ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

COVID-19 and India’s Ongoing Migration Fiasco

Some Lessons for Policy and Research

Drawing on empirical research with migrant populations, this article identifies four interlinked issues critical to understanding and addressing the contemporary migrant crisis that unfolded in India in the wake of COVID-19. These are (i) labour market segmentation by class, caste, and gender; (ii) inaccessibility of urban housing and services that challenge urban survival; (iii) differential access to documentation, which shapes the hierarchies of citizenship; and (iv) ineffective data that lets migrants slip through the gaps of welfare provision.

 

The authors are grateful to the referee for the comments on a previous version of this article.

Over April and May 2020, millions of migrant workers were trapped in Indian cities without any means of earning, in the wake of the swiftly implemented COVID-19 lockdown. These migrants typically work in low-paid jobs without formal contracts,1 such as working as helpers, machine operators, and floor supervisors in factories; pantry workers and janitorial staff in corporate offices; domestic workers and construction labour. They also tend to live in informal settlements or in worksites and lack access to the state-provided social welfare. This interlocking and long-standing set of exclusions has rendered migrant workers invisible to the government and the general public.

As the nightmare of the initial lockdown unfolded, people gathered in public spaces in desperate search of food and, in the absence of public transportation, walked hundreds of kilometres or paid up to a months wage to travel home on overcrowded vehicles. This, hitherto, invisibilised population, which also included many women and children, became the focus of worldwide media attention. The unpreparedness of the central and state governments to respond to the crisis revealed the lack of even the most basic understanding of the dynamics of circular migration, structures of urban employment, and lived experiences of migrants.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Or

To gain instant access to this article (download).


Pay
INR 59

(Readers in India)


Pay
$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.