The development process needs to address issues of displacement.
Migration is a livelihood strategy and a means to cope with distress arising from drought, flood and lack of employment opportunities locally. There is one section of the population which migrates to get better education, skills and employment. People may also migrate for political and social reasons, such as ethnic conflicts, riots and the pressures of various forms of subjugation. It is not just a route to employment and education but also a means to more freedom. Migrants are not a homogeneous group. There are huge variations in age, gender, educational level, occupational status, skills, earnings as well as linguistic and cultural background. As a result, they experience different levels of vulnerability and inclusion. Migrants with poor skills and education, driven by distress, are hugely vulnerable and suffer from deprivations and exploitation in the places they migrate to.
The recent UNESCO report titled “Social Inclusion of Internal Migrants in India” highlights that internal migrants are a neglected segment of India’s population. There is a need to mainstream internal migration into our development process. About a third of India’s population is categorised as internal migrant by the census. Roughly half of them participate in the workforce. Migrant workers are a visible component in big and small cities as well as in rural areas with growing agricultural and allied sectors. Migrants are prominently employed in the construction and textile sectors, in the domestic workforce, at brick kilns and salt pans. They are also employed in commercial and plantation agriculture, and in the the urban informal sector, working as vendors, hawkers, rickshaw pullers and daily wage workers. They contribute to the rising GDP of India and send remittances to their families back home, to be spent on food, education and healthcare. Remittances by internal migrants amount to about Rs 60,000-70, 000 crore. But financial inclusion has not spread much among migrants yet — only 30 per cent of the remittances are sent through formal channels. States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttarakhand are the major recipients of internal remittances. Returning migrants bring a variety of skills, innovation and knowledge to their areas of origin. These are the social remittances. In the long run, migration could play a positive role. With the right type of policy, it could benefit both the areas of origin and the areas that receive migrants. The UNESCO publication points out that migration cannot be stopped. It is a historical process that shapes human civilisation, culture and development. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution grants citizens the fundamental right to move.
There are about 15 million seasonal and temporary migrants, according to the National Sample Survey (NSS). They are not able to exercise their political and economic rights because rights and entitlements are place bound. Lacking formal residential and identity proofs, many short-duration migrants are barred from exercising their voting rights. They are also excluded from the PDS and other government programmes. The UNESCO report highlights the urgent need to ensure that internal migrants are issued a universally recognised and portable proof of identity, which can be used to claim socio-economic entitlements anywhere in the country. Our political and economic rights and entitlements must also be made portable.
Gender is an important dimension of migration. Although most women migrate along with their family members, many also move independently. The statistical database on these independent migrations is extremely poor. The census and the NSS usually cite marriage as a reason for these migrations. But a large number of such women do work before and after migration. Migrant women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and trafficking. Many of them come from poor, illiterate and tribal backgrounds. There is an urgent need to ensure safe migration for women workers particularly those joining the domestic workforce.
Seasonal migrants often take their children along when they move to other places for work. This affects regular and continued schooling. These children could be kept in the source region, in seasonal hostels. Another option is to set up work-site schools in the places they migrate to.
As the Indian economy grows, urbanisation is inevitable. Shelter is an important issue for the migrant and homeless population in urban areas, especially in the big cities. Migration issues should be factored into city development plans geared to realise the goals of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the Rajiv Awas Yojana. Night shelters as well as working women’s and men’s hostels could be incorporated in city development plans.
There are a host of laws on labour issues but these are inadequate to deal with the conditions migrant have to face. The Inter-state Migrant Workmen Regulation Act, 1979, which deals with contractor-led movement of inter-state migrant labour, is not enforced either. Moreover, while a segment of migrant workers moves along with contractors, many also move independently, through the network of family, friends and kin. More importantly, migration should not be seen merely as a law enforcement and governance issue. It must be integrated with development concerns.
The writer is professor and head, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai.