A Look into Labor-Based Migration in Uttarakhand

Anecia’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

Located in Northern India, Uttarakhand is well known for its immense natural beauty and its peaceful disposition away from hectic city life. With an estimated population of 10 million, Uttarakhand is seen as a peaceful oasis for those who live in the city. For its inhabitants, it is also seen as beautiful but despite this many locals are unable to stay within their homes. This blog post will analyze the lack of access to livelihood opportunities for those who are currently living in rural parts of Uttarakhand, and the impact of rural to urban migration on their socioeconomic condition. This analysis on the lack of access to employment in Uttarakhand will further be tied into the current work, Avani (my Fellowship host site) in Uttarakhand, is doing to combat these systematic issues.

Berinag, Uttarakhand

Migration has been an integral part of livelihood strategy for rural poor. As a result of unequal growth, people from agriculturally and industrially less developed states migrate to more developed states in search of job opportunities (Jain 2010). Domestically, migration can be categorizing through four streams: rural-to-rural, rural-to-urban, urban-to-rural, and urban-to-urban. Among the inter-state migrants, a majority (37.9%) migrate from rural to urban settings (Jain 2010). In addition, the Economic Survey of India 2017, estimates that inter-state migration in India accounted for 9 million people annually between 2011 and 2016 (Sharma 2017). This paper will exclusively focus on the rural-to-urban streams and assess the issues that migrants faced in their villages, as well as once they migrate to urban settings.

A picture taken of the mountains from Avani’s campus

Uttarakhand is ranked one of the top states for rural migration. The main reasons for migration, is a desire for better livelihood, employment, education and medical facilities. Many migrants believe that the public resources provided at the urban level outweigh those in the rural areas. This lack of access is what probes many to migrate, but the break-up of families and the idea that one can only be successful through urbanization gives a troublesome approach to development. In fact, many Indian cities are built on the hard labor and exploitation of migrant workers. When a rural person has to migrate to the city they are doing it out of a necessity for income and this desperation leads to unfair and unequal treatment because it puts both men and women in vulnerable situations.

Although many are able to migrate from their villages in order to pursue better opportunities, it is the quality of life they live that is concerning. The process of urbanization from a rural setting leads to an unequal distribution of wealth. Resulting in a large number of migrants finding work as solely unskilled laborers with no room for upward mobility. As unskilled laborers they are only privy to low-paying, hazardous, and informal market jobs in urban destinations. These jobs fall under categories such as: construction, hotel, textile, manufacturing, transportation, services, and domestic work. Although helpful in the short run, they do not alleviate or solve the institutional poverty that these marginalized groups face. Furthermore, as unskilled workers they are subject to many other forms of discrimination and unequal treatment because they are not working within their own state and do have the same safety net as those from more privileged circumstances.

One of Avani’s women artisans working at the handlooms on Avani’s Tripuradevi campus

Avani, a non-profit, is combatting this system through its own unique approach. Avani was founded in the context of the complex challenges and needs of villages in this isolated region. Located in the remote valleys of Kumaon Himalayas, at a height of 1,000 to 2,300 meters above sea level, most of the villages Avani works in are inaccessible via road and can only be reached through trekking. In order to usefully operate and meet the needs of the participants who work in their organization, Avani has set-up a decentralize work system. In addition to their central site, there are currently seven field centers so that the rural artisans do not have to travel to get to work. This decentralized model is crucial to Avani’s ability to achieve impact in the region.

In the essay Big Bills Left on the Sidewalk: Why Some Nations Are Rich, and Others Poor, Mancur Olson examines why low‐income countries have remained behind economically as developed countries have continued to grow. A section focuses on agrarian societies. Traditionally, these societies have a very strong agriculture sector with high levels of poverty due to their failure to invest in technical change. Olson states that the only way to raise their levels of income is through migration and resettlement. This ideal that in order to grow you have to migrate, is understandable, but should not be the rule. Migration should not be the sole strategy for livelihood opportunities for rural communities.

Systematically, urbanization has evolved to be considered as an indicator of economic development and a higher state of social welfare (Dutta and Chakrabarti 2015). The demand for cheap and flexible labor in cities such as New Delhi, puts many rural groups in unfavorable, long term circumstances. Furthermore, those that live in cities have more access to opportunities those in the remote areas of Uttarakhand may never gain access too, but these people do not deserve to be left behind based on factors as simple as their geographic location.

Team building on Avani’s Tripuradevi campus with their local staff

In order to grow, and create better opportunities for disenfranchised groups, change is necessary but those who do not come from cities should not be forced to change their lifestyle in order to accommodate their socio-economic needs. Whether the migrant is a woman, man, mother, father, or student, there needs to be some recessing on how their needs can be met without leaving their villages being the main argument. Rural relocation to cities may lead to some socio-economic benefits but there are also many negative aspects that come from being a migrant.

Works Cited:

  • Dasgupta, B., & Laishley, R. (1975). Migration from Villages. Economic and Political Weekly, 10(42), 1652-1662. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40738301
  • Dutta, S., & Chakrabarti, S. (2015). Rural-Urban Linkages, Labor Migration & Rural Industrialization in West Bengal. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 50(3), 397-411. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24549103
  • Jain, A (2010) Labour migration and remittances in Uttarakhand. Kathmandu: ICIMOD
  • Joshi, B. (2018, June 10). Why are people migrating from Uttarakhand? National Herald. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/why-are-people-migrating-from-uttarakhand
  • Migration. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2019, from http://censusindia.gov.in/Ad_Campaign/drop_in_articles/08-Migration.pdf
  • Olson, Mancur. “Big Bills Left on the Sidewalk: Why Some Nations Are Rich, and Others Poor.” In: Not-so-dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and Societies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. P. 37-60.
  • Olson, Mancur, and Satu Kähköhnen, eds. Not-so-dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and Societies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Sharma, K. (2017, October 1). India has 139 million internal migrants. They must not be forgotten. Retrieved April 10, 2019, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/india-has-139-million-internal-migrants-we-must-not-forget-them/
  • Uttarakhand Rural Development and Migration Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2019, from http://www.uttarakhandpalayanayog.com/

Anecia recently completed her degree in International Studies from Spelman College. This will be her second time travelling to India; she studied at the University of Hyderabad in the spring semester of 2017. Her time there opened her eyes to many issues in India, and she became particularly passionate about the issue of farmer’s suicides in India. Anecia is passionate about uplifting women and girls, and is the co-President of a mentorship program for young girls called TeenAngel Society Inc. Anecia has also worked as a community organizer in Atlanta, and also has blogged on various issues facing women.

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