India is unique in culture, geographic pattern, community settlements, economic or natural resources. There is wide regional disparity in development within the country. As a result, people living in rural parts belonging to lower income group, move from their state of origin to another state, within the boundaries of India, either for social or economic reasons. In common term they are referred to as ‘Migrant labourers’. Migrant labourers are a formidable force in India’s economic life, especially the informal sector and MSMEs, constituting nearly 50% of India’s GDP. The total number of internal migrants in India, as per the 2011 census, is 45.36 crore or 37% of the country’s population. According to Aajeevika Bureau—among the biggest employers of migrant labourers are— construction sector (40 million), domestic work (20 million), textile (11 million), brick kiln work (10 million), transportation, mines & quarries and agriculture. Managed in many cases by private labour contractors and fuelled by social networks, there are well formed patterns in movement of labour across hundreds of kilometers within the country. The major push factors for migration in villages are low daily wages, lack of job opportunities, water scarcity etc. While the pull factors in cities are high wages, immense job opportunities, access to basic amenities & water, and better quality of life.
Social & Economic Crisis
Nobody had imagined the impact of India’s nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic on low wage earning migrant population across the country. Just to put things in perspective, this is being seen as the second largest forced long distance movement of people recorded in the history of India, since the partition in 1947. According to an assessment by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, more than 120 million people lost their jobs in April due to the lockdown, 75 percent of whom were working in the unorganised sector. So with the looming fear of hunger they were forced to begin arduous journeys back to their villages —cycling or hitching rides on lorries or on foot. Some travelled for a few hundred kilometers, while others covered more than a thousand to reach home. The unofficial sources, put India’s reverse migration since mid-March, 2020, conservatively at 30 million or 3 crore or 15-20% of the urban workforce. And considering the fact that most of them are sole breadwinners in a family of 4-5 members on an average, we are looking at a much larger population that is affected by this situation. We are sitting on a proverbial time bomb if the situation is not addressed through a systemic constructive process. However, any step towards resolution should start by adequately understanding the situation and giving due respect to the complexities involved.
Migrants-Connecting, Tracking, Serving
DEF has started an initiative under its ongoing ‘Covid-19 Digital Emergency Relief Programme (C-DERP)’ that focusses on the essential needs of the migrant labourers who have been rendered jobless, homeless and penniless—and are continuing to face social and economic hardships in their home states.
10000+ Digital Foot Soldiers attached with Digital Empowerment Foundation, are working relentlessly across worst affected villages due to the lockdown to provide immediate relief to the migrant labourers who are up against excruciating circumstances. They are doing so by building a robust network between Administration, Commodity Centres and Supply Chain. Over 150,000 migrant labourers have already benefitted from the relief measures.
DEF is live tracking 150,000 distressed migrant labourers through dedicated toll free numbers, and coordinating on their behalf with the local administration and civil groups to ensure their well-being.
A. Ethnographic Study- DEF is conducting an ‘Ethnographic Study’ on migrant labourers in the current scenario to assess the impact of unprecedented crisis on them from diverse perspectives and a way forward. Ethnography is a form of qualitative research in which the researcher enters into the environment of the study participants as unobtrusively as possible, with the goal of strictly being an observer. The aim is to capture key moments of the participant’s experience in as true a form as possible. Rather than relying on the memory or the descriptions of a study participant, ethnography is all about observing and recording important moments as they happen. The study is being undertaken in three underdeveloped and most affected states of India—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. It includes visiting 4-5 villages in each state, which have witnessed substantial number of migrant labourers forced to return due to the crisis. The idea is to spend quality time with 3-4 migrant labourers in every village individually in their natural habitat and video interview them to record their diverse experiences—while observing them and gathering vital insights.
B. Shramik Sampark Setu- An online survey is being undertaken in Ghazipur and Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh; West Champaran in Bihar; Ranchi and Ramgarh in Jharkhand; and Alwar and Barmer in Rajasthan. These are some of the states, which have been critically affected by the reverse migration process. 1000 impacted migrant labourers are being targeted with an online survey across four aforementioned states to understand and address various lacunae at the ground level under DEF’s eight programmatic themes, which drives organisation’s key initiatives on the ground—Access & Infrastructure; Education and Empowerment; Governance and Citizen Services; Market & Social Enterprises; Knowledge Hub & Network; and Research & Advocacy.