Migration of freedom and opportunities

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

Sunitadi [i] seemed quite happy when I met her in the very first field visit I did in Bangru village, Jharkhand. The reason was that her daughter, Sarita, is back in the village after a long break of seven years. Sarita is currently living and working in Mumbai as a home maid. She is seventeen years old now. She has never been to school yet. Despite that, she manages to speak three languages though she is not able to read and write any of them. Before she headed to Mumbai, she was brought to Delhi by one of the labour contractors from her village. She worked there for about one and half years, but she was never paid. As she was completely lost and unsatisfied, somehow, she managed to escape Delhi and came back home. She was lucky in comparison: there are hundreds of migrants like Sarita who left their villages for big cities to find a livelihood but remained traceless after. I have met some parents during my fieldwork who have been waiting for their children for a long time. There is number of missing cases filed in different police stations in the state as well. The Government of India, even, has set up a special unit of police named ‘Anti Human Trafficking Unit’ (AHTU) in different parts of the state to counter trafficking and missing cases, which exemplifies the severity of the issue on the state level.

Coming back to Sarita’s story: I was so curious to know more about her; her experiences back in Mumbai, her thoughts, and her further plans. “It has been just two weeks I am back in the village. Though I am happy that I am with my mother right now, I am not very comfortable with the village life here. It is very boring here! I do not feel much freedom here as a girl as I feel in Mumbai”. She opened up as we spoke more: “I know I belong to this place. Of course, I born and brought up here, but let me say that I find it more comfortable with the Mumbai life now. My migration brought up a lot of changes in my life and opportunity to closely see and feel the outside world. I am going back sooner!”

Field meeting at Bangru.

What does migration mean to her? What makes her experience of migration different from many others in the village while, often, the stories from villages show the hardship, torture, exploitation of the migration? What motivates her to leave the village irrespective of the adversities attached to the migration? I wondered about these questions.

Later, when I was engaged in the case analysis of a study conducted by Jharkhand Anti Trafficking Network (JATN), I realised that it is not just Sarita’s case that is unique. Rather, same kinds of feeling had been expressed by different other migrants as well. Migration for them is simply not a consequence of economic constraints of staying home as it is generally being observed. It is usually understood that labour migration of people like Sarita is a broader result of exploitation and oppression characteristics of capitalist production [ii]. Households living in poverty have nothing to protect them other than selling away their only asset that is the labour of the family. If the geographical neighbourhood does not offer the opportunity to contribute this labour, or in the absence of a formal institution guaranteeing everyone’s economic and labour rights or its dysfunction, he or she is sent far-off as migrants. Severe unemployment issues in the rural areas of the country make people migrate to different places searching their livelihood. It is also understood that the contemporary migration in the country is not just the result of modernisation rather long have been a central feature of the life within the Indian subcontinent. Jharkhand’s case is not different. De Haan (2002) has argued that circular out-migration from Bihar, the state from which Jharkhand separated is at least a hundred years old. The destinations of those times were coal mines, tea plants etc. run under the colonial regime in different parts of the world [iii].

However, the cases like Sarita, describes that migration can also happen because of the oppressive social norms present back in the birthplace which forces migrants to find a form of emancipation from them. On the same line, Alpa Shah (2006) argued that, based on his study conducted in the brick kilns of Jharkhand itself, far beyond financial motivation and notwithstanding harsh working conditions, brick kiln migration is experienced as liberation from social oppression [iv].


[i] Names used in the blog are not original. They’ve been changed to protect the person’s privacy.

[ii] Breman, J. (1985). Of peasants migrants and paupers: rural labour circulation and capitalist production in West India;

Mukherji, S. (1985). The process of wage labour circulation in northern India. G. Standing, ed.

[iii] De Haan, A. (1994). 1994a. Unsettled settlers: Migrant workers and industrial capitalism in Calcutta. Hilversum: Verloren.

[iv] Shah, A. (2006). “The labour of love: Seasonal migration from Jharkhand to the brick kilns of other states in India”. Contributions to Indian Sociology 40 (1), 91-118.

As a keen student of politics, law and human rights, Mujeebu is fascinated by the complex apparatus of law and governance in India. His graduation in Masters in Development with specialization in law and governance from Azim Premji University Bangalore has a profound impact on his passion. He has also completed a Master’s thesis from Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. To supplement his theoretical understanding, he has interned with various non-governmental organizations and civil society movements in India. Throughout these different internships and field engagements, he was looking at different issues from the perspective of law and human rights. Very recently he was selected for a short-term research exchange program between IIT Gandhinagar and the ISCTE-Institute University of Lisbon, Portugal. Throughout this program at ISCTE-IUL, he was looking at the transit migration and human rights issues among the South Asian migrants in Lisbon. From early on, he was also part of human rights clinic at Azim Premji University where he worked for the human rights of street vendors. He has also worked along with NIMHANS, Bangalore, for the human rights of the transgender community in the city. Furthermore, his rigorous research related field engagements in the remote areas of the Kashmir Valley, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala prove his pleasure of working in diverse conditions.

Mujeebu's Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

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