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Stuck In No Man’s Land: Where Do The Migrant Workers Really Belong?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The International Organization for Migration defines a migrant as any person who moves across an international border (external migration) or within a state (internal migration) away from his/her habitual place of residence. Migration denotes this movement of people. The stream of migration is classified on the basis of origin and destination as i) rural-rural, ii) rural-urban, iii) urban-rural and iv) urban-urban or as i) interstate and ii) intrastate.

The Census of India data suggests that India witnesses more internal migration than external migration. As per Census-2011, India had 45.6 crore migrants in 2011 (38% of the population) compared to 31.5 crore migrants in 2001 (31% of the population).

People migrate due to various push and pull factors like demographic, social infrastructure, economic, political and environmental factors. Based on the Census 2011 data, some of the major causes of internal migration in India are as follows:

Representational image.

Economic Causes

The pursuit of better economic opportunities is a major force driving migration in India. Lack of sufficient work opportunities, lower wages, chronic poverty and low consumption in the rural areas act as a push factor for people. The Census of 2011 suggests that around 11.18% of the migration happened due to employment/business reasons. For long, rural-urban migration has been plaguing rural areas but limited efforts from the state haven’t succeeded in curbing it.

MNREGA, 2005 was enacted to provide economic security, creating rural assets, protecting the environment, empowering rural women, reducing rural-urban migration and fostering social equity. But in the last decade, the programme has been suffering from inadequate budgetary allocations, long wage delays and non-payments. Further, the centralisation of the implementing mechanism has weakened the system by reducing the accountability of the local representatives.

COVID-19 has brought to fore the loopholes that MNREGA suffers in dealing with a public emergency.


Uneven population distribution, lack of affordable and quality education forces people to migrate to urban areas and overseas. Census data suggests that the age group between 10-19 accounts for 57.5% of the total migrant population (1.77%) who migrate to pursue a better education. Urban areas have emerged as the centres of modern education with better quality and infrastructure of education.

This pull towards a sophisticated education system is a result of privatisation of education, the concentration of educational infrastructure in certain pockets and the availability of opportunities and future options. One of the areas where the Indian education system has been struggling is primary education. Attempts have been made to ensure equity in educational endeavours through initiatives like the Right to Education Act, Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan, Mid-day Meal Scheme, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, etc.

However, despite these efforts, the school dropout rate has been a concern, especially with the girl child. Lack of proper sanitation facilities, lack of awareness, gender stereotypes, dogmas around teaching girl child haven’t yet been addressed. The National Education Policy 2020 promises to do away with traditional issues but lack of government infrastructure in the rural areas and a greater push for privatisation could still create hurdles in achieving the targets.

MUZAFFARPUR. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visits Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) to review the situation prevailing due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in 2019 in Muzaffarpur, India. Photo by Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Healthcare Facilities

Bihar witnessed two severe spells of acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in the year 2014 and 2019. The government took steps to curb the illness in the state but the 2019 wave exposed all the half-hearted efforts. This was one of the most highlighted issues in the last decade. The onset of COVID-19 unmasked the cracking health infrastructure in India. Reports suggest that with 8.5 hospital beds per 10,000 citizens and eight physicians per 10,000, the country’s healthcare sector is not equipped for such a crisis.

More than 80% population doesn’t have any significant health insurance coverage, and around 68% of Indians have limited/no access to essential medicines. This inequity in access to health care is influenced by social class and geographical location, with rural areas being at the bottom of the pyramid. Reports suggest that the private health sector owns 60% of hospitals and 75% of dispensaries and employs 80% of all qualified doctors in India. According to the National Health Profile (NHP) data, govt. spent a meagre 1.28% of the GDP in health while the average for OECD countries in 2018 was 8.8% of GDP.

Costs And Benefits Of Migration

Migration leads to a significant improvement in the rural economy through increased socio-economic remittances. As a consequence of increased household income and overall wellbeing, aversion of agricultural risks and uncertainty, food and nutrition security is taken care of. But at the same time, migrants struggle to establish themselves in the urban hubs and continuously fight the battle of eroding identity.

The exploitation of the workers, especially women, is covered up in the name of contract labour systems. Migrants lose their state-sponsored entitlements like the access to healthcare, housing benefits, benefits under the PDS as these are not portable across states which compromise their food security and make them vulnerable. While there have been efforts to integrate the migrant aspirations by introducing schemes like One Nation One Ration Card, the execution still remains to be seen.

A huge influx of migrant workers also leads to the growth of ‘urban informal economy’ and ‘urban slums’ marked with poverty and vulnerabilities. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana aimed at financial inclusion but it would be no good if there is a lack of livelihood opportunities for the poor. Similarly, while the intent behind the relief package announced as a COVID-19 response was good, schemes like the PM KISAN would be of no use to the seasonal migrants as a number of them are landless.

The Way Forward

The government could use this COVID-19 distress induced reverse migration as an opportunity to introduce an integrated National Migration Policy to ensure protection for migrant workers and further strengthen the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. A recommendation by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour suggested introducing a social security number for migrant workers, especially those working in the unorganised sectors.

It would help create a protection net for migrant workers by taking care of the conditions of work, terms of employment and access to basic amenities along with ensuring ample employment opportunities for seasonal migrants. The government could aim to strengthen the Skill Development Program as it would enhance the entrepreneurial abilities of the migrant workers who could sell the products and services thus triggering a much needed rural circular economy.

A strong will to resolve migrant issues would help us move away from the rhetoric of “Atma-nirbharta” and achieve social equity.

In Closing

When any crisis affects society, the highest impact is on the population on the bottom of the social pyramid. If this happens frequently, the social system reeks of injustice against the marginalized. Therefore, it’s important to choose your sides carefully!

Featured image source: The New Humanitarian
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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