The changing face of internal circular migration in Bihar, India

The project’s theoretical framework is informed by debates on the theme of ‘transition’. The question of ‘transition’ from rural to urban, agriculture to industry, traditional to modernity and feudal to capitalist have concerned economists, sociologists, political scientists and historians of different intellectual persuasions. Along these lines, the Harriss-Todero model predicted that urbanization would become a permanent and ‘mainstreamed’ feature of social life, due to migrants’ anticipation of jobs and good quality of life in the  cities.

In the Indian context, there is agreement among scholars (who otherwise draw on very different intellectual traditions) about the incomplete, lopsided and tortuous nature of India’s ‘transition’. The presence of an estimated 100 million internal circular migrants across the country appears to corroborate the notions of incomplete and tortuous ‘transition’. Straddling the spatial domains of rural and urban, and the occupational domain of agriculture and industry, they appear to personify the fractured and ambivalent nature of the ‘transition’. However, their increasing numbers also alert us to the possibilities that the ‘transition’ in the classical sense might never be.

The ‘origin’ of several million of the internal circular migrants from Bihar makes the State an obvious place to focus any empirical research on the ‘transition’, viewed from this perspective. Moreover, the State is currently experiencing rapid rates of urbanization and there is a keen interest in the government to industrialize. There is growing evidence, from ethnographic studies, that agricultural laborers have little interest in farm work. These factors are thought to have contributed to ‘attracting’ rural populations to urban areas more than ever before.

Will the predictions of the Hariss-Todero model finally hold in Bihar?  Are rural populations responding to the growing opportunities in urban Bihar? Are their discernible changes in previous patterns of migration, with urban areas within Bihar emerging as destinations of choice for impoverished rural populations? These questions inform the debate on ‘transition’ in significant ways. Do the socio-economic changes in Bihar represent the broader societal ‘transition’ as understood in the analytic literature? Or are they emblematic of alternative arrangements in which people inhabit the different domains at the same time?

Based on this project, Indrajit intends to develop a research project on political remittances conveyed by internal circular migrants in India.

In the media
07 Feb, 2017
'A combination of aspiration and desperation is fuelling migration in India'. Indrajit Roy interviewed by Hindustan Times
20 Feb, 2017
'What is needed are strong regulations pertaining to wages and conditions at work, which would prevent all workers - local or migrant - from being exploited'. Indrajit Roy quoted in article for Hinudstan Times