The hilly states of India have had a long history of out-migration. In Uttarakhand, officials in the smallest towns and district capitals cite palaayan (migration) as a top concern. Farmers talk about falling productivity, climate change and poor connectivity to markets and youth rue the lack of employment opportunities for them in and near their villages. The sense one gets from conversations is that migration is not always a matter of choice, the city is not necessarily seen as a place of opportunity and that there are many young men (and increasingly women) who would rather live closer to home if they were able to access non-farm jobs.
Development to fight out-migration hasn’t yielded the best results
A key aspect of the hilly region’s bid to disengage from Uttar Pradesh through a long separatist struggle that lasted through the ‘90s and resulted in Statehood in the year 2000 was the concern that focused resources and strategies were required to develop the region and strengthen it economically so that people are not forced to migrate out to earn a basic living. The strategy of fighting out-migration with development has, therefore, been part of the Uttarakhand’s DNA since inception.
However, Uttarakhand’s initial successes have yielded intense development in its non-hilly foothill regions. The Census 2011 shows high growth in decadal population in the four districts of Dehradun (32.5 percent), Hardwar (33.1 percent), Udhan Singh Nagar (33.4 percent) and Naini Tal (25.2 percent) that have much of their land areas in the plains. On the other hand, population in the hilly districts like Chamoli (5.6 percent) and Rudraprayag (4.1 percent) has grown slowly or been in the negative as in the case of Garhwal (-1.50 percent) and Almora (-1.73 percent)!
Can strategic investments impact migration patterns?
Last month, the Chief Minister Harish Rawat launched 15 new development projects worth Rs 62 crore that include road upgrades, pumping of drinking water and housing. While these development projects follow the old mantra of using development to fight out-migration, they seem to be wisely located projects in remote hilly locations like Pithoragarh.
Similar timely interventions are required to develop quality educational skill development infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship and invite private sector investment in hilly regions. While value-added agricultural initiatives like floriculture and cultivation of exotic vegetables has taken off in many parts of the State and the tourism sector is a large employer, service sector jobs created by rural BPOs are also making inroads here. How do these investments impact migration in the State?
Narendra Nagar case study reveals migration decisions are complex, rational
Detailed interviews conducted in 2014 with employees of eGramServe, a rural BPO located in the Nagar Panchayat of Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal, reveal that decisions regarding migration are complex and rational. When a new opportunity emerges in their vicinity, it compels young people to rethink their alternatives and opens new avenues that are alternatives to the dominant pattern of out-migration.
The study found that while aspiration is still strongly connected with migration to the city, imagined as a place of opportunity and also risk, educated youth from rural areas around Narendra Nagar, find themselves unable to or unwilling to migrate far away from their villages in pursuit of a better life. Young people in Narendra Nagar viewed a business like eGramServe as an opportunity to work in an IT-related job that they perceived as respectable and exciting without the need to migrate out in pursuit of one. They also saw it as a learning platform and stepping stone to something better.
With the Internet and mobile telecommunication easily and cheaply available, young people have considerable access to information about opportunities and hardships in the big city. These information flows impact their perceived value of migration, which in turn comes out of an analysis of the expected returns and costs of migration. The respondent analysis clearly shows that while the expected returns of a better job and better lifestyle come with risks, young people are able to identify several tangible and intangible costs of migration that urge them to remain closer to their families.
The responsibility of taking care of aging parents and dependent family members, for instance, was recognised as an inhibitor to out-migration for instance. Said Manvir, a 19-yr old boy, “There is a responsibility (upon us), we have to understand that. The family also needs us. If we go away, how will they manage?” Poor quality of nutrition and low-quality living environment in the city was another. Shakuntala, a young woman who was pursuing her MA while she worked in eGramServe and who lives with her family in Narendra Nagar said, “Here (in Narendra Nagar) I can eat well, home food is good. We like our dal chawal roti (simple food).”
Many rural youth feel passionate about bringing development to their villages. They want to return to their villages where they can live on their own land and wish for new kinds of livelihood that complement their agricultural earnings. They see the option of migrating out as a betrayal of what they believe in and hope for. Ajay Negi, who commuted to Narendra Nagar from his village every day to work in eGramServe and was also enrolled in college in NN expressed this conflict well. “I don’t like the idea of going out. People from the village are selling their land, but others are protesting new developments being proposed here by investors from the city. I want to stay here to be part of that movement. Maybe I can somehow save my family from misfortune and ensure their survival,” he said. His passion is reminiscent of the passion that marked the many years of Uttarakhand’s struggle for autonomy.
Understanding youth motivations, developing small cities key to influencing migration patterns
These perspectives run contrary to the larger and rather simplistic understanding of migration as something desirable to educated young people from rural India. The Narendra Nagar case study highlighted the need to listen carefully to these alternative voices. To me, they seem to be saying something important. By tapping into these perspectives, it could be possible to be more strategic about future investments and planned development in the hills of Uttarakhand. It would also be possible for this bountiful hilly State to reposition its small towns as critical conduits for development and migration.
Narendra, who worked in eGramServe in a supervisory role, the development of strategic opportunities in urban locations in proximity to the rural hinterland could trigger return migration as well. “Now I am nearer village,” Narendra told me, “its easier for me to stay in touch (with my family), attend to their needs. I can even manage much better in terms of expenses.” Narendra is also more hopeful about the development that has come to Uttarakhand and the Garhwal region and sees his return migration as his contribution to the positive changes in and around his home.
Naik, Mukta. 2014, Vibrant small cities can keep rural youth closer to home: A case study of Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal presented at a Special session on Small Cities at the Annual Conference of the RGS-IBG, 2014
Todaro, Michael P and Smith, Stephen C. 2012. Economic Development, Tenth Edition. Pearson Education
By Mukta Naik, Senior Researcher, CPR
Government and civil society initiatives in skill development, formalisation of informal jobs and portability of rights can improve labour market outcomes for the ‘working poor’
Improving the livelihoods of the ‘working poor’, many of whom migrate out of their villages in pursuit of livelihood, is a key challenge for India’s economic growth as social cohesion. The SHRAMIC event on ‘Making Labour Markets Work’ held in Delhi on 13 February 2015 brought together government officials, policymakers, industry experts and representatives from a pan-India network of NGOs working under the Tata Trust’s Migration Initiative to deliberate on the mechanisms to make labour markets more inclusive for the working poor, especially for migrant labour.
Inaugural session highlights convergence of efforts
The convergence of government and civil society efforts was a key recommendation of the inaugural panel at the event. “It falls upon the government and new institutions to…
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“I lost my name nine and a half years ago, when I started this school,” he told me. I was struck by the humility of this soft spoken, dignified gentleman who, along with others, had transformed the lives of hundreds of children in Gurgaon. Children of migrants, who live in shacks but dream of a future of opportunity and brightness. Bright children. Talented children. Children who just want to go to school like everyone else.
This is an amazing school in many ways and I’ll tell you why I say this, in a minute. Run under the aegis of the Guru Nanak Sewa Sansthan, this tiny school in Gurgaon brings quality English education to the lives of underprivileged children through a small team of dedicated teachers and volunteers. The gentleman I spoke with mentioned that the school is ‘unrecognised’ and works with the aim of mainstreaming the children by helping them get admitted to regular schools under the Right to Education provision that mandates private schools take in children from the economically weaker section of society.
It was our privilege to celebrate Christmas Day here. We came to savour the spirit of gifting, but we walked away with much much more. Conversations with the kids told us much beyond these pictures show how wonderful they felt about getting gifts. What’s more, they got to choose what they wanted from a bazaar-like display that volunteers had set up and this pleasure of choosing went far beyond the materiality of the gift itself.
The children were bright and enthusiastic. Some sang well, others were academically gifted. Still others could paint well, dance well, and so on and so forth. However, it was their confidence, sense of empathy for each other and their teamwork that really impressed me.
A speech-impaired child stood in front of the crowd and sang. A teenage girl belted out a rendition of ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ as we watched on incredulously! Senior school children helped serve meals (yes, they get a hot meal here everyday), collect plates, serve food. Incredibly, the school has no building. Children and teachers set up the school every morning, spreading rugs out on a concrete floor and tying tarpaulin to bamboo poles that stand there permanently. Each afternoon, once school is over, they take all of this off, and fold the tarp and rugs neatly for storage. We saw them do this yesterday.
We have much to be thankful for. Yesterday taught me that there is also much to be hopeful for. Both children were with me yesterday. They even joined a group of singers during the celebration. We didn’t talk about the experience, and I deliberately refrained from bringing it up. Aadyaa had asked me if she could give away her toys and clothes herself and our visit was in response to that demand. I have a feeling something of the experience will stick with them. Like it has for me. A little sliver of hope for the millions of migrant children across India denied education by the formal system, but eager enough to take whatever they get to the next level.
Many thanks to my friend Bhavna and the many enterprising families who initiated the ‘I Love to Share’ event at Ardee City, Gurgaon
A couple of weeks ago, I was attending the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society in London. It was a huge conference, with several parallel sessions and I could obviously attend only one at a time. Even so, I was exposed to multiple facets of geography and it was particularly interesting to see various research methods being used in the world of social science.
The use of visual methods for research is a particularly exciting field now and I noticed it was a recurrent theme in several sessions. Film and photography in particular are gaining ground as legitimate means to document how humans experience spaces and situations. Combined with interviews, focus groups and more traditional methods of qualitative research, they promise to take research a step ahead certainly.
I’d like to show you a glimpse of a piece of research presented by independent researcher Silvia Sitton, who is based in Modena, Italy. She set out to study the way Italians in London lived. Without visiting London herself, she did this through a system of self-reporting by participants using photographs of their home, living space and neighbourhood. Silvia supplemented the visual documentation with skype interviews to create profiles of Italian people in London city and understand their experiences. To me, as a researcher interested in migration and housing, her work appealed instantly. She had been able to capture how they felt about their adopted city, how they used space, their daily routines, their challenges and high points as well.
The website she built to house this information (screenshots below; to visit the site, click here here) is in Italian, but its stunningly simple and Silvia told me she would love to replicate this sort of research in other geographical contexts. The value of gathering data without the bias of the researcher is immense here, isn’t it?
Having tried my hand at being an entrepreneur, I’m always impressed by people who are brave enough to venture into new territory with ideas and initiatives. My friend Biplab is one such person. I’ve known him for a while, though not very well. And when my research work started focusing on what’s happening in small cities, I remembered his venture and drove over for a chat.
Biplab runs a BPO called EGramServe in Narendranagar (will refer to it as NN), a town of about 10,000 people a short drive uphill from Rishikesh. In starting this venture, he (like several others, of course) has created a window of opportunity for young people who otherwise have no choice but to migrate out to larger cities. The stories he told me, about his own entrepreneurial journey and the experiences of his employees, stuck in my head for days after our chat. And I decided to pay NN a visit. As I was leaving, my kids were curious to know if that’s Narendra Modi is from (no escaping NaMo)!
After an eventless and comfortable train journey (a frequent traveler on this sector, Biplab is an expert in wangling seats even when tickets are unconfirmed!), we got there early Monday morning and walked around town. As a planner, I was struck by the orderliness of the town. NN came into prominence in 1919 when King Narendra Shah of the erstwhile kingdom of Tehri Garhwal moved his capital here from Tehri. It’s orderly main street and relatively wide streets and uncluttered feel contrasts sharply with the messiness of other pahari towns, which are usually trading or market towns. The shops and residences along this main street, I learnt, are still owned by the municipal board and leased out to individuals.
The view from NN, which is also the closest town to the world famous Ananda spa resort, is beautiful. It is a remarkable thing that, so close to Rishikesh, this lovely hilly location that experiences excellent weather is so tranquil and languid, the pace of life barely impacted by the proximity of the fervent religious tourism of Rishikesh and Hardwar below or the seasonal tourism of the hill stations above.
Its tranquility is reflected in the conversations I have with its residents, some of who are from families who settled here during the time of Narendra Shah and consider themselves insiders and others whose families have migrated here from surrounding villages or from other parts of Tehri Garhwal in search of livelihood.
My two-day visit was a most interesting experience thanks to Biplab’s warm and sincere hospitality. He was kind enough to give up his accommodation so I could be comfortable and also enthusiastic enough to introduce me to people all over town. Over the next few weeks, I hope to unscramble some good information from the 20-odd interviews I managed to take. I hope to understand better the experiences and aspirations of the young people who work in EGramServe, their linkages with their family/community and what role cities like NN can play in keeping young people close to home.
I was driven back to Haridwar railway station by two enthusiastic members of Biplab’s team. The most marvelous drive through the lush greens of Rajaji National Park alongside the Ganga canal served to remind me of how precious the hills, the forests and the rivers are for our survival. In addition to providing opportunity, I remember thinking, encouraging sustainable development that involves communities that can no longer rely on agriculture for survival (low productivity, climate change) is critical. And here too, small cities like NN could be important in tying these rural communities together and linking them to regional economies.
I was researching an article about the governance of privately built cities recently and one of the experts I spoke to commented on the obsession of the Indian State with being answerable to the urban middle class, to the exclusion of other categories of citizens like the rural folk, the urban poor etc who have traditionally been the ‘vote bank’ in India. After Ayona seeded that thought in my head, I began to notice that it was indeed being pointed out by several journalists and experts in mainstream media. For instance, this piece talks about Modi’s obsession with the urban. It’s not just Modi, our nation is seeing a disturbing shift in which the youth aspire to everything that is urban. Symbolism is important and cars, mobile phones, branded clothes and a ‘liberal’ lifestyle have become outward signs of a change in outlook (not mindsets though, as we are reminded time and again!).
Sanjoy Narayan’s editorial in Hindustan Times this weekend describes how painfully aware young people are of the stark inequalities. I imagined, as I read, this sea of young people gravitating towards a lifestyle they couldn’t sustain, leaving behind a familiar life that they look down on.
At the India Art Fair, a panel of photographs from the South Indian countryside of homes that mimic urban architecture paints a clear picture of how the city is a major part of the dreams of people across the country.
As an architect and urbanist, I clearly see how people with “one foot in the city and one foot in the village” (am borrowing these words from Rahul Srivastava of URBZ), carry back home the symbols of their city life, recreating in villages and small towns across the country the palatial urban-style homes of their dreams that the city doesn’t give them space for! Often times, no one lives in these countryside palaces!
Mohan, a passionate and inspiring young man I know quite well, built such a home back in Odisha while he made money running a grocery store in Gurgaon. His aging parents lived in this large home by themselves for many years. Mohan’s frustration with the anomaly of the situation has been growing for a year or so and he recently made the brave decision of moving back to start a business in a small town near his home. I sincerely wish him well. His brothers refuse to move away and they are absolutely certain Mohan will fail and the relatively big bucks in the big city will bring him right back (his tail between his legs!).
Everyone, politicians and bureaucrats as well as educated people regardless of caste and class, have fallen for the urban dream hook, line and sinker. The few who, like Mohan, dare to dream different are laughed at. We’ve bought our own bullshit, literally. We believe that an industrialized future is the way forward. We prefer not to think about how the food will get to our table, where wild animals will live, where we will go when we want to escape the city, where our water tables will get recharged….. it’s too painful to think about, we hope that there are rules to sort that stuff out!
The truth is that most of us are entitled to live in our own imagined worlds or urban prosperity. It alarms me, however, when politicians do the same. That those in power and those in line for power propagate this imbalanced situation as a dream we must dream, it’s worrying indeed! Cashing in on the urban aspirations of rural folk, politicians are shamelessly painting a false picture. They are showing us dreams that will never be fulfilled and that will push us further into environmental disaster, food insecurity and sharpened inequalities.
Sobering thought, if you needed another one- To be able to vote in people who see the whole picture at some point in the future, we would need to see the whole picture for ourselves.
It’s World Toilet Day again. My twitter timeline is abuzz today with statistics, video links, article links, all painting a scary picture of how many people in the world live in conditions of poor sanitation, how much this costs us in economic terms, health terms, etc. (other hilarious tweets about people being conceived in and born in toilets, locked inside them, etc are also doing the rounds as is expected in the jamboree called twitter!)
I’ve seen plenty of toilets up close, recently in my fieldwork among migrant workers in Gurgaon’s urban villages and unauthorized colonies as well as over the last few years of working with micro Home Solutions in low-income areas across Delhi. Adequacy as well as maintenance of toilets is a huge issue in slums and other informal areas . Various experiences have shown that shared toilets are very hard to maintain (see post on the pathetic state of toilets in a Delhi slum); yet, it can be nearly impossible to retrofit communities to provide toilets for every household. One thing is clear though. Household toilets are the Number 1 aspiration for low-income families across India, whether urban or rural. Deeply connected with dignity and security, especially for women, and also now implying status, households seek to install toilets as soon as they have sewage connections and funding in place.
But what about those without any secure tenure? Renters, for instance. In Gurgaon, I find migrant workers living in semi-permanent shacks or relatively permanent tenements sharing a toilet between 10 or even upto 20 households! Toilets with broken doors, inadequate water supply and barely any maintenance are common in these jhuggis and tenements. However, contrary to the perception that it is single male migrants that live here and accord low priority to sanitation, I found at least half of these homes occupied by families, with women and children suffering acutely because of the poor sanitation facilities. Unfortunately, a relationship of deference and almost fear with the landlord coupled with the peculiar migrant mindset of transition combine to make demanding better toilets a difficult proposition.
Migrant workers who live in more upgraded rooms that offer more privacy share their amenities among 8-10 families and are better able to negotiate better maintained toilets and baths with their landlords. Often, improved sanitation combined with a perception of improved security (very linked, those two) become the reason for families to opt for moving to a better rental accommodation.
However, as a researcher, what strikes me most is that, despite the whining about sanitation, renters consider poor amenities as part of the deal. They live in the hope that improved income and better circumstances will given them more negotiating power to change these aspects of their lives. But for the present, many women told me that they are fine with the sharing of toilets with strangers, with the waiting for their turn as per their time of work, even with the poor maintenance! They said that conditions in their village were often worse; others said they lived in better conditions back ‘home’ but understood that poor sanitation was the price to pay for the opportunity to live and work in the city.
Access to sanitation, and its strong relationship with dignity and safety, is an important lens through which to understand the integration of the urban poor in our cities. In the context of internal migration, the denial of the basic aspects of citizenship to migrants creates a psyche of helplessness and illicits that shrug, that sense of resignation that I find so frustrating. Because the government buckets private informal rental housing as illegal and no standards and bye-laws are implemented in this context, it is easy for landlords to turn a blind eye to this issue. A dialogue that involves civil society (representing migrants), private landlords as well as government is important to arrive at ways and means by which an increased awareness of the importance of sanitation is created, where the migrant is given a human dimension as opposed to a sub-human one (yes, this is often the case!), big infrastructure to make improvements possible are put in place and new efficient means for operations and maintenance (best practices) are shared and implemented.
The buzz on migration has been growing the past few years, but it is hard to connect the dots on economic, social and right-based approaches the to the issue and even harder to understand migration in the context of urbanization and globalization, both forces that are fueling and shaping the mobility of human beings across the world.
The tragedy off Italian island Lampedusa with the drowning of 300 African migrants served to highlight the conflicts and contradictions, and how confused our understanding is on the issue of migration. This morning, The Hindu carries an excellent interview of Francois Crepeau, who is United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. A few points he states helped me put things in perspective and am paraphrasing the highlights here for you.
1- Economies need migrants (widely rewfering to low-wage, illegal migrants in the international, esp European context) because they do unskilled, low-paid jobs that no one else wants to do and are regularly exploited while doing so
2- They subsidize industries (he cites the example of strawberry picking) that have low margins. If we really want to do away with illegal migration, we would need to subsidize or improve these industries, not clamp down on migration, which clearly is the backbone on which these industries survive. This sort of analogy holds equally true of internal migrants from rural areas to cities, except that there is no question of illegality (except for countries like China where systems like hukou restrict mobility).
3- The sovereignty of nations is hugely compromised by globalization and there is a sense of loss of control, hence an over emphasis on the protection of boundaries and clamping down on migration. It’s a misfit solution to a complex problem.
4- The plain fact is that politicians are “not up to the task of telling their populations that we need migrants-doctors abd engineers, but also we need low-skilled or unskilled migrants.” Crepeau states that this is because the discussion on migrants becomes about national identity and societies are simply not ready to accept change. There is therefore the need for a great discussion on “diversity policies- on who we are and how we see ourselves in 50 or hundred years.”
I couldn’t agree more. We do not need to see migration from a perspective of paranoia and suspicion. We cannot protect our boundaries of caste, clan, class forever. We, in India and especially in urbanizing areas of India, need a civic engagement and dialogue about diversity. In our schools and colleges, in our drawings rooms, in our workplaces, we need to talk about inclusion, humanity and human rights, we need to learn to accept the ‘other’. If we refuse to do so and continue to build the walls higher around us, we will leave behind for our children a world unlivable- a battleground, a barren waste.