Unfortunately, we’re focusing on the negative aspects of migration- Aug 18, 2012

Migration has been my area of interest for a very long time. Academically, I studied housing choices among Asian Indian immigrants in the United States, focusing on Houston. My masters dissertation outlined the radical differences between the settlement patterns of Indians as compared to other ethnic groups. What was interesting about the study was that by opting to mingle in among the others in American suburbs, Indians were making a brave attempt (and making a statement) at assimilation barely a few years after migrating. Ghettoism of any kind is seen only during festivals and other cultural celebrations and rarely otherwise. the Indians I interviewed thought of themselves as American. Being Indian was a cultural thing for them.

Even back then, I was fascinated with the parallels I could draw by studying the migration of poor rural migrants to urban areas in India. If I assume that the location and type of housing is a sign of the intent of assimilation, I cannot study this group. Because of the tremendous barriers they face in accessing housing, because of the low supply, because of the rising land prices that are pricing the poor out of the market entirely, because of the lack of access to finance for those among the urban poor that do manage to make a decent living from informal employment.

This entire situation in Assam reminds me of America too. Here, there is much discussion about the Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh and he is the bad guy. In the US, the techie Indian who takes away white collar jobs from Americans is the bad guy. Both images that are popular and widely accepted have serious flaws. They’re not really very sound, these caricatures, in my opinion. And your response depends on which side you are.

Essentially, the response is to reject the migrant as an ‘outsider’. A rather fading argument in a rapidly globalizing world. We must remember that it is either opportunity in the place of migration or repression and lack of opportunity in the home state that fuels migration, or both. It is important to look at the larger picture. What about the positive aspects of migration? Many Indian cities would not survive without migration; I could even argue that none of them would. Migration is essential. We need to learn to manage it and look at the positives in trying to harness a variety of skill sets that migrants provide, the services and goods they consume, the economy within the economy that they drive.

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