Published: 03rd November 2020
Lockdown exposed migrants' exclusion from governance system: Study
Governance in India, including local governance, is entirely place-based, with migrant workers, despite their significant economic contributions, having no say therein
While the media gave migrants voice during the lockdown, what became clear nevertheless is their near-total exclusion from local governance systems in the destination states, alongside a near-total blindness by the state to their very existence, says a study.
Kerala is an exception, as the critical role of local panchayats and decentralised decision-making became evident in alleviating the hardships faced by the workers post-lockdown, said the study by the University of East Anglia in the UK in partnership with Indian NGO PRADAN.
Governance in India, including local governance, is entirely place-based, with migrant workers, despite their significant economic contributions, having no say therein.
This is despite the fact that almost a fourth of India's population, over 300 million, are migrants settled for various durations in different parts of the country, according to the study published in The European Journal of Development Research.
Of these, close to 30 million are seasonal migrant workers, of which 85 per cent are men, providing cheap labour to the destination economy and bolstering consumption in their home states through remittances.
The research was conducted jointly by University of East Anglia Professor Nitya Rao and PRADAN's Nivedita Narain, Shuvajit Chakraborty, Arundhita Bhanjdeo and Ayesha Pattnaik.
This study explored the experiences of low-income migrant workers from a remote and poor rural location in the state of Bihar to four different states — Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Following the national lockdown from March 25 these men were stranded, jobless overnight, and desperately trying to return home, in the absence of food or shelter in their destinations.
This study was conducted in three distinct stages: pre-pandemic, during the pandemic-induced lockdown, and after the migrants returned to their homes.
The nationwide lockdown brought all travel to a halt. Some easing of restrictions for migrant workers was announced on May 1, and later that week the government announced special trains for workers to travel home.
The research showed that social policy frameworks in the destination states, or their absence, played a key role in shaping migrant experience. Kerala, with a better social infrastructure, but also a specific legal and policy framework recognising the role and contributions of migrant workers as "guest workers", was able to respond more effectively to their needs and demands.
Amongst the other states, Maharashtra falls in between, with some recognition of workers' rights yet divided by a strong movement of regional pride and exclusivity. Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh emerge at the bottom, offering no rights or benefits to the migrant workers, said the study.