Migration, Crises, and Social Transformation in India Since the 1990s

Since liberalization, urban migration in India has increased in quantity, but also changed in quality, with permanent marriage migration and temporary, circular employment migration rising, even as permanent economic migration remains stagnant. In this new paper, Smriti  Rao and Vamsi Vakulabharanam understand internal migration in India to be a re-ordering of productive and reproductive labor that signifies a deep transformation of society. This transformation is a response to the combination of agrarian, employment, and social reproduction crises.  The migration patterns support capital accumulation, but create major burdens for a majority of Indians, who are seeking stable, rooted livelihoods.

Abstract

Since liberalization, urban migration in India has increased in quantity, but also changed in quality, with permanent marriage migration and temporary, circular employment migration rising, even as permanent economic migration remains stagnant. We understand internal migration in India to be a re-ordering of productive and reproductive labor that signifies a deep transformation of society. We argue that this transformation is a response to three overlapping crises: an agrarian crisis, an employment crisis, and a crisis of social reproduction. These are not crises for capitalist accumulation, which they enable. Rather, they make it impossible for a majority of Indians to achieve stable, rooted livelihoods.

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