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

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International Migration and Caste Dynamics

Three Villages in Tamil Nadu

The understudied nexus between international migration and caste in Tamil Nadu is examined. The findings indicate that the Backward Classes were the forerunners in benefiting from international migration opportunities. It shows that the trend has gradually influenced the Most Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes. Backward Classes have an edge over the other communities in achieving economic prosperity through international migration. However, left-behind wives who were engaged in income-generation activities were yet to overcome from the practices of caste-based occupation that are still prevalent in villages.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments, as well as Archana Kaushik for her advice in the early stages of this research.

Studies on migration in the Indian context and in other countries suggest that migrants from privileged groups have advantages over less privileged groups (Desai and Dubey 2011). It is imperative to ask if caste, as a systematic ordering of people in a hierarchy (Dhanda 2013), has a role in people’s experience of migration. Caste hierarchy persists through people’s association with their ascribed functional roles, although they have moved out of these roles years back. Caste is maintained through the stratification of people, local integration, specialised occupations and rituals, and marriage within same social hierarchies. Therefore, caste is still alive and influences Indians both in India and abroad (Swapnil 2015).

Higher income and enhancing standard of living are the primary motivating factors for migration of upper castes (Parida and Madheswaran 2011). On the other hand, members of the lower castes generally consider migration as a survival strategy to overcome their distress. In developing countries like India, rural to urban labour migration patterns are socially entrenched. For poor villagers, migration is a strategy to keep themselves and their family above the subsistence level. But findings from Bihar indicated that migration is not the only choice or activity preferred by poor households due to uneven distribution of migration opportunities. Therefore, they are compelled to look for work within the scarce employment opportunities in the village. In various cases, households may not have sufficient agricultural landholdings to feed their family members. In such circumstances too, poor households are supposed to utilise the opportunities in the village economy (Tsujita and Oda 2012).

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Updated On : 28th Feb, 2022
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