A world in motion
Humanity has always been on the move. Recorded history has examples
of populations crossing the seas and deserts — in search of food;
to flee conflict. Centuries of innovations later, the Industrial
Age saw young men leaving the outlands for prospects in emerging
cities. In Europe, a mass internal migration became responsible for
the continent’s first industrial workforce — skilled and unskilled
labour that boosted commerce.
Today, that workforce that built cities is still on the move. In Kerala, for example, Indians who built large cities in the Gulf are returning home. Vishnu Narendran, the director of programmes and founder of Ernakulam-based Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, helps reintegrate NRIs. He also helps workers from other states through language training, livelihood support. Narendran, who holds an MA in Migration Studies from the University of Sussex, says migration studies and awareness on the topic are the need of the hour. “Currently, we don’t have any specific course in India on migration,” he says.
Narendran says migration studies include studies on refugees and asylum seeking. “It’s still a niche field. I won’t recommend anyone to go straight in for a migrations studies course. While it is a good match for those getting into pure academics, students must have a good understanding of what migration is all about.”
He asks students to start with field work, perhaps with NGOs. “Almost all my fellow students at the University of Sussex worked in the field of migration before coming in to study it full time. Get work with an NGO to get a feel. Development agencies prefer a bit of experience. One needs a minimum of five to 10 years on-field experience,” Narendran adds.
B K Patnaik, a professor at Ignou’s School of Extension and Development Studies, says, “We have dimensions to migration. One can look at both internal and external migration.
“Migration of an internal population is interesting. From Bihar to Punjab and Haryana, people move to other states to look for better work opportunities; for better quality of life. However, from Punjab, many move to Canada for a different flavour of life,” he says.
Patnaik adds migrations and development are linked. “There is a lack of awareness about the field. Migrations happen for development.”
He then talks of the up-andcoming field of gender migration. “It’s the study of women who move from rural areas to the cities after gaining skills.” There’s also the very new concept of reverse migration. “People sometimes end up unhappy with employment abroad. Also, a worldwide economic slowdown has led to the return of many people.This number is likely to go up.”
Patnaik says there is a need for a migration study centre. “We had a conference about seven years ago at Ignou on the Indian diaspora. Its contribution to Indian economic growth and the number of immigrants India gets from other countries are some the highest in the world. For example, in Kerala, one cannot distinguish between urban and the rural parts — because of migration. People from Kerala go to the Gulf countries. In Punjab, cities are not that attractive, the villages are. Migration has enhanced income and standard of living.”
Sangeeth Sugathan, a research executive at the Ajeevika Bureau’s research and policy advocacy, Centre for Migration and Labour Solution, says migration has become a socioeconomic reality in India and can't be controlled. “The objective is to make migration safer.”
The Ajeevika Bureau, headquartered in Udaipur and set up in 2004 is one of the biggest NGOs working in labour migration in the country. Sugathan adds that labour laws, though present, need to be strengthened. “Rigorous, regular fieldwork is necessary to understand migration,” he said.