Migration in India

After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Introduction to Migration in India 2. Migrations into South Asia 3. Emigration from South Asia 4. International Migration within South Asia 5. Internal Migration in India 6. Migration and Social Conflict.


  1. Introduction to Migration in India
  2. Migrations into South Asia
  3. Emigration from South Asia
  4. International Migration within South Asia
  5. Internal Migration in India
  6. Migration and Social Conflict  

1. Introduction to Migration in India:

Only a small proportion of India’s people live outside their place of birth or that of their spouses. Rural-to-urban migration is modest. The majority of India’s urban are locally born, not migrants. Between 1981 and 1991, only 13 million grated to India’s cities and towns, a little more than 2 per cent of India’s rural population! Only 3.5 per cent of the total population lives in another state.

Less than 1 per cent was b0rn in another country within the region. The number of people of South Asian descent living outside South Asia constitute between 1 and 2 per cent of the population of the subcontinent.


Small as these flows are in percentage terms, the effects on both sending and receiving communities are substantial, and concerns over population movements loom large in Indian political discourse and in India’s external relations. The government of Mumbai, for example, has proposed closing the city to migrants in order to arrest the city’s high rate of population growth.

The governing political party in Assam has pressed for closing the borders with Bangladesh and has threatened secession if the central government fails to halt illegal migration from that country. The Bharatiya Janta Party, India’s largest parliamentary party, has called for revising the constitution to eliminate restrictions on the purchase of land in Kashmir so that non-Kashmiris can settle in the state.

There has been opposition to the constructions of dams and other development projects that result in forced population displacement. The protection of In4ians abroad has been a source of contention between India and Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Uganda, and the United Kingdom (UK), and flows of refugees and illegal migrants have b6en an issue between India and Bhutan and Bangladesh.

The determinants and principal effects of population movements in India and its South Asian neighbours and the political controversies surrounding these flows.


It is divided into five sections: migrations into South Asia, a historical overview; emigration from South Asia, both historically and in recent years; international migration within South Asia, particularly the flow of refugees and illegal migrants across national boundaries in the region; internal migration in India, including an analysis of the role of migration in urban growth, rural-to-rural migration, inter-state migration, and forced population displacement.

2. Migrations into South Asia:

Population movements into the Indian subcontinent, starting in the middle of the second millennium BC and continuing through the nineteenth century, altered the social structure, culture, and political systems of the region and its subsequent historical development. Though the magnitude of these movements and in some instances even their origins are unknown, their legacies were often substantial and enduring.

The earliest known population flows consisted of the Aryans, a pastoral people who migrating from Iran through Afghanistan to north-west India starting around 1500 bc and eventually displaced the local Indus valley culture.

The principal Aryan deities, Shiva and Vishnu, subsequently became the basis of popular Hindu worship, and Sanskrit, the language of the Aryan religious text, the Rig Veda, was the progenitor of the Indo-Aryan languages of northern India.


A thousand years later, in the fourth century bc, Alexander the Great led his Greek army through Persia and Afghanistan into the lower Swat valley of Pakistan and then across the Indus to the Ganges, turning back only when his troops refused to go any further. His legacy was the Greek Bactrian kingdom, extending from Iran through Afghanistan to the upper reaches of the Indus, including portions of the Punjab.

Subsequently there were other invasions from West Asia and Central Asia into north-west and northern India: the Scythians (known in India as the Sakas) who replaced the Greeks in Bactria and subsequently occupied the Sind; the Yue-chi (as they were called by the Chinese) from Central Asia, one of whose rulers, Kanishka, patronized Buddhism and extended his power from his capital in Peshawar to Mathura; and Arabs from Baghdad who conquered the Sind and portions of the Punjab in the eight century; Turkish invaders of Afghanistan and north­west India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries who extended their power into Delhi in the thirteenth century; and the Central Asian conquest of northern India by Babur in the sixteenth century and the subsequent consolidation of Mughal rule under Akbar.

An important feature of these invasions is that the invaders became Indian, governed from within India, and were subsequently absorbed into the Indian population. They also displaced existing rulers and imposed or propagated new cultural forms.

The arts of Gandhara and Mathura, the Lodi and Mughal gardens, Rajput miniatures, and Indo-Saracenic architecture are among the cultural products of the interaction of local inhabitants with their invaders.

Under Turkish and Mughal rule, Persian became the language of administration, large numbers of people in north-western India, the Gangetic plain and Bengal converted to Islam, and Urdu evolved out of Persian and Hindi to become the language of north India’s Muslims.

Many features of British colonial rule—the system of local administration, land taxation, the state monopoly on salt, the use of an official state language, and the relationship between the British administration and the princely states—were influenced by earlier Mughal practices.

Other migrant communities came not as part of invading armies, but as merchants and traders or as religious minorities in search of protection. The Parsis, for example, fled Islamic rule in Persia and settled in Mumbai and Surat where they became prominent in commerce, finance, industry, and in civic life.

Arab traders (known as the Moplah) settled on India’s south­west coast. Other small immigrant communities included the Iraqi Jews, Syrian Christians, Armenians, Chinese, and, in recent times, German Jews fleeing Nazi rule.

India’s social order of ranked endogamous castes based on conceptions of consanguinity and purity enabled many of the immigrant communities to find a place within the social system without surrendering their community identity.

Some of the immigrant communities became Hindu castes while others stayed outside the Hindu social order retaining their cultural practices and often their language. The result was not a process of acculturation or assimilation in which immigrant populations simply adopted the local culture and disappeared as a distinctive community, but rather a process that M.N. Srinivas described as becoming part of the Indian mosaic.

In contrast, the European invaders who came to India from the sixteenth century onwards did not become part of the Indian mosaic. Unlike the earlier invaders, Europeans governed from outside and, with few exceptions, did not permanently settle and become Indian.

The opening of the Suez canal enabled British merchants, missionaries, government officials, and military officers to leave their spouses in the UK and to return home on completion of their assignment. While some Portuguese, French, and British spent their lives in India, rarely did their children and grandchildren stay on, except those with Indian wives.

3. Emigration from South Asia

The earliest known emigration from the Indian land mass was to nearby Sri Lanka in the last half of the first millennium B.C. The migrants, who are believed to have come from north­eastern India, subsequently developed their own Indo-Aryan language (Sinhalese) and converted to Buddhism.

Tamil speakers from south India also migrated to Sri Lanka where they retained their language, their Hindu identity, and their caste structure.

A succession of Tamil and Sinhalese rulers controlled different parts of the island, and while the two communities were often intermixed, what ultimately emerged was a bifurcated society with two communities of migrant origin, each with its own history, language, religion, and distinctive identity.

Starting in the first century B.C, when navigators understood the annual monsoon blowing from the Red Sea to the west coast of India, there was gradual expansion in commercial traffic between Egypt and India, especially from west to east. India traded spices, silks, perfumes, tortoise shells, ivory, pearls, and precious stones, in return for metallic currency.

There is, however, no evidence of any significant movement of people in either direction. A substantial sea traffic also developed between India’s eastern ports and South-east Asia, or what became known as Greater India. Indian cultural influence penetrated Cambodia, the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, Java, and Bali.

The influence was from Brahmin missionaries and traders rather than through any large-scale colonization by Indian migrants. Indian cultural influence was considerably dampened by the Muslim defeat of the sea-faring Tamil kingdom of Vijayanagar in the sixteenth century, and then by the spread of Islam to the entire Malay Archipelago.

Again, there is no evidence of any significant flow of migrants from India to Malaysia and Indonesia.

It was not until the nineteenth century that there was a significant flow of emigrants from India. The principal reason for that flow was the establishment of the system of indentured labour. British planters in the colonies, faced with a labour shortage resulting from the abolition of slavery, turned to British India for low-wage workers.

Between 1830 and 1916 an estimated one million Indians went abroad, mostly as indentured labourers.

About half went to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations, the others to Mauritius, Natal, Malaya, Fiji, and East Africa. Many of the migrants came from western Bihar and eastern UP, regions of famine, land evictions, and unemployment.

Contracts provided for return passage after five years, but the bulk of the migrants chose to remain abroad as ex-indentured labourers, selling their labour at higher prices. Their numbers were increased by the arrival of voluntary ‘passenger’ migrants, usually workers or merchants who paid their own expenses in search of jobs, higher wages, or opportunities for creating businesses.

The number of Indians who went abroad was a small percentage of the Indian population, but they often constituted a large percentage of the population of the receiving countries. By 1871, approximately 70 per cent of the population of Mauritius was Indian and by the early part of the twentieth century, half the population of Fiji was Indian.

The demography, economy, and in some instances the politics of Trinidad, British Guyana, Malaya, Sri Lanka, and Natal were transformed by Indian immigrants.

By the end of British rule, a considerable proportion of the overseas Indian population had become shopkeepers, professionals, and salaried workers. Though most of the Indian immigrants came with little human capital (in the form of education or specialized skills), they had considerable cultural capital.

Their high savings rates, willingness to take risks by starting small businesses, concern for their children’s future, work habits, and cohesion were factors in their subsequent high levels of achievement.

In this respect the Indian immigrant experience was similar to that of several other global migrant communities such as the Chinese, Jews, Italians, Japanese, and Germans, who were successful almost irrespective of where they settled or how limited their formal education and skills.

When the British empire came to an end, Indian migrant communities were under siege almost everywhere. Several newly independent nationalist-minded regimes sought to repatriate the immigrant communities, whom they regarded as having been imposed upon them without their consent by a colonial government.

They hoped to provide more employment opportunities for the native middle classes by nationalizing trade and financial services and for the local laboring classes by nationalizing plantations. Many members of the new governing elites also had a deep distrust of money-lenders and middlemen engaged in trade, and of all ‘foreigners’.

The government of Uganda pursued the toughest policy by expelling Indians and Pakistanis, including many who were citizens of Uganda. Most settled in the UK and some in Canada, Australia, India, and the United States.

Britain had initially declared that its borders would be open to citizens of Commonwealth countries, but with the substantial exodus of Ugandan Asians to the UK, the British government reformulated its immigration and citizenship laws.

There was a similar expulsion from Myanmar where a large proportion of the Indians were, as in East Africa, middlemen traders, shopkeepers, and money-lenders. Many, who were of south Indian origin, resettled in Tamil Nadu.

The exodus from Sri Lanka was more controlled. The Sri Lankan government disenfranchised the Indian Tamil tea plantation workers and following several years of complex negotiations, the governments of India and Sri Lanka agreed that 525,000 plantation labourers would return to India, 300,000 would be granted Sri Lankan citizenship, and the disposition of the remaining 150,000 would be a matter for future negotiations.

Migrants of Indian origin now form a majority, or are the largest ethnic group, in three countries outside of South Asia: Mauritius, Fiji, and Guyana. (In recent years there has been some emigration of Indians from Fiji, following a coup by the Fiji-dominated military against an Indian-dominated elected government).

In Trinidad and Tobago Indians constitute 40 per cent of the population as against 43 per cent of Blacks, and in Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka they are more than 10 per cent of the total population.

Members of the Indian diaspora generally maintain their cultural identity, including norms of endogamy, their religious practices, and in some countries, their language. They have been active in national politics in Mauritius, Guyana, Fiji, and Trinidad and Tobago, although the tendency has been for Indians to first establish themselves in the economy and only later seek political office.

In this respect the Indian immigrant community follows a well-established pattern of several other economically successful global migrant communities. Since 1947 there have been three new migration streams from South Asia: to Great Britain; to the United States; and to the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf.

The United Kingdom permitted free immigration for all Commonwealth citizens until 1962 when the Commonwealth Immigrants Act came into force. Though the number of South Asians migrating to the UK was initially small, a chain migration enabled friends and relatives to follow.

Even after the legislation was passed, many immigrants from the subcontinent were able to enter. By 1991, people of South Asian origin in the UK numbered 15 million, about half of the non-white ethnic minority population. It should be noted, however, that by the early 1990s over half of the ethnic minorities in the UK were locally born.

Migration to the United States of America from South Asia was made possible with the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act. Every country was allocated 20,000 visas annually, with preferences for individuals with high levels of education and skills for family members.

The result has been a steady flow of immigrants from South Asia. Between 1965 and 1992, 548,000 Indians came to the United States and by the mid-1990s the total number of Indians in the United States, including their locally born children, was around 1 million, with major concentrations in Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.

The third emigration stream was to the oil-producing states of the Persian Gulf. With the rise in oil prices in the early 1970s, the Gulf states invested heavily in infrastructure, industries, and education and health services.

The Gulf states had unusual demographic and economic profiles for developing countries: small populations, exceptionally low labour-participation rates (with few women in the labour force), high per capita incomes, and labour shortage.

To meet the demand for labour, the Gulf states imported immigrant guest workers, particularly from Asia. Though the migrants formed only a small proportion of the labour force of the sending countries, they constituted a large proportion of the labour force in the Gulf.

By the late 1980s, foreign workers were 39 per cent of the labour force in Bahrain, 45 per cent in Oman, 71 per cent in Kuwait, 81 per cent in Qatar, and 85 per cent in the United Arab Emirates.

The largest number of foreign workers, 1.7 million out of the 3.6 million Asian guest workers in the Gulf states, was in Saudi Arabia. Sixty-three per cent of the Gulf migrants were from Asia, and of these South Asia was the principal source.

All three migration streams were the result of the policies of the receiving countries and in each case such migration chains were established that enabled relatives and friends to join the overseas migrants. There have been a variety of social costs associated with the emigration of males, when wives and children are left behind, but there have also been considerable benefits.

The remittances sent by workers in the Gulf countries more than made up for the increased costs of importing oil. Indeed, the remittances from the Gulf countries and from non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the US and the UK, estimated at over US $ 3 billion annually, prevented India from having a balance-of-payments crisis when the country’s imports rose faster than its exports.

It was not until the early 1990s, when remittances dropped as a result of the Iraqi war, that India experienced a severe financial crisis, so severe that the government was forced to open the economy to foreign investors and initiate a process of economic liberalization.

The regions from which the migrants to the Gulf came, most notably Kerala and Goa, experienced a housing boom, a reduction in unemployment, a rise in local wages, and increased investment by families in food, medical care, and education of children.

There has also been a significant flow of technology to India from non-resident Indians in the US and other advanced industrial countries. The expansion of the software industry in Bangalore, for example, has in part been made possible by Indians educated in the US, often holders of green cards who preferred to start their own firms in India rather than take lesser positions in Silicon Valley.

As a matter of policy, the Indian government has promoted investment in India by non­resident Indians, a policy supported even by those who are otherwise critical of direct foreign investment. Indian government officials no longer complain of a brain drain.

The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi captured the changed mood and said that he regarded Indians abroad as a bank ‘from which one could make withdrawals from time to time’.

Though, in the main, the ties between India and the diaspora community in the West have been helpful to India, there has been a downside in the form of support for secessionist movements in Kashmir and in the Punjab by Kashmiri Muslims and Sikhs living in the UK, Canada, and the US. There has also been a flow of money from non-resident Indians to Hindu nationalist organizations within India.

Future ties between the Indian diaspora and India depend in part upon whether the locally born children of migrants are completely assimilated into their host countries, whether the present migration stream to the West will continue, and how central to their cultural and political identity do migrants and their descendants continue to regard their homeland?

4. International Migration within South Asia

South Asia has had some of the largest population movements across national boundaries of any region in the world. Approximately 35 to 40 million people have moved between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan since 1947, some as economic migrants, and a greater number as refugees.

These population movements can be categorized into three types: peoples rejected by governments or by majority ethnic communities engaged in ethnic cleansing; political refugees from repressive regimes; and illegal migrants.

The largest single flow within South Asia—and perhaps the largest international flow in world history—took place in 1947 after the partition of India. An estimated six to seven million Muslims moved from India to Pakistan and nearly eight million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to India.

The massive refugee flows or, as they might be more benignly described, the population exchange, took place under violent conditions. On each side of the border ethnic groups massacred one another, seized property, and forced flight in an effort to create more ethnically homogeneous regions.

When the massacres ended—some have put the death toll as high as half a million—and the population flows subsided, Pakistan’s Punjab and Sind provinces were almost entirely Muslim, while India’s Punjab was almost entirely Hindu and Sikh.

In Pakistan the refugees (known as mohajirs), mostly Urdu-speaking Muslims from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Gujarat, were initially a powerful political force, forming the core leadership in the national government and in the governing Muslim League as the founders of the new state.

Subsequently the mohajirs lost their national political power and were reduced in status to an ethnic minority in the province of Sind where they formed their own political party (known as the MQM) in opposition to the local Sindhi population.

In India, the Hindu and Sikh refugees did not become a distinct ethnic or political group, although many of the Hindu refugees became ardent supporters of the anti-Pakistan Jan Sangh (later the Bharatiya Janata Party), and many of the Sikh refugees advocated the creation of an independent Punjab or Khalistan.

Policies of ethnic cleansing forced the exodus of minorities elsewhere in or to South Asia. An estimated 900,000 Indians left Myanmar for India in 1948 and 1949 and in the mid-1960s when the Burmese government nationalized trade, industry, banking, and commerce, thereby depriving Indian middlemen of their property and income.

In addition to the Indian tea estate workers in Sri Lanka who lost their citizenship and returned to India, an estimated 200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils fled to India when a civil war erupted over the demand by the Tamils for an independent state.

Following the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1972, nearly 200,000 Biharis who had earlier migrated to what had been East Pakistan were repatriated to Pakistan, but another 300,000 stateless Biharis remained stranded in Bangladesh, denied entry by Pakistan and denied citizenship by the Government of Bangladesh.

There was a flight into Bangladesh of Muslims across the Burmese border, bilingual Bengali and Burmese-speaking descendants of agricultural labourers (known as Rohingya) who had migrated to the Arakan region of Myanmar from Bengal in the nineteenth century when the borders were not clearly demarcated or regulated.

In the 1970s, land disputes developed between the Burmese and the Bengali-speaking Muslims. The Burmese government, claiming that many of the Muslims had only recently migrated to Myanmar, refused to provide them with national registration certificates, and frightened unregistered Muslims fled to Bangladesh.

Land disputes also played a role in the flight from Bangladesh to India of the Chakmas, an indigenous non-Bengali-speaking Sino-Tibetan Buddhist tribal community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The CHT had been closed to land purchases by non-Chakmas until 1964 when the Government of Pakistan ended the special status of the region as an ‘excluded area’.

When thousands of Bengali families settled in the tracts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and plans were under way to settle another quarter of a million Bengalis, the Chakmas formed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peoples Solidarity Association which called for regional autonomy, the restitution of all lands taken by Bengali immigrants since the 1970, and a ban on further immigration.

When their demands were rejected, the Chakmas launched an armed insurrection and, as the conflict escalated, many Chakmas fled across the border to Tripura and Mizoram.

The largest flight from a politically repressive regime was in 1971 when the military regime in Pakistan refused to permit the Awami League of East Pakistan from forming a national government after it won a majority of seats in elections to the National Assembly.

Denied political power, the Awami League sought independence for Bangladesh, and in the ensuing civil war an estimated 8—10 million refugees fled to India, the bulk returning to their homes a year later after Bangladesh became independent. The massive influx of refugees into India was a significant factor in India’s decision to invade Pakistan in an effort to ‘liberate’ Bangladesh and return the refugees.

Another massive refugee flow occurred in South Asia after December 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. An estimated three million refugees (mujahiddin or ‘freedom fighters’) fled to Pakistan where they were given identity cards, rations, and armed support by the Pakistan government.

Though Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the war continued as a civil conflict among the various mujahiddin groups.

The impact of the Afghan warrior refugees went well beyond Afghanistan. Arms intended for the mujahiddin entered the Pakistan arms markets where they were purchased by ethnic groups in conflict with one another.

The ‘Kalashnikov culture’ turned ethnic disputes between Sindhis and mohajirs in Karachi into armed street battles. Afghan arms and mujahiddin also became an element in the conflict between Kashmiris and the Indian government.

A relatively small flow of refugees from Tibet to India in the 1950s has had large geopolitical consequences for relations between India and China. A protest movement in Tibet, an insurrection, and the suppression of the rebellion by Chinese troops in the late 1950s proved to be a turning point in Indo-Chinese relations.

Though India neither armed the refugees nor supported independence or autonomy for Tibet, the Chinese have been displeased by the presence of the Dalai Lama in India and the international recognition that he has received.

In an effort to strengthen their control over Tibet, the Chinese military built an access road through the disputed territory of Ladakh; the result was a forward response by the Indian military, and then outright warfare between India and China over both Ladakh and disputed territories in India’s north-east.

Apart from politically induced movements, many migrants have illegally moved across the international borders in South Asia in search of land and jobs. The partition of India in 1947, which involved the partition of both Bengal and Assam, did not halt the flow of East Bengalis into Assam for land and employment as agricultural labourers, a flow which had begun in the nineteenth century.

As the migration continued, accelerating in the early 1970s, the Assamese became concerned they would be demographically overwhelmed and might lose political control over the state.

When the Indian government failed to take adequate measures to seal the borders, a majority of Assamese gave their support to the Ahom Gana Parishad, a political party formed by anti-migrant student leaders who called for the expulsion of Bangladeshis, closed borders, and greater autonomy for the state.

A similar movement against migrants erupted in nearby Bhutan over the presence of Nepalese migrants from eastern Nepal, a region with little arable land and a high population growth rate.

As the number of Nepalese migrants increased, the Bhutanese feared that the influx would result in a loss of cultural and political control for them as had already occurred in Sikkim, and that they too would become a minority in their own land.

In the late 1980s, the Government of Bhutan adopted measures against the teaching of Nepali in schools, enforced Dzongkha as the official language, proscribed Nepali and Indian dress, and declared that residents of Bhutan who could not prove they came before 1958 must leave the country. The result was a substantial exodus of Bhutanese of Nepali origin into West Bengal and eastern Nepal.

The only legally open borders in South Asia are between Nepal and India under the terms of the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950 and the Tripartite Delhi agreement of 1951. Indians have settled on land in the terai and taken jobs in the Kathmandu valley, while many Nepalese have found jobs all over India, especially in the north-east.

There has been relatively little opposition to Nepalese presence in India, but there is considerable disquiet in Nepal over the presence of Indians where their numbers, in proportion to the local Nepalese population, are quite large.

There are an estimated three to four million Indians in Nepal, and 1.5 million Nepalese in India. Critics in Nepal argue that Indians displace local people in the labour market, that ‘Indianization’ erodes popular commitment to Nepal as a sovereign state and to Nepalese culture, and that Indians have become so numerous that they have become the swing force in Nepal’s tug of war between the monarch and political parties.

Notwithstanding the presence of boundaries separating the countries of South Asia, borders are porous. There are few natural boundaries separating one country from another (with the exception of Sri Lanka from India).

Boundaries are long, not easily patrolled by the military, and often heavily populated on both sides. In some instances, people on each side of the border share with one another a common language or religion and a sense of common identity, though they are citizens of different countries.

Individuals who illegally cross borders can often slip into the local community among friends and relatives, and then find employment. The countries of South Asia do not have any effective systems for identifying their own citizens.

Only recently have several countries initiated a system of registration of citizens and in no case is the system yet universal. Agriculturalists and urban employers are not required to check on the legal status of those they hire, and illegal immigrants sometimes have local political allies who can prevent the government from forcing repatriation.

Shortly after independence, governments in South Asia were receptive to refugee flows which they regarded as a kind of ‘return’ migration or an exchange of populations associated with the process of state formation.

However, most of the current international migrations within South Asia are perceived by governments and by many of their citizens as threatening, particularly when migration changes the linguistic or religious composition of the receiving locality.

Moreover, even the influx of refugees from the same ethnic or religious community may be regarded with concern if it indicates that the community is being ill-treated in its own country and is likely to become a burden on the host society and government.

Thus the influx of Sri Lankan Tamils into south India, Burmese Muslims into Bangladesh, and the Nepalese from Bhutan to Nepal has alarmed the host countries. Host communities have also been at risk when refugees are armed, as was the case with the Afghans who expanded an illegal drug traffic, ran a vast smuggling operation from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and sold arms to local ethnic leaders.

Similarly, when the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers lost the support of the Indian government, they turned against India and assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Looking to the future, one can anticipate two possible scenarios. The countries of the region may open their borders to one another, following the model of Nepal and India, New Zealand and Australia, Germany and Poland, Ireland and Britain, and the countries of the European Union.

An alternative scenario is that the states in South Asia may look for improved ways to control entry by strengthening border patrols, introducing identity documents, press­ing their neighbours to regulate exit, repatriating illegal migrants, and inducing refugees to return home.

This is a more likely scenario though it will make it more difficult to reduce barriers to trade and is likely to strain political relations between states in the region. A third option is that they may do nothing, accepting the illegal flows and the refugees as undesirable but also as uncontrollable, focusing (if at all) on the political management of their domestic consequences.

5. Internal Migration in India:

a. Migration and Urban Growth:

India has experienced a high rate of urban growth but a low rate of urbanization. This paradox, as we shall see, is explained by the high rate of natural population growth. In 1995,240 million people lived in India’s urban areas (25.7 per cent of total population), more than the total population of all but the three largest countries of the world.

Several Indian cities are among the world’s largest: Mumbai with 12.6 million people, Kolkata with 10.9 million, and Delhi with 8.4 million. According to the Census of India, India’s urban population was 62.4 million in 1951, 78.9 million in 1961, 109.1 million in 1971, 159.5 million in 1981, and 217.2 million in 1991.

In the last three decades India’s urban population has increased by 138 million. Indian cities are characterized by vast squatter settlements; high levels of unemployment; high levels of pollution; inadequate sanitation; shortages of drinking water; a high incidence of disease, malnutrition, and infant mortality; low literacy rates; and much child labour. But little of this can be accounted for by migration.

Though there has been a great deal of urban growth, urbanization (the percentage of population that lives in urban areas) has increased more slowly in India than in many other developing countries or in most of Europe and the United States in the nineteenth century. Only 18 per cent of India’s population lived in urban areas in 1961, 19.9 per cent in 1971, 23.3 per cent in 1981, and 25.7 per cent in 1991.

In the decade 1981-91 India’s urban population increased by 58.7 million, or 36.2 per cent but only 22 per cent (13 million) of the urban growth was the result of rural-urban migration, while 61 per cent was the result of natural increase and the balance because of the reclassification of localities from rural to urban.

Only a tiny fraction of India’s 627 million rural population migrated to urban areas; in fact, the rate of urbanization during 1981-91 was actually lower than in the previous decade.

The low rate of rural-urban migration indicates that India’s rapid rural population growth, increased rural land density, deforestation, rural unemployment, low rural wages, and rural poverty have not resulted in a push towards the cities.

Indeed, several states with high natural population increases (Rajasthan and Bihar) had low rates of rural-urban migration from 1981 to 1991 and some states with high urbanization rates between 1971 and 1981 had low urbanization rates between 1981 and 1991, without significant changes in their natural population increase.

Population density is also not a good predictor of rural-urban migration. Some states with high population densities (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) have a low level of urbanization, while two less densely populated states (Gujarat and Maharashtra) are the most urbanized. Nor is there any evidence that rural poverty is driving people out of the countryside.

Three of India’s poorest states—Bihar, Orissa, and Assam—are only half as urbanized as the country as a whole. Only in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and West Bengal does migration contribute as much or almost as much to the increase in urban population as does natural population growth, while in Tamil Nadu and Bihar the growth of urban centres is no greater than natural population growth for the state as a whole.

The major urban centres that have shown the highest population growth are districts surrounding Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai, and Ahmedabad, areas with substantial in­dustrial and commercial activities. The growth of India’s twenty-three metropolitan urban agglomerations with a population of more than one million each was 67.7 per cent during 1981-91, twice that of urban India as a whole.

However, the territory of the urban agglom­erations for 1991 is nor the same as for 1981. For example, the population of Greater Mumbai grew from 8.2 million in 1981 to 12.6 million in 1991 mainly due to the addition of five urban areas to Greater Mumbai. Data from the 1991 Census on the contribution of migration to the growth of the metropolitan areas, as distinct from jurisdictional changes, are not yet available.

In many of the largest cities (including Chennai, Calcutta, Kanpur, Nagpur, Jaipur, Lucknow, and Hyderabad) migrants accounted for no more than one-third of the urban population. The 1991 Census reported that there were only a few large cities—Surat, Faridabad, Bhopal, Aurangabad, Ludhiana, and Lucknow—in which migration accounted for as much of the growth as did the natural population increase.

The deterioration of many of India’s urban centres lies less in migration than in an urban growth that has not been matched by public or private expenditures in power, water, sanitation, and public transportation.

The low rate of rural-urban migration in India, and the high turnover rate, is an indication that urban areas are not expanding rapidly enough economically to provide employment opportunities for India’s growing rural population. Opportunities for employment in the cities, even in the informal sector, remain too limited to induce more than a small number of rural dwellers to migrate to them.

Many rural dwellers migrate to the cities in search of employment but after a few months, or a year or two, return to their villages.

As many as a third of the migrants living in India’s urban areas have resided there for less than four years and 15 per cent of the male migrants residing in rural India reported that they last lived in an urban area; these figures indicate that millions of Indians move into and out of cities for short-term employment.

Migrants remit a high proportion of their income to family members in their villages. The social organization of migrants in cities is built around the need to keep expenditures down and savings high by spending as little as possible on housing and consumption.

Many male migrants, therefore, live in dormitory-like shacks in densely populated squatter areas— a mode of settlement that accounts for what has sometimes been inaccurately described as the ‘ruralization of urban areas’.

The inability or unwillingness of many local governments to provide services (such as sanitation, water, electric power, and primary schools) to squatter settlements contributes to their squalid conditions. The hypothesis that out-migration from rural areas results from a lack of development and that rural development will therefore induce people to remain in place is not supported by evidence from India.

Punjab is the most agriculturally developed state in India with a per capita state domestic product almost double the national average—the result of better irrigation facilities, mechanization, fertilizer use, and new farming techniques. The increased demand for agricultural labour during cultivation and harvesting time is met by migrants from rural areas of Bihar and eastern Utter Pradesh.

A field survey in Ludhiana and Jalandhar districts of Punjab conducted by the Population Research Centre of Punjab University in Chandigarh found that the rate of out-migration from rural to urban areas has been increasing notwithstanding the increase in income and the growing availability of non-agricultural occupations in rural areas.

Indeed, the study reported a high correlation between the growth of the non-agricultural sector and out-migration. Rural development, along with an increase in education, has spurred rather than slowed down out-migration.

A similar study conducted in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of Konkan in Maharashtra, a region with a low level of economic development that is nonetheless a traditional area of out-migration, reports that out-migration is primarily from the relatively well-developed tahsil where there are direct transport links to Mumbai.

The evidence from these two studies, and others conducted elsewhere in India, supports findings from developing rural regions elsewhere in the world that improvements in rural education, transportation, and income are a stimulant to rural-urban migration.

In case India’s economic reforms lead to a significant growth in industrial employment in the next decade or, for that matter, substantial development in rural areas occurs, we can anticipate increased rural-urban migration and a higher urbanization rate.

b. Rural to Rural Migration:

Though the censuses report that nearly 30 per cent of the Indian rural population consists of migrants—a higher proportion of migrants, incidentally, than for most urban areas—the bulk of the migrants are female who have migrated to join their husbands.

The high number of females among rural migrants (113.6 million, compared with 32.8 million male migrants) is principally the result of marriage. Caste endogamy, combined with village exogamy, leads most married women in rural areas to change their residences.

Marriage migration is typically to nearby villages in the same district or to districts in the same state. Only 6 per cent of India’s rural female migrants moved to another state.

Among the nearly 33 million rural male migrants, one of every six has moved to a rural area of another state, more than one out of four to a district within the same state, and more than half have moved within the same district. During the cultivation and harvest seasons there is large-scale migration of agricultural workers, particularly when there are substantial wage differentials between one agricultural region and another.

High wage differentials, as for example between East Champaran in Bihar and Jalandhar, a prosperous agricultural district in Punjab, have resulted in an annual migration stream of migrant groups (toils) organized by a tolidar as part of a contract labour system, in which the petty contractor finds employment for the group in return for a percentage of the labourer’s daily wages.

The flows are not because East Champaran has surplus labour or because of seasonal harvesting, but reflects the higher wages that are offered in Punjab. With both Bihari and Punjabi farmers competing for the limited labour supply, wages have risen in both East Champaran and in Jalandhar.

6. Inter-State Migration:

More than 95 per cent of all Indians live in the states in which they were born and most have never lived outside their own districts. As noted, Indian women move within or across districts primarily for reasons of marriage, a movement that reinforces community rather than creating cultural diversity.

In 1981, only 24 million Indians (3.5 per cent of the population) resided outside of the states of their birth, plus another 7.7 million who originated from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and other countries.

Even when a community attracts migrants from another state for employment, the result need not be greater cultural heterogeneity Migrants, for example, who move between the Hindi-speaking states generally speak the same language and share similar customs and cultural outlook.

India is, by and large, a land of native peoples. Statistically speaking, most of India’s men are born, go to school (if they go to school), work, marry, and die in the same community and their wives come from other villages within the district or nearby districts.

The cultural diversity that obviously does exist in most of the Indian states is, with some important exceptions, only marginally the result of contemporary migrations. Religious minorities and tribes are dispersed throughout the country State boundaries do not coincide with linguistic boundaries and there are numerous linguistic groups that do not have a state of their own.

Historic migrations (sometimes hundreds of years ago) have created enclaves of communities that maintain their distinctive identities.

And though inter-state migration is statistically small for the country as a whole, a few states (or their cities) do have many migrants from other states or from outside India—namely Maharashtra, Assam, Punjab, West Bengal, Tripura, and Delhi. Telugu- , Bengali- , Kannada- , Marwari- , and Punjabi-speaking communities can readily be found outside their ‘home’ states.

Chain migrations are readily established wherever a migrant community has an established beach head. Thus there are migration streams from selected districts of Bangladesh into Assam, from selected Konkani- , Tamil- , Telugu- , and Hindi-speaking communities into Mumbai, from coastal Andhra Pradesh to Hyderabad, and from Hindi-speaking districts in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh to particular districts in Punjab.

The movement of people from one cultural linguistic region to another does not necessarily lead to conflict, but such migrations tend to shape a sense of ethnic identity among the migrants and within the local population.

Groups that once identified themselves, if at all, on the basis of religion or caste, may become aware of their linguistic identity because of the presence of others speaking another language. Tribes become aware of their distinctiveness when they interact with non-tribals, or with other tribes.

The entrance of migrants from another region may lead the autochthonous population to create for itself an identity based on an exclusive claim to its own territory. In short, migration may be an important element in the social construction of an identity

Material interests play a role in this process. Tribals faced with an influx of immigrants may fear the loss of identity, but they also fear the loss of land and the destruction of their forest reserves; the local middle class may fear that educated immigrants are successfully competing for employment; students may be concerned that they are losing admissions into the university to applicants from other regions; the migration may be sufficiently large so that members of the local community fear they are in danger of losing political control of their local government. The movement of entrepreneurs from one region to another sometimes results in intense competition with local entrepreneurs.

Resentment against migrants from other regions became a political force in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of ‘sons of the soil’ movements, political movements representing indigenous ethnic groups.

The economic context for these movements was the slow growth of employment, resulting in increasing competition between the nascent local middle classes and migrants who dominated jobs in the modern sector as government officials, shopkeepers, clerks, and professionals.

The ‘sons of the soil’ movement took a violent turn in Assam, where local Assamese attacked Bengalis, many of whom had migrated illegally from Bangladesh; there were similar anti-migrant movements in Mumbai, Karnataka, and the Chota Nagpur region of southern Bihar.

Though violent attacks against migrants have been less common than clashes between castes and religious communities, several anti-migrant political parties have won considerable local support in some states, most notably the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the Ahom Gana Parishad in Assam, and the Jharkhand Party in southern Bihar.

India’s caste system makes it unlikely that those who migrate from one linguistic region to another will be assimilated into the local community. The ethnic enclaves and ethnic division of labour inherent in most migrations across ethno-linguistic lines is perpetuated in India by the practice of communities marrying within their own castes, since castes are bound by linguistic region.

One result is that throughout India there are enclaves of communities that migrated into another region generations ago, who preserve their identity and their language. Migrants may acquire the local language, usually as their second or third language, but marriage to a member of another linguistic community (and hence to another caste) continues to remain uncommon.

The rate of inter-state migration in India is likely to remain low unless the present market-oriented reforms result in a significant growth in disparities in wages and employment opportunities across regions. The prospects of higher lifetime earnings and better career prospects are particularly likely to induce greater mobility among those with high levels of education (Bhat 1993).

Forced Population Displacement:

Under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, amended in 1984, the Government of India can acquire land for public purposes and for companies. This acquisition may be for the construction of multi-purpose irrigation dams, forest reserves, sanctuaries and national parks, mining, and construction of canals, highways and transmission lines.

According to the Ministry of Rural Development (1996) no less than 15.5 million people were displaced up until 1985. Some activists put the number of displaced at between 20 and 30 million. Forced displacement differs from

Other kinds of migration in that migrants are compelled by law to leave their lands and homesteads or are deprived of their livelihood because of the acquisition of common lands. The affected populations are not only those whose lands and homes have been acquired, but also include tenants, sharecroppers, landless labourers, and others engaged in employment or trade within the acquired area.

The traditional government practice has been to pay financial compensation to those who have lost their property, but not to provide compensation to the very large number of others in the community affected by the acquisition of property.

Moreover, cash compensation has proven inadequate for the rehabilitation of individuals paid for the loss of property when they are unable to find alternative employment. Many Indian sociologists, anthropologists, and social activists have documented the adverse effects of population displacement.

Summarizing this literature Cernea reports that the consequences include landlessness, homelessness, joblessness, marginalization, food insecurity, loss of access to common property assets, increased morbidity and morality and social disarticulation Cernea 1996: 1518; for an unusually comprehensive set of studies by Indian scholars see Economic and Political Weekly.

It is estimated that one-third of those displaced during the last four decades are tribals, for whom dislocation is particularly severe, given the common practice of communal landholding, dependence upon forest lands for livelihood, the non-monetized, non-commercialized nature of many of their economic activities, and the absence of skills for employment in projects.

Indian researchers, advocacy groups and non-government organizations, and militant resistance by the displaced have successfully created a public debate over specific projects, in some instances opposing them, in other instances focusing on the need for resettlement and rehabilitation.

Opposition to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river Narmada in Gujarat, for example, played a significant role in persuading the World Bank to withdraw its financing, though the project continues with support from the state and central governments and from pro-project beneficiaries.

Increasing attention is now being accorded to the rehabilitation of the displaced, besides giving them compensation; developing programmes to restore the living standards and earning capacities of displaced persons; including in rehabilitation programmes all members of the adversely affected community, not only those who lose property; incorporating the financial costs of rehabilitation into a cost-benefit analysis of projects and creating mechanisms for income transfers from beneficiaries to those who have been adversely effected; revising projects so as to minimize dislocation through, for example, lowering the height of proposed dams; paying attention to the relocation of entire communities rather than individuals; and finally, creating a process for population resettlement that includes many of the key social actors such as the affected communities, non-governmental organizations, financial institutions, beneficiaries, agencies that plan and execute projects, and researchers.

One result of the public discussion has been the creation of a Draft National Policy for Rehabilitation aimed at ‘total rehabilitation’ of the displaced, the ’empowerment of project-affected persons’, and the ‘enhancement of human capital’.

Though many of the proposals are not likely to be carried out (land-for-land, for example, or collective resettlement), the most promising of the proposals is that the social and economic costs of displacement will be incorporated into the costing of proposed projects, thereby not only increasing the resources for rehabilitation, but also demonstrating that some of the proposed projects that generate displacement are not economically viable and therefore should not be undertaker.

7. Migration and Social Conflict

The migratory process is inherently conflictual.

Though migration within and across national boundaries is often the result of differential opportunities for employment and higher lifetime income, all too often it is also the result of coercion: attack by one ethnic or religious community against another; involuntary displacement as a result of government acquisition of land; the colonization of one’s territory by outsiders; and forced repatriation across national boundaries.

Migration theory therefore entails an analysis not only of individual decision making, but also the behaviour of social groups, institutions, and policy makers whose actions impel large numbers of people to move. Migration also creates social conflict. Even when both migrants and the communities to which they move benefit economically, the consequences are often social and political conflict.

Migrants may take jobs that others do not want, bring in new technologies and skills that local people do not have, create new services, reclaim waste lands, or make land more productive, but they may also take jobs from others, make demands upon local transportation, medical facilities and education, speak other languages, engage in social, religious and cultural practices that local people find offensive, and encroach on common lands and on private property; Analysts of migration tend to characterize the hostile responses of local people to migrants as xenophobic, racist, and communal, or the result of political elites appealing to the baser qualities of their constituents.

The presumption of such an analysis is that harmonious relations between migrants and natives are normal and conflict exceptional. South Asia’s experiences with migration demonstrate that an analysis of migration requires not only an understanding of their economic determinants and consequences, but of the larger social forces that generate coercion and conflict in the sending and receiving communities.

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