The proposal is on the condition of the rural migrants as the core of the urban poor in the Indian cities, the attending dynamics of urbanization, and the relevant issues of social justice and protection from violence. However the proposal while aiming to draw lessons does not claim that the lessons may be valid for all the Indian cities, given the varying nature of the Indian cities in terms of size, population, work pattern, history, location, and environment. The proposal focuses on three select big cities, one medium range city, and one river basin from where out migration to cities occurs regularly due to recurrent flood. The proposal views the rural migrants in the cities as a critical component of the urban poor; it explains the reasons for holding such a view, and hopes that the lessons will be extremely relevant for studies on the urban poor as a whole. A relevant bibliography is attached at the end of the proposal. It indicates the kind of concepts, knowledge, and resources and concepts the research wants to draw upon, also the gaps this research wants to address. It will be a three year research and dialogue programme (2013-2016). It will be conducted in collaboration with the Ford Foundation.
A. The context of the study
2. The paradox of urbanization: Yet we know that India's story is not one of seamless hyper-urbanization though the impact of the urban in terms of resource transfer and consequent new dreams of modern urban life rich with the supposed availability for one and all of envious luxury goods and employment opportunities is far greater than what the official figures of urbanization suggests. Besides, India's urbanization remains top-heavy, and not graded, with the million plus cities growing faster and attracting more capital. These big cities are inhospitable to the poor. There is a deep-seated contradiction between on one hand cities as engines of economic growth and on the other hand cities as the perennially inadequate civic spaces for interaction among its inhabitants and the lack of agency of the latter. The paradox is all the more stark as these cities appear today as awfully fragmented spaces. This scenario calls for an empirical study of the nature of this paradox and fragmentation. We can add to this necessity the fact that some of the medium size cities are emerging as transit towns where rural migrants come, stay for a while, and then move to other places, or stay for work for some time and then go back. These are also the cities where large scale property transfer takes place, and rent extraction in new forms happens. Their role as trading centers of the agricultural products of nearby villages declines relatively as their role as property markets grows. Indeed one report now speaks of larger infrastructural and consumer frenzy in some of the medium cities in the country (“Metros get stingy, emerging cities splurge”, Hindustan Times, 7 July 2013, p. 10). They cities do not engineer growth for the general urban inhabitants, they copy the model of the Indian megalopolis, and they become the transit places of dealers and businessmen involved in wholesale and entertainment business in the district and the nearby districts as well. Also their nature as administrative centers of districts and divisions encourages people to use them as transits. Even though these transit towns have large numbers of laborers from the villages, the migrant laborer coming from the village once again remains the shadowy figure in this evolution.
3. The place of rural migrants in the urban phenomenon: This brings us to the significance of the place of rural migrants in the urban phenomenon. In India, besides the economic factor, such as the growth of IT and IT enabled services (ITES), the crisis in Indian agrarian scenario (with nearly two hundred thousand farmers’ deaths in the last fifteen to eighteen years), and the State policy of promoting urbanization (Government of India, Report of the National Commission on Urbanization, Ministry of Urban Development, 1988) and other associated policies on housing, street hawking, sanitation, public transportation, urban renewal mission, and environmental impact assessment mode, there are two external factors. One, politics, administration, hinterland activities, and infrastructural necessities – all these have combined to give birth to new urban agglomerates. And, two, all these have resulted in scores of informal work forms around these logistical networks and nodal points of infrastructure, to which the rural migrants flock (such as construction industry, informal modes of transportation, small shops, house maid jobs, waste, including electronic waste, handling and recycling, informal supply chains, etc.). There is thus a particularity of the work profile of the rural migrant population in the city. Yet it is important to remember that this migration is not a “natural” process. As indicated in the preceding paragraph, there are networks of labour recruiters and coolie contractors reminding us of the nineteenth and early twentieth century dynamics influencing the way destinations were chosen, jobs were made available, the wage rate, savings structure, etc. were determined, including the places in the city where they migrants stayed.
4. The rural migrant as a critical component of the urban poor: There is considerable amount of literature on the global urban poor as well as the Indian urban poor. Yet the study of the place of the rural migrant population among the urban poor is relatively less. The urban poor are thought of as an undifferentiated population mass of underclass. The dominant idea is that while most of this undifferentiated mass may not be “undeserving poor”, it has in any case no relation with production of wealth or resources, and that the state has to have a string of welfare policies for the underclass population to take care of three issues related to this vast section of the urban population, namely, danger to urban peace and stability posed by the existence of an underclass, idleness, and the ghettoized immense poverty. The rural migrants however give us within this supposedly undifferentiated mass indications of the segmentations and the fault lines on issues of gender, caste, location of origin, age, community, class (or layers of the underclass), urban-rural linkages and the consequent availability of certain skills and opportunities, resources, and rights. Because of lack of an adequate analysis of the place of rural migrants among the urban poor, relevant policies also suffer in terms of housing, access to resources, social mobility, mapping and utilization of new skills, and security of life and livelihood.
5. Present urban policies in this scenario: The government of India in course of the last twenty years has devised several policies to cope with the issues arising out of this situation, such as (a) the national urban renewal mission, (b) master plan modes and techniques, (c) long term vision planning, (d) planning for an urban region (such as the National Capital Region), (e) cross-cutting highways linking two urban regions or more (as Kolkata and Durgapur), (f) National Housing Policy, (g) National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, 2009, and (h) public-private partnership model. The issue of public-private partnership should be examined carefully, because an over-emphasis on the potentiality of such a policy indicates increasing withdrawal of state welfare services from urban renewal and protection programs and obligations, such as education, public health, housing for the poor, sanitation, clean drinking water supply, subsidized provision of main food items through public distribution system, and mass transportation – services that are acutely needed by the migrant population to survive in the city. The withdrawal of urban renewal services affects the rural migrants most. The study of these policies in the context of what we may call as the “permanently intermediary situation” of the rural migrants in the city has not been done adequately. Geographers and other relevant experts have noted the situation mostly from the angle of urban space. The focus is rarely on the angle of rural migrants and their coping strategies.
6. The knowledge gap:
(a) All these point to some of the inadequacies of our existing knowledge. The most important gap seems to originate from the fact that we hold the phenomenon of the urban poor as one of an undifferentiated mass. Even if we know the variety in the activities of the urban poor, we have less knowledge of what forms the core of the urban poor, what keeps on adding to their volume and existence, what lends to their resilience, what the different segments and fault lines are, and thus what would mean in terms of ensuring social justice in the city. From this point of view we require a specific knowledge of the rural migrants in the city and the attending dynamics, because rural migrants to the cities form a large chunk of the urban poor – particularly in the context of the evolving urban scenario in India.
(b) Urban studies in India have developed with greater pace in the thirty odd years. Experts theorizing the city till date have approached the subject from roughly three angles.
(i) First, the city is judged from the angle of spatial practices. This is the mode dominant among urban planners and geographers.
(ii) Second, a city is perceived on the basis of the mental images that it evokes. This is the mode dominant among the cultural studies specialists.
(iii) Third, the city is seen as both a space for life and production.
Even though the third way of looking at the city tries to get over the mono-focal bias of the first two by positing a subject-object view, and gives us a greater range of conceptual tools to study the issues of social justice in the city, the problem remains, namely: how to account for its segmentation, divisions, linkages, the role of the urban poor, particularly that of the rural migrants, in the formation of the city, and therefore the consequential links with capital formation – issues that characterize the city. Crucial here is again our inadequate knowledge of the gender and cast, of the way a city functions on the basis of a large mass of urban poor.
(c) In fact the paradox - referred to earlier in paragraph 2 - suggests the existence of a range of other paradoxes or binaries on which a city exists, such as colonial/free, city/periphery, underclass/capital, manufacturing units/services, citizens/migrants, redesigned/old, cyber-city/inner city, IT-enabled/IT-disabled, green spaces/crowded, or self-governed/administered. These paradoxes are the results of a number of socio-spatial phenomena at play. A substantial amount of existing literature seems at times inadequate, because it only focuses on a “lived city approach” with emphasis on various subjectivities, and does not give us an insight into these binaries and the fault lines that emerge from the contradictory phenomena of settlement, migration, labour and capital formation. Just as in the old colonial days prevailing land tenure systems and contract methods were changed to colonize land and introduce changes in the land-use pattern, for instance, to compel indigo cultivation, likewise, tenure systems and land-use patterns have to be changed for the new towns to come up – by legislation or by violence. Thus, water bodies in the new town at Rajarhat near Kolkata were filled up, land taken away, the legal principle of inalienability of the land of the small peasants was thrown to the winds, and the agricultural status of land was changed to set up hotels and malls.
(d) The divided city (divided in several ways) is in this way the norm rather the exception. New areas are often administered by a bureaucratic authority (development board, etc) while the old areas are run by democratically elected municipal bodies. In this new regime of urban governance, financial riches mark the administered (new) area, while financial constraints mark the self-governed (old) one. The technologies we see deployed today to restructure the city were all put in place in the last three decades of the last century – from setting up development authorities, urban commissions, embarking on mega and master plans, urban renewal missions, constitutional amendment for self-government, restructuring urban taxation system, to setting up ATM machines that seem so ubiquitous today, monetizing everything in the process, and all these partitioning the city again and again. Land and territory have again become issues of contention. The knowledge of the position of the rural migrant as a crucial component of the city will help us immensely to understand the place of the urban poor and the need for appropriate policy advocacy. It will enable us to understand individual agency and structural forces needed to make the city a more just and equitable place; also to understand towards the same goal the modes of community living in the city prevalent among the urban working poor, the influence of ecology and environment, the need for innovative institutions, and the ways in which creative public policies in place of simply few welfare policies can be designed. Such knowledge will also strengthen a rights-based approach so that the urban poor including the rural migrant population can face the persistent efforts of the gentry to divide poor people into moral categories.
(e) Finally, there is a knowledge gap relating to the impact of public policies (on urbanization) in the last twenty years on the urban poor. In short we need greater research and inquiry towards making the right to city a meaningful call and a standard to judge public policies on urbanization.
B. Research theme and issues
7. The vulnerability of the rural migrants: In the context delineated above, the particularly adverse impact of the paradoxical structure of Indian urbanization on the rural migrants in the city is thus one of the main research issues. In recent time the shrinking base of urban welfare, services, and protection mechanisms for the needy has made the migrants and particularly female migrants more vulnerable than other sections of urban population. This scenario is marked with violence in many forms (direct, endemic, structural, violence on women and children, on persons belonging to lower castes and from regions and provinces, or persons belonging to minority communities, etc.) and the consequent imperative of social justice. All the three megalopolises in India – Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata – have sizeable number of migrants from rural and semi-rural areas. All of them have witnessed to greater or lesser degree massive amount of violence on the migrants. Expansion of roads, construction of new towns, compulsory acquisition of land in nearby villages, natural disasters such as flood and drought, agrarian stagnation, breakdown of rural markets, communal riots, river bank erosion, building airports and mega dams – these and several other factors contribute to the number of people out-migrating to the cities, many of whom as migrants come to these big cities and get on with the informal jobs. The Calcutta Research Group’s studies on river bank erosion in the districts of Malda and Murshidabad in West Bengal, recurrent floods in Kosi river belt in the four districts of North Bihar, and Brahmaputra floods and migration in Assam, along with its research on related issues such as the construction of new towns are the empirical basis of these observations apart from some of the relevant policy studies done by CRG and others. These studies are available on CRG website: www.mcrg.ac.in. These select studies point to the need for a greater study on the contradictory nature of the dual phenomena of increased vulnerability of the rural migrants and urbanization.
8. The rural migrant’s subjection to violence and their anomalous presence in the city: Two things characterize the rural migrants’ vulnerable presence in the cities – they suffer continuous violence; and second their presence is precarious as well as anomalous with existing city life, in the sense that they live in the city but they are not citizens, because they do not have the right to the city. They experience brutal violence – burning of houses, rape, extortion, police harassment, beating, killing, and at times expulsion (as in Mumbai). There is a strong gender profile to the violence the rural migrants and urban poor as a whole face (The Mumbai bar dancers’ case is a relevant instance, part from the countless forms of direct violence on the poor women, particularly the migrant women). At times migration brings in rootlessness, social vagrancy, exemplified particularly by the rural moneyed who now flock to the cities with easy money and no responsibility to the city population, which includes the working migrant population groups. There is a double anomaly here. The migrant’s subjection to violence is not standard, but varies according to caste, gender, age, source of the migrant’s origin, etc. This in turn determines the way in which the rural migrant would have to live, work, stay, and access their social, civil, and political rights. They do not get identity cards (Aadhar or the ration card), they have difficulty in opening bank accounts, they will not have legally cognizable addresses, they will be deprived of several welfare facilities, money remittance back to their villages will be difficult, and they will not be able to vote in local municipal elections though they will have contributed to city’s wealth. All these things have happened in one way or another and in one city or the other. This situation is one of what Hannah Arendt had termed as basic “rightlessness”. For the rural migrant the situation of rightlessness emerges in this context. Therefore as research theme the following is important: how even within a legally defined situation in terms of citizenship, the precarious existence of the rural migrants and in general of the urban poor creates a situation of a fundamental lack of rights.
9. Issues of social justice: One can therefore argue that precisely this paradox suggests that the language of rights cannot be sufficient in such situation. The situation calls for the notion of social justice, or more appropriately speaking social justice and the city. We can here briefly mention some of the issues arising out of the recent histories of migrations to these cities. These issues, largely to do with the inequalities in access to urban resources, point out the need for social justice in the Indian urban context. The inequality question is largely built around resources and has resulted in violence. Since there have been many forms and phases of violence in these cities, with different phases of rule, politics, governmental policies, and rounds of stabilization aid from international donor agencies, it is necessary to take a long point of view to see how the two democratic issues of justice and inclusion are predicated on the question of resources and entitlements, and the way resource politics has been historically played out in the last sixty six years of independent India. This history of violence has to be seen in the context of the construction of new towns also - in Rajarhat near Kolkata, Gurgaon near Delhi, Navi Mumbai near Mumbai, or Cyberabad (Gachibowli) near Hyderabad. These new towns have grown out of peasant dispossession, and they now depend on new migrant labor (mostly destitute) mainly from semi-rural and rural areas in construction industry, waste disposal, house care sector, etc. The entire trend intensifies owing to the scramble among developers for land and real estate for high rise buildings, shopping malls, etc. This phenomenon is basically one of transfer of resources, which needs to be studied in the present context. It also intensifies in the wake of the demise of old industries (for instance, textile mills in Mumbai, jute and engineering industries in and around Kolkata), and establishment of special economic zones. They cause massive displacement and add to the new population of migrants and rural poor. Violence and selective inclusion and exclusion of population groups from the urban sphere are features of the contemporary history of the city. Within the vulnerable groups some are more vulnerable, for instance, the dalit and minority population groups. Or as in Kolkata, where often we get reports of rural women migrants landing up in jails, being raped, trafficked, and in extreme circumstances murdered. The urban poor consisting of rural migrants also face anti-outsider attacks as in Mumbai. This is now a global trend. From the sprawling barricades of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, and even from economic growth. It is a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy. Issues of justice around migrants’ health, education, housing, civil rights and other aspects of social life in cities like these are routinely overlooked in world politics. Once again, peasant and semi-peasant migrants form a large chunk of the slum and street-resident population. In short the urban poor’s vulnerability to xenophobic violence should lead us to the research theme of social justice in the urban context. Till date we had the attention of policy makers dealing with issues of social justice mainly around the question of reservation. Our idea of affirmative action has been narrow in imagination and implementation. We had focused on the category of urban poor without attending to the related question of social justice in the urban context. The issue would be: What are the norms of social justice in the Indian urban context? What will be the factors to be taken into account in ensuring justice for the urban poor, and in particular for the rural migrants?
10. Stabilization policies: In this context the role of policies for stabilization of the urban situation is one more theme of research. In recent years many aid agencies and multilateral aid institutions (such as the ADB and the World Bank) have tried to address these problems by supporting them through vocational training, microcredit and other services. Their aid has been also towards stabilizing specific urban locations, such as railway station areas, squatter colonies, bustees, drinking water collection spots, transport hubs, etc. Yet there is little evidence as to which programs work and where opportunities for program interventions lie. In most cases, migrants from rural areas seem to survive by leading group lives and sticking to informal low pay jobs satisfying in some cases the needs of specialized jobs such as jewelry making, stitching and embroidery, carpentry, or masonry. They enjoy very little protection in their work. In this respect, it is important to mention that protection of migrant labor is mostly a state concern in India. Thus the protection measures can vary from one state to another. Also protection of informal and migrant labor is a low priority for state administration with little resources allocated for this purpose. Some people think giving UID to rural migrants to cities where migrant labor and the IDPs form a huge part is the solution towards providing them protection measures. But again this is still not proved. In view of the fringe nature of the spaces the rural migrants occupy in the city (as informal labor and living in sprawling shanties on the outskirts of the town) a change in the dominant model of urban planning becomes necessary. Core attention to these spaces with regard to public health, education, sanitation, water supply, low cost housing, and mass transportation is more important than giving identity cards to them. In any case, there remains a dire need of inclusive strategies like low-income work protection, urban housing development, and youth employment programs, which will benefit the migrant communities in a great way. In evaluating policies the role played by the government policies at central (such as the plan for the National Capital Region, National Urban Policy, National Hawker Policy, National Housing Policy, etc.) and state levels also need to be inquired.
11. Migration policy of the government: Unfortunately the Government of India’s migration policy (2009) does not seem to address these concerns and only addresses issues of overseas migrants, whose remittances from abroad are important for the country. The government in a new initiative is looking to provide citizens who are working or studying abroad with strengthened state support and introduce ratings for recruiters offering overseas employment. But the issue of protecting internal migrants - particularly rural migrants to cities - remains unaddressed though in some specific development project related cases we have relief-rehabilitation-resettlement measures. Protection policies and measures for migrant workers in the cities (for instance in the construction sector, non-motorized transport sector, or carpentry) again have to be studied in this context
12. Coping and innovative strategies of the urban poor: Yet the fact is that notwithstanding the persistent violence, xenophobic exclusion, legal hurdles, identity crisis, and inadequate work and education opportunities, the range of activities in which the urban poor and the rural migrants in particular engage in point to the need a for rigorous research on the coping and innovative strategies by these population groups. Prima facie accounts and some analysis suggest, these activities, are not only economic, they can be political, civic in many ways, and social in the sense of living form, choice of opportunities and location, and networking. Once again the research has to take into account the ways in which the poor, migrant women lead the entire mass of the urban poor in forging survival and coping strategies. At times the migrant population groups create through these strategies autonomous (at least partially) institutions and modes, and impart flexibility to their life form by retaining vital links with the place they come from or their work-based networks. This also explains why the urban poor never lose the flexibility to migrate to other cities and town in as part of survival and coping with hurdles of life. In many senses the entire phenomenon has bearings on issues of social justice and rights.
C. Goals of the enquiry and research tasks
13. Main research question: In short, the question is: How do we ensure social justice in the city? This means asking the question: Can our cities become and/or remain inclusive – one of the essential marks of which is the quality of protection offered to the rural migrants and other sections of the urban poor? What will make our cities just and inclusive? How do we retain the public character of a city by making its resources available for all sections of people, including the migrants who are contributing to the wealth of the city? And, for all these how do we use our knowledge of the life of the urban poor in general and the rural migrants in the cities in particular, and their autonomous initiatives and strategies towards ensuring social justice? In other words, how do we translate the adage into a fact, namely, that the “migrant question is at the heart of democracy”? In this inquiry, we have to be specific. In one case, the tradition of tolerance may depend on robust civil and political leadership. In another case, we may need migrant-specific policies of labor protection and services. In yet another case, a much more socially sensitive urban management – sensitive also to the small scale form of the economic activities in which the urban poor engage in - policy may be required. Also, the nature of violence may differ from case to case. In face of massive structural changes a city may not have the required means to retain the core of its safe and inclusive nature. In other words, within the general frame of the question we have to be attentive to specific nature and location of a city.
14. Specific Tasks (Proposed Activities) in the Research Agenda:
(i) Mapping the history of migration from rural and semi-rural areas to these select cities in the last twenty years (in the background of their post-independent existence);
(ii) Mapping the major work forms and existence forms of these migrants or migrant communities and their internal variation taking into account the hinterland of the respective cities – with particular focus on the new work forms of the precarious population groups in the cities;
(iii) Documenting major cases of violence, xenophobic attacks, and unequal treatment involving the migrants in these select cities (with special attention to gender, caste, and location);
(iv) Documenting and evaluating the urban renewal plans in these cities in the last twenty years – both internally generated and bilateral and multilateral aid inspired – and trace their impact on relative use of urban spaces by different groups – in these cases by groups of rural migrants;
(v) A critical assessment of protection services for migrant labor in these cities along with relevant policies and Acts;
(vi) A review of the relevant relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement policies in the cities in the wake of riots and natural disasters;
(vii) Reviewing the nature of the urban regional plans around these megalopolises (such as the National Capital Region Plan) in the perspective of the need to establish balance between the city and the rural hinterland - the special cases of investigation being the new towns near these cities;
(viii) Investigating the way in which the price of urban land on being de-controlled (ref: land ceiling Acts and regulations) artificially shoots up and landed property in these megalopolises becomes the attention of land grabbers, developers, and realtors – once again the special cases of investigation being the impact of the said financialisation of land on rural migrants settled in urban peripheries.
(ix) Comparing these findings and experiences of four big cities and a mid-size town growing fast in terms of the general questions and the objectives of the study mentioned earlier;
(x) Preparing policy recommendations on the basis of these investigations, mapping exercises and a comparative study of the findings, bringing these recommendations to the attention of media, urban planners, and elders of the corporations or municipalities of these cities, and popularizing them. The research strategy will be thus both comparing and bringing out case specific lessons and recommendations, and generalizing them.
(xi) Finally theorizing the lessons of the study in terms of (a) the unequal urbanization structure of the country; (b) comparing lessons from China and South Africa with the Indian lessons in managing the floating populations in the cities who comprise a large section of the urban poor through policies and measures; (c) and drawing general observations from the angle of social justice.
15. Goals of this enquiry:
(Short term and Concrete Goals)
D. Organization of the research and indicators of success
16. Cities (with massive migrant groups from rural areas forming a significant part of the urban poor) to be covered in the study: In this perspective the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (MCRG or CRG) proposes to study the theme through research on:
(a) Three big cities in India (Kolkata, Delhi, and Mumbai);
(b) One medium size town now growing fast (Siliguri, which is rich in fast cash, smuggling, heavy presence of rural migrants, and standing on the cross roads of two states (West Bengal and Bihar) and three countries (India, Nepal, and Bhutan). Siliguri reminds us of the fact that all cities are becoming in one sense border settlements, straddling the borders and boundaries of gender, class, income, settlement pattern, colonies, formal and informal grids of economy and supply, of the indigenous and the migrant, and power and powerlessness. Siliguri, barely hundred years ago was a prosperous village, is now a developers’ paradise with large chunks of urban poor consisting of Nepali laborers, uprooted village migrants now driving cycle rickshaws drivers, and Bihari coolies.
(c) The work will also cover at least one flood prone area (either the Kosi belt in North Bihar or the Ganga-Padma belt in central Bengal) from where affected population groups migrate to the cities and form a bulk of the urban poor there.
Finally, we would also have to keep in mind the comparative pictures in South Africa and China, and the lessons of the related public policies these countries have adopted. The comparative dimension will not be a fundamental part of this enquiry. However it will be good to retain the comparative exercise as one aspect of the work.
For Selected Bibliography Click Here
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