Unfolding Distress Migration: a view from Prayagraj

authored by K. Nidhi

The distress migration which is underway due to draconian lockdown in response to COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to bring the adverse realities of migration and migrants’ lives at the centre stage in the public discourse. For long their existence and plight have been on the periphery.

Migrants can be classified into two major categories-

1. Permanent/semi-permanent and
2. Seasonal/circular/temporary migration.

The circular/seasonal/ temporary migrants are more vulnerable in the pandemic-driven migration. It is essentially a case of forced migration.  Their vulnerability is multi-dimensional in nature. The major reasons of their vulnerability include:

1. Occupational vulnerability- Majority of the circular migrants are engaged in informal sector-out of which a major chunk is of daily wage workers. Unmindful of the 3-D jobs-Difficult, Dangerous and Demeaning they do for their livelihood, the migrant woekers have been excluded from social security benefits.

2. Spatial vulnerability- The circular migrants usually stay in slums where public utilities such as housing, toilet, drinking water are used on sharing basis. This reflects the exclusionary practice. The issue of migration and migrants finds scant attention in the urban policy. The high population density of slums is one of prominent reasons for rapid spread of corona virus in the slums where social distancing formula to contain corona outbreak faces structural constraints.

3. Political vulnerability- Migrants are not able to use their voting rights- either at source or at destination. Although portability of voting rights has been under discussion, its execution has its own challenges.  This is one of the fault lines which pushes migrants at the margins.

Challenges

Pandemic-driven migration crisis revealed that despite having formal citizenship, migrants are not able to exercise their social, economic and political rights. It raises questions of belongingness and displacement. It underlines the fact about their statistical exclusio. As a consequence, their existence itself is subjected to certain legitimacy tests. This prevailing condition puts the migrants into a psycho-social vaccum.

Stigma attached to the returning migrants as corona carrier constrains their mobility. Both their economic contribution in the cities and their remittances in their native homes have been undermined amidst unprecedented unemployment scenario in the country.

Measures

Provision of the basic income security to the migrants is an essential policy measure as an immediate response to the crisis until these migrants could get engaged in some economic activity.

Sustainable and inclusive urbanization policy in the aftermath of COVID 19 disaster will have to ensure social security for migrants in terms of public health, public transport and housing. It could certainly be helpful in regaining the faith of migrants in the cities given the fact that their reverse migration due to public institution engineered distress has changed their views about the positive features of cities.

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The author is a research scholar at G.B.Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj

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