, religion and and language. In their conclusion the authors argue that instead of looking at them simply as victims of being Muslim women, academia needs to address their contemporary situation through the tool of social policy.

A study of North-East migrants in Delhi is conducted by Bapu P. Ramesh in chapter four, ‘Migration and Marginalisation: A Study of North East Migrants in Delhi.’  Ramesh states that their distinctive ‘looks’ and culture as perceived by the host population, in this case Delhi, makes them vulnerable to racism. There is an economic angle to this story as well. They often have to pay higher rents and advances for accommodation, higher prices for many goods and services and are treated in less favourable terms in various transactions including bribes. Racism rears its ugly head when they are made to learn Hindi, forced to learn the local culture,  experience discriminatory practises at the workplace and the sexual harassment of immigrants, which leads to further marginalisation and alienation of these migrants. One serious critique of this chapter is that, it mentions that migrants from the North-East are financially better off than immigrants from other regions. That is not always the case. In a lot of cases, people from the North-East come from very economically challenged backgrounds. They are sent to metropolises such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore among others, to earn a livelihood and send some financial support back to their families. It would be an error on the part of any researcher in the future, if such sweeping statements are made in the sensitive case of marginalised ethnic migrants.

Chapter five, ‘Labour Migration in the North-East’ by S. Irudaya Rajan and Rikil Chyrmang continues on the theme of migrants from the North-East. Drawing upon primary as well as secondary data, it states that the widening regional development particularly in the post-reforms period has widened the gap between the North-East and the rest of the country’s economy. A key finding of this chapter is it acknowledges that involuntary migration (be it temporary or permanent) from the North-East occurs due to a variety of reasons such as ethnic conflicts, natural calamities and lack of access to resources, facts that are not well captured by large scale surveys and official statistics.

Continuing on the theme of identity based migration, Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg writes about her ethnography of Ladhaki youth migrants in chapter six, ‘Educational Migration among Ladhaki Youth.’  She says that most of the migration occurring from Ladakh occurs due to the sheer lack of educational opportunities in the region. Ladhaki migrants are also confused for being from the North-East and face similar racial discrimination in other cities.

Moving away from identity based migration, R. Vijay uncovers the implication of migration occurring among various agrarian classes of Andhra Pradesh in chapter seven, ‘Migration in Agrarian Classes: A Study based on Nine Villages.’ Vijay states that there is a distinction between migration by labour supplying (people who migrate out to sell their labour time) and land-owning households (households with agrarian surplus and non-cultivating households). He argues that the the migration of one class, in many cases impedes or facilitates the migration of another class. The agrarian origins of rural-to-rural and rural-to-urban migrants are important to understand the implications of rural transformations as well as for the outcomes of labour relations and migrant households.

Amrita Dutta looks at the critical contribution of remittances as livelihoods in rural Bihar, in chapter eight, ‘Migration from Contemporary Bihar.’ The kaleidoscope of migration experiences of different classes of migrants from Bihar is brought out by Dutta and she highlights the significance of migration as a factor of reducing rural poverty in the state. However she also points out the vulnerabilities of the migrant population and frames an argument of active state policy intervention to protect the dignity of the migrants.

The Punjabi migration experience gets some perceptions from Surjit Singh in chapter nine, ‘Migration and Punjab: Some Perceptions.’  He presents migration as a key motor as well as outcome of development in one of the most prosperous states of India. Migration (both immigration and emigration) have played an important role in the rapid growth of the state’s economy. Remittances have played a significant source of investment in agriculture and the immigration of labour from relatively backward areas of India has resulted in substantial changes both within and outside the rural economy of the state.

Deepak K. Mishra looks at the condition of seasonal migration of interior Odisha in chapter ten, ‘Seasonal Migration in Orissa: A View from the Field.’  He states that whereas migration of agricultural labour in states like Bihar reduces rural poverty, such is not the case in Odisha. His study highlights the precariousness of seasonal migration as livelihood and argues that policies aimed at strengthening the livelihood base at origin areas via interventions in labour markets, agricultural input and output market, ensuring access to formal credit, public distribution system and better delivery schemes helps in spades to remove various forms of distress migration.

Summarising the overall thematic concerns of the book, Anjali Borhade aims to lay out the national policy need for migration in chapter ten, ‘Internal Labour Migration in India: Emerging Needs of Comprehensive National Migration Policy.’  She addresses the concerns of exploitative migration and gives detailed case studies of specific policy interventions in eclectic contexts. Borhade also interweaves lessons from intervention at the international, national and state levels of co-operation between state and non-state actors and draws a rich blueprint for a national policy, keeping the federal structure as the base of the policy making body, which includes the overall objective of inclusive growth and protection of human and labour rights of migrant workers in India.

As a reviewer I felt that the goal of this book, despite its comprehensive thematic denseness, is to sensitise its readers to the realities of migration occurring within India. It achieves that to a great extent. However I found that most of the earlier chapters were based on secondary data, collected from NSS (National Service Scheme) data and only the later chapters are based on empirical first hand research. The difference between them was that the chapters containing first hand research are more nuanced than the ones collected from the NSS data. Although second hand data is important for researchers to understand the history of the phenomenon, there should be greater thrust on empirical studies in the future to achieve a more grounded and layered understanding of migration, as with any other social sciences. Migration studies suffer from a serious lack of theoretical framework which can guide scholars to understand its present situation and anticipate its future. Although this book does not offer any theoretical framework, it is a very welcome addition in the social sciences literature and a starting point for scholars of migration, sociology, economics, public policy and development studies to understand the nuances of migration in India and build a theoretical framework of policy which addresses this critical issue.

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