Takshashila Discussion Document – Migrant Workers in Indian Cities

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By Ananya Rao

This discussion document examines the assimilation of inter-state migrants in India into their host societies and the factors that facilitate and impede this process. While migrant workers face exclusion in urban centres due to a lack of access to basic services and social security and welfare schemes, certain identity markers and the social and economic capital they possess also influences the ease of assimilation. This discussion document analyses four such identity factors, caste, class, education, and language.

Caste identities influence the motives behind why one migrates, which then determine the extent to which migrant workers want to maintain their own identities or assimilate into the culture of the host society. It also determines the degree to which migrant workers are allowed to assimilate into the host society and the barriers they face in this process. Class and education are closely linked as migrants who have had access to little or no education are only employed in unskilled or semi-skilled work. This provides very little economic capital and makes it difficult for them to access services and does not allow for good standards of living. Migrants from higher-socioeconomic classes face less barriers in the assimilation process in comparison to lower classes and the models of exclusionary urbanisation and ‘elite capture’ that cities follow result in spatial segregation on the basis of class with preference given to higher classes. Communication gaps between locals and migrants due to linguistic differences is one of the biggest barriers to assimilation. Additionally, political dynamics at the macro-scale that are organised around or triggered by linguistic differences invariably impact individual people of specific linguistic groups, especially migrants.

The reliance on social networks and the segregation that occurs in industry and in residence based on these identity markers serve as sources of support and security for migrants but also further reinforce their exclusion. However, while these identity markers act as barriers to integration, they can also be used as effective tools to facilitate assimilation into the host society.

Ananya Rao is a bachelor’s student in Sociology and Anthropology at Ashoka University and interned at Takshashila from May to July 2020

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