Social aspects of migration transcend economic ones: study

June 30, 2017

New Delhi: Migration has cultural and social aspects which are far beyond the economic ones, suggests a new study titled, “Between ‘khet’, ‘factory’ and ‘colony’: Exploring intersections of caste and gender among migrant industrial workers”.

The research conducted by Eesha Kunduri, a research assistant at Delhi based Centre for Policy Research, a nonprofit research organisation, aims at exploring how inter-state migrant workers express their identities in relation to caste, gender, work and rural or urban spaces.

Cities in India have always been associated with modernity and development whereas villages are seen as a marker of backwardness. Generally, nobody talks about one’s caste in the cities, they just talk about the work one does.

Eesha records the observation of a worker who says, “One would not even know who your own (apna) is and who is not (paraya). We treat each other with respect—one would not find this back in villages (dehaat), as there are caste practices (jaati-vaad) there.  We migrants (pardesi) consider each other as brothers.”

D Shyam Babu, senior research fellow, shared his thoughts by talking about how the poor come to cities and live in slums. “Migration for them is equivalent to freedom. It can be seen from a social change perspective given their desire to escape from the social setting in villages but sometimes they fail to shed their previous identities. It can be remarked here that one can take out an Indian out of India but not India out of an Indian,” he said.

Eesha’s findings have emerged out of her field work in north Indian cities of Ludhiana and Delhi in the year 2012-13. The study underlines that Delhi is driven by small scale industrialization while Ludhiana has a cluster of development initiatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

The study reveals that the invocation of education level brings the idea of not wanting to take up certain activities in villages. “Women migrate with their fathers or husbands usually to support their families. There is an individualistic aspiration of mobility for the migrants too. For men, it is a way to find new scope for opportunities. For women, it is a way to come out in public and breaking stereotypes. So, working in cities and earning become a necessity for the women,” the study highlights.

Her study shows that women usually work as industrial workers or are engaged in home based industries. It suggests, “The migrants believe that work in cities open. They experience life in cities, get some earning even if it is meagre. They talk about the relative freedom in cities and how they are able to work here.”

During a discussion, Eesha talks about a comparative dimension by quoting Naila Kabeer’s study that is focused on Bangladesh and London on an opening of garment factory and the subsequent increase of women workforce, puts light on other problems. “There is inclusion”, Naila says, “but it comes with its own set of exclusion. There is a constant negotiation with caste and gender identities regarding the kind of work, the kind of payment, working hours, etc.”

“Migration is a way to move away from caste and tradition. The meaning of caste and work is constantly being reshaped and recasted. The constant exposure to soot and dust provides them with relative animosity. There is a forging of new identities. In cities, the feeling of brotherhood is fostered amongst the migrants. The settlements, where they live in, become a site for socialisation for women. There is a sense of solidarity at par with their caste identity. It is a mixed or heterogeneous settlement that we see where caste and gender identity is ignored”, suggests her study.

Eesha mentions, “Regional identity subsumes caste identity and becomes difficult to segregate. Many workers have not received vocational training. They usually start out as helpers and pick up eventually on the job later.”

“Women usually are employed in the low end garment work. Their neighbourhood for them is of crucial importance as through it, they socialise, build contacts to get work”, reveals her work.

It can be seen that female migrants can play a crucial role both in steering and using remittances towards poverty reduction through food security, education and health. However, there is less evidence, about the reconfigurations of gender roles that migration brings and that they necessarily lead to sustained gender equilibrium.