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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Sandip Roy Show

What makes people tick? What are the stories they carry with them? In a world of shouting heads, veteran journalist, radio commentator and novelist Sandip Roy sits down to have real conversations about the fascinating world around us and the people who shape it. Catch these engaging interviews every other Sunday

Episode 47 April 5, 2020

Understanding how India migrates, with Chinmay Tumbe

The coronavirus pandemic has really brought into focus the problems of India’s internal migrants. After the 21 day lockdown was announced, we saw news coverage that showed thousands struggling to walk to their homes hundreds of kilometers away. Before this crisis unfolded, it seemed that these migrants had been practically invisible to most of us. And Chinmay Tumbe, a faculty member at IIM Ahmedabad, says that, for the most part, they have remained invisible to India’s policymaking. In this episode, Sandip talks to Chinmay about India’s internal migrants, the myths that surround them, how the government can better address their problems, the emerging trends in migration and his book, India Moving: A History of Migration.
Transcript:
Sandip Roy

Hello and welcome to The Sandip Roy Show on Express Audio.

[Music]

Every great cataclysmic event, war, famine, the Bhopal gas leak, comes with its iconic image. The one that somehow cuts deep. The burning monk of Vietnam, the burial of an unknown child in Bhopal – her face bleached, ghostly white. This Coronavirus pandemic is no exception.

But it’s an image we did not expect. It was not about an empty city centre bereft of cars and buses. Or that Nilgai that wandered into a Gurgaon mall. The image that is indelibly imprinted on my memory is that of thousands and thousands of people. Sometimes entire families. Fathers with children on their shoulders, walking on foot for hundreds of kilometres across the breadth of India trying to go home. It was like a scene out of a documentary about the Partition or the Great Bengal Famine.

One story haunts me in particular. Not an image but a sound, 42 seconds of audio, from a 38 year old man trying to walk 100 kilometres home from Delhi. His family screaming, beseeching him, “Is there no ambulance that can drop you?… Hello? hello?” And just silence on his end. The crackling line, the heavy breath and then his final words, “Lene aa sakte ho toh aa jao” (come get me if you can). They couldn’t, not in time. 38 year old Ranveer Singh collapsed and died of a heart attack on his way home. Not killed by the virus directly, but a victim of the virus nonetheless. Singh, who worked as a delivery man in Delhi, was just one of many thousands of migrants who hit the road in desperation as India shut down in a bit to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

When we say migrants, we think about our NRI cousins in America or maybe labourers and nurses in the Gulf. But India’s own internal migrants seem to have been in our collective blind spot. Left stranded by the lockdown that shut down trains and buses.

This week, Chinmay Tumbe, a faculty member at IIM Ahmedabad and author of India Moving: A History of Migration, joins us on the show to talk about the migrants in our own backyard.

Because of the lockdown this interview was conducted over the phone.

[Music]

Chinmay Tumbe, welcome to the show.

Chinmay Tumbe
Thank you for having me over.

Sandip Roy
So we have been watching these really heartbreaking images of migrants trying to walk home across the breadth of India, which leads to the obvious question, why were governments so caught off guard by the migrants? Did we just forget about our internal migrants?

Chinmay Tumbe
I think the migrant workers have consistently been a sort of invisible class of workers in policymaking. Starting with the fact that most of our social security benefits also are tied to a particular location. Historically, we’ve been a country which has just assumed that people don’t move. Which is surprising because so many of us are migrants. And hence, the delivery of public services has always been tied to usually the place of birth.

So on the one hand, I’m not surprised by the government’s ignorance because it’s been consistent. But having said that, I’m also surprised because it is under this government’s administration that you know, in 2016, the Economic Survey of India published the numbers for the first time showing the scale of migration in India. It argued that there were over a hundred million circular migrant workers in India. Both interstate and intrastate. 2017 there was a report, Working Group report on migration, which had representatives, bureaucrats from various ministries. So I find it a bit amusing that, you know, despite all this evidence, migrant workers were completely off the radar when the lockdown was announced. And note that the circular to sort of assure migrant workers came only on 29th March. So it came a bit too late, by when you know, a migration crisis had been created.

And though right now there are obviously clampdowns on migrant workers trying to go home, I would say the situation even today is quite dire. Literally 10s of thousands of shelters all over India. And the government has a new problem now, just trying to find ways to supply food to these migrants.

Sandip Roy
So when the government tells the court that no migrants are on the road right now, you don’t find that particularly reassuring?

Chinmay Tumbe
I mean, they’re not on the road because you’re not making them go on the road. For example, in Surat, 500 migrant workers started walking and the police had to be called in. Police had to literally fire tear gas shells. This is a report in the news. And I know a lot of civil society organisations, like Aajeevika Bureau, who are working on the ground 24×7, on you know, running helplines for migrant workers.

There’s a huge pan-Indian need, it’s not a Delhi specific story, it’s a pan-Indian need for circular migrant workers to be home with their family, in these sort of distressing times. And I guess that means when the lockdown is officially, you know, removed on April 15, a lot of these migrant workers will go home actually. For some time at least. So that’s what the situation seems to be like. So I think now that the visuals have stopped, because of a strict enforcement of containment within borders, it doesn’t mean that there’s no crisis. Because the need to go back still sort of exists.

Sandip Roy
Yeah, with the need to go back, can you sort of, you know because you’ve looked at this issue for so long, talk a little bit about the push and pull that’s in effect here. I mean, the migrants often leave their homes for economic reasons, now when they want to return home, is it merely because the economic reasons have dried up in the city that they’re in? Or is there something more deeper at play here?

Chinmay Tumbe
The way I see, there are two aspects. The migrant gets economic security in the big city. The migrant gets social security in the village of a small town where the migrant is coming from. And by social security I mean two kinds. One is the kind of security that comes just being with family. Like all human beings, all of us crave. But the second one is also official public security. That is, you know, PVs, rations, since all of that is tied to the local place, which means you know you can survive in your local place because you have access to all those things. You have access to a ration card which you cannot use while you’re away in a different state for instance.

So the minute the economic security dries up, as you said, you’re clamouring for some sort of social security. And so it’s a very rational response that we’ve seen of, you know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people trying to get home. Because I think what was not announced very clearly initially, was any package of economic security. And I think if that was done…for example on 29th March they did say, you know, there’s an order now which says that all firms have to pay the monthly wage and so on. There’s a one month rental waiver, now I don’t know how much of this will be enforced, but at least these are assurances which should have been given on day one. The fact that it was not, I think, caused a huge amount of distress.

So I see it as a very rational response of migrant workers who straddle between two worlds. Take social security or economic insecurity which the lockdown has unleashed. A lot of the migrant workers are also at daily wage, which means that, you know, if you don’t have a job tomorrow, you don’t have money. So it’s an instant crisis. So it’s not enough to say that, yes, I can survive this 21 day lockdown on a monthly salary. But for a daily wage worker, it’s very hard.

Sandip Roy
You know, I read quotes from migrants on the road, where one of them said, ‘Well, the choice is between staying put in the city and dying here or trying to reach my village. You know, no matter how hard this is’. And one person, an automobile worker, who was walking 155 miles to his village said, ‘We will die walking before the coronavirus hits us’. So for them, it seems like the option…it was kind of, you know, you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Chinmay Tumbe
Absolutely. And you know, I mean, I’ve written about this. I’ve gone through a similar experience during the Bombay floods. In the sense that the choice was whether to go home, whether to brave the floods and try and get home, or stay where you are. And of course, you know, people had to make these choices. And for us, of course, we all try to get home because you don’t know even if you stay there, if the water levels rise up. And so figuratively out here, the water levels are rising up for these daily wage workers in particular because simply there’s no money. And just like how I was caught in a flood and try to get home, migrant workers are sort of caught in the figurative economic flood and are desperately trying to get home. So it’s, of course, for from a policymakers point of view, they are hard choices to be made. But I do think that in this case, somehow this omission of the welfare of migrant workers initially has proved to be very costly. And unfortunately, we’ve seen deaths. We’ve seen, I think on last count, I saw at least more than 20, now the number might be 50, deaths of people who just died because of exhaustion or accidents because of people walking on highways and so on. Which is really unfortunate.

Sandip Roy
People will say, ‘Look armchair critics will always criticise but locking down a country of the size of India is no mean task and something like this was inevitable’. But in your opinion, was it inevitable or was this eminently avoidable?

Chinmay Tumbe
I think it was eminently avoidable. Not the response time, the response time was four and a half days from the speech to the circular of 29th March, which was just very, very long. And I think this is precisely, you know, what I was reading somewhere…If the Prime Minister actually had given a press conference, this would have been a question asked and, you know, there would have been a response. Not the first concern after the speech was actually just people, if you remember, people, middle class people who had houses who did not need to go anywhere, they rushed out to buy supplies because it was not communicated in the speech. And the Prime Minister then had to tweet relentlessly sort of…come on social media to say everything is fine, don’t go, don’t go. That was the first panic. That was not of the migrant workers. The migrant workers had already started going back home.

I think the other thing that I think policymakers did not see enough was the tremendous, sort of, signal that migrant workers were sending by just flooding railway stations before the lockdown. They were, at least four days before the lockdown, railway stations in India were absolutely flooded. I think we put more attention on international migrants and international flights or domestic flights, then just monitoring, you know, domestic trade. And shutting down the Indian railways, which is probably the first time in, you know, it’s 150 year old history. It’s quite a dramatic thing to do. And railways are the lifeline of workers. So if you take a hard decision like that, with absolutely no prior notice, it is going to lead to what we’ve seen, you know, the desperate attempts to get back and hence walking.

Now, you mentioned armchair critics. From my vantage point, of course, there are I think, a fair amount of people who work on migration. Now, as I mentioned, these are now official government statistics. A government report had come out on this. So okay, maybe the government, you know, did not have any person giving advice on migration in India’s decision framework. I think that’s unfortunate. And if there’s anything to be learned, it’s that in future if there’s a crisis of similar proportions, one has to take into account the fact that migrant workers exist. I think it’s also a good lesson for other countries who might have a lockdown very soon. Example, a lot of countries in Africa are going to be in the case of India, maybe in a few weeks or a month. And so, I think the Indian template is important for other countries who have larger internal migrant populations to have a well thought out lockdown speech. I think that was very important.

Sandip Roy
So, according to I think the 2011 census it said that there are 54 million people or nearly 5% of India..people living in India migrated to their present state of residence from some other state. And in your book also you write that you estimate over 150 of India’s some 600 or districts belong to this migration wave at present. But what we saw were images mostly of people trying to get back to places like UP and Bihar, or so it seemed to me. Why was that?

Chinmay Tumbe
I would disagree in the sense that, you know, this is again media bias. In the sense that, this is where the reports got written. I live in Gujarat. Gujarat is one of the largest migrant hubs of India. I can tell you right now, workers are stuck in industrial hubs across the state desperate to get back home. Living in absolutely horrendous conditions. And
the reason they have not been able to go on the road is because of a very strong sort of police state where, you know, it was very quickly clamped down. So the fact that you don’t see people on the road is not because people don’t want to go but it’s based on a lot of other things like state capacity, distance to home. So the distance from Delhi to UP and Bihar is much lesser than from Surat to UP and Bihar.

The simple reason why you saw particular cities experiencing such large migrant exodus or the pressure exodus, one is the proportion of interstate migrants, okay, which varies across states. So in Chennai, for example, it’s a very small number. In Delhi we’re just seeing almost 90% of the migrants are interstate. And the proportion of migrants who come from rural areas in Bangalore and Hyderabad and Pune, in Chennai, the bulk of the migrant workforce comes from other urban areas. It’s a very different migrant class. And so that’s why you see in Mumbai, Surat, Delhi, who have a much more similar migrant profile. You find this very similar profile of the circular migrant worker who is trying to get back. And so I think that is why you saw much more of this pressure to sort of move in particular parts of India.

Sandip Roy
And the government has told the Supreme Court that, I think on Tuesday, that there’s a possibility that 3 out of 10 people coming from cities to rural areas are carrying the coronavirus, COVID-19. I don’t know where they got their figure from, but if that is true it sounds like a ticking bomb. Whether you stay in a crowded shelter in a city or go home to a village. I mean, are we looking at sort of potential hotspots springing up everywhere.

Chinmay Tumbe
I mean that number is complete nonsense. I mean, that has to be stated. 3 out of 10, on what basis? You either make a claim that 3 out of 10 of all Indians are infected right now, or you make a claim that it’s about as low as proportion as it is. There’s simply no way that it can be 30% right now. In fact, this is one of the thinking is that, you know, let us just lock up the migrants in the city so that we don’t let the disease get back to the villages. And what we’ve seen is quite counterproductive, because migrants are anyways going to scramble home.

There was time, there was time. There were 2-3 days where migrants could have gone home and with adequate communication on social distancing and quarantine. Just as with international travel. The international travel restrictions played out literally over several weeks. The UK government gave one week to its international students to leave the country. I think these are sort of more sensible measures, instead of playing hide and seek with migrant workers saying, you know, let’s lock you up here and let’s not let you leave these states and let’s not take the virus back. Because at that point of time, on March 24, there was simply no way that 3 out of 10 migrant workers…in fact it’s definitely not the case today. How do you arrive at such numbers? Without claiming that, you know, there’s something different between migrant workers and non migrants. In which case, essentially what the government is saying the Supreme Court is that as of now 30% of India is infected. Which I think is a ridiculous number.

Sandip Roy
So, in your experience and through your studies, do you find that is internal migration here mostly driven by poverty? Or are the push and pull factors different when it comes to say people looking at going to Mumbai versus those who are thinking of going to Canada?

Chinmay Tumbe
Yeah, I think first, you know, point observation should be that India’s poorest state Bihar and India’s richest state Kerala, are at the same rate of out migration. They are of course going to different destinations, right? Keralites are going to the Gulf and the Biharis are also going to the Gulf but they’re also going to different parts of India, and not the least Biharis we are going to Kerala themselves. So this connection between poverty and out migration pressure is not as clear cut. The driving force of migration is India’s density and high rural density. So what’s common between Bihar and Canada is high rural population density. Which basically since agriculture cannot support such high density, there’s pressure for people to move out.

Now, there are two kinds of circular migrant workers. There’s the construction worker, who’s the most disadvantaged, to say the least. And say a person like a security guard in a city. Now the security guard spends about 10 months in the city, you know, shuttles between, say, Bihar and Mumbai and eventually retires back in Bihar, right? So he spends 10 to 20 years of his life outside and then eventually goes back. And the construction worker is literally hopping from site to site in seasonal migration strands from 2 to 3 months.

Now, these two people are very different. The construction worker is typically, you know, I mean, the whole class of workers out here is over represented by the poor, by the landless, by the historically marginalised social groups. Whereas the security guards, it’s quite different. They have some land back home. They’re actually slightly richer than others back home. This class of workers is overrepresented by historically non marginalised social groups. This class of circular migrant workers is quite diverse. And actually the overall numbers would tell you a story of so-called ‘positive selection’, which means the richer you are, the more likely you are to out migrate. That’s what the data tells you.

There’s also a myth that, you know, if you’re very prosperous in rural areas, people tend to stop migrating. The evidence suggests completely the opposite. Some of the most prosperous regions of India, agriculturally, for example, coastal Andhra Pradesh or Punjab, we have extremely high rates of out migration. For the simple reason that after a point, there are a lot of aspirations and nobody wants to stay in the village. And so people are trying to make…diversify into occupations, which typically cities provide. Either in India or in places like the Gulf or in Canada or the US or any of the other places.

Sandip Roy
Yeah, because I remember I was quite surprised when reading your book when I read that in Ratnagiri, famous for its mangoes, the orchards you say are mostly run by Nepali migrants now. So tell us about some of these other large pockets of internal migrants also that we don’t normally think about.

Chinmay Tumbe
Yeah I think the most fascinating geography in India, apart from the Eastern UP, Western Bihar, which everyone knows about, is the west coast of India. Now, when you think of Kerala as this big hub of migration for the Gulf, but basically from Kanyakumari to Ratnagiri, the entire one side of the western Ghats, you take that drive, you know, it’s just completely sown of out migration. Including pockets of Goa, where people are migrating, who have gone to migrate and work on ships. So they’re not classified in any particular country, per se. Now, what’s happening is of course that this is also one of the richest parts of India. Though there’s consistent out migration or history of out migration of more than a 100 years, these places are fairly well off today. And as a result of that, nobody wants to do the low end jobs anymore because they’ve come up, they’ve risen.

Kerala is a classic case, people have gone to the Gulf become rich, so none of them are going to the low end jobs. What it means is that in the entire west coast of India, there’s a huge demand for labour at sort of low end jobs, which has led to now internal migrations. So one of the biggest migration corridors for India is from this Eastern India belt. Bengal, you know, Bihar, Eastern UP, a bit of Madhya Pradesh, a bit of Chattisgarh. And people going to the west coast of India, whether it is from Ratnagiri to Kanyakumari, this entire stretch, and so that’s why you mentioned….So Nepal is also an important source. Though Nepali and Bangladeshi migration has diversified in the last few years away from India to the Gulf and so on. A lot of Nepalis go to the Gulf.

But you can think of the west coast of India as one magnet, which draws in a lot of internal migrants. And then the major cities of India. So if you look at the top five, top six cities of India, they draw a huge number of migrants with them. And then you have some traditional out migration clusters. Apart from Eastern UP, Western Bihar, it’s coastal Orissa, which is a huge belt. And you have Rajasthan, I mean, a lot of districts in Rajasthan today. And the hill economies. You mentioned Nepal, but it’s pretty much the entire Himalayan range. So if you go past Nepal, on this side, you have Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. And there are also remittance economies. Uttarakhand is a completely remittance driven economy.

So India has a very interesting geography of migration. And a lot of this is through historic networks. The reason why the Deccan plateau in India comparatively has very little out migration is because historically they were out of the traditional recruitment networks for migration. Whether it was for overseas recruitment that the British took part in or in military migrations which, like Ratnagiri’s migration story, starts from military migrations. So it’s important to understand the history of why certain pockets started these out migration waves and they’ve interestingly persisted over time.

Sandip Roy
But when you think about it, what has the impact of this internal circular migration been? I mean, are you seeing the impact of it in places like Bihar and Orissa and Uttarakhand, that you’re talking about, in sort of changes in poverty levels there? Is there an effect there, as has happened with the Gulf migration in Kerala?

Chinmay Tumbe
There’s no doubt that virtually every study on migration and remittances in India has found that those who migrate and have enough means to send back money, those households are doing much better, after controlling for a lot of factors, than those who are not able to send out people. So to that extent, yes. You know and there are studies which clearly show you poverty levels falling out migration. But precisely because this is a story of not a few years, but as my research has shown, you know, migration story of more than 100 years, the question should be, has it really transformed these regions? If not the households. Yes, it’s a lifeline for the households, but has it transformed regions? And I’ve argued in my book that migration is an important way of transforming, but it’s not the only thing. It has to be in conjunction with what the money is used for, with overall governance etc.

And so I make this contrast between the west coast of India and the Gangetic plains. Both have had an out migration of history of more than 100 years, but one has gone way ahead, the west coast of India, and one has, you know, stayed back. And the difference seems to be what the migrants have done to invest in human capital. In the case of the West Coast, every generation invested much more in human capital and of course what the state has done in terms of overall investment in facilities and governance. Which has kind of lagged behind in Bihar and UP. The case of Uttarakhand is slightly in between.

The question might also be, you know, when will this end? Is this migration going to persist forever? And there is the question again, it comes down to density. And migration routes are going to end only when fertility starts crashing and you’re seeing those first effects in Kerala, where fertility is now so low. So the pressure on the land is reducing and so you’re seeing out migration pressures also reducing. So this cycle of migration which has been persistent for so long, will eventually end sometime in the century, only when the pressure on the land starts reducing. And that’s going to reduce when birth rates start falling.

Sandip Roy
So what has the eastern region of India been doing with the…you said that in the West, people have been investing in capital and doing…what has the East not been doing? Or rather, what has the east been doing with its remittances?

Chinmay Tumbe
It’s been mainly, you know, sustaining household consumption, marriage ceremonies, the status sort of driven consumption, which is very similar to the west coast as well. I think the larger idea is precisely because of the overall framework within which what you can do that matters. You’re based in a taluka in Goa, the person sends you back money, you’re able to invest in something. Whether it’s starting a shack or a tourism site or some business. That’s not possible in many of these other places.

There’s also another ecological constraint. Many of these places which send out migrants from eastern India are also ecologically very volatile zones. So for example, if you ask the average Bihari farmer, Eastern UP farmer, so why they migrate to cities, they have some land back home, the common answer will be floods Continuous floods which affect their livelihoods. In coastal Orissa, there’s a cyclone. So in that sense, you know, migration is safety walls from persistent climate related events that hit them. Can the government do more? Yes, if the government takes up education, for example, in as big a way as Kerala did, I think you’re going to see a transformation. The migrations won’t stop, but the quality of migration will improve every generation. That’s what you’ve seen in the west coast of India. You know, now the migrants, the average migrant from Kerala to the Gulf is not the labour migrant. In the sense that, you know, earlier about only 10% of the migrants from Kerala to the Gulf, so called white collar professional workers, that number is now almost 40%. So, you see this complete transformation in literally one generation. Unfortunately [we’re] not seeing that in Coastal Orissa. They still go into the factories of, you know, Surat and generation after generation is not really coming up in a meaningful way.

Sandip Roy
So, are you saying that the labour migrant going to the Gulf from India, now is no longer the person from Kerala but more likely to be someone from Bihar?

Chinmay Tumbe
Absolutely. That transformation happened over the last seven years. In fact, on labour contracts, more people go from UP and Bihar than Kerala. It started changing roughly around 2015. So, the Kerala migration story has a very different profile today. And the interesting thing is how the Biharis found the Gulf. They found it through Kerala because you have a large Bihari population in Kerala and they realise that the Keralites are even more in the Gulf. So that’s how you know like the Bihari connection started. Just like the Keralites got found Gulf through Bombay. The first recruitment offices for the Gulf in the 1930s and 40s were in the city of Bombay. It was called Bombay then. And it’s only after some time that the Keralites got into this network and took this whole HR staff recruitment offices down south to Kerala. It’s quite possible that a similar thing happens in Bihar as well.

I should make a point on the distinction, that in internal migration the remittance per capita is much lower than the international migration story. And so while we can say that Kerala and Bihar both got remittances, I think Kerala got much more on a per capita basis than the average Bihari gets. And so that’s of course a huge difference. Kerala’s remittance economy is much higher than the share of the GDP than Bihari’s, because of the high per capita remittance flow available from the Gulf.

Sandip Roy
Chinmay, we’ve been talking about the internal migrants here, but what about these other groups of migrants, which you also talk about in your book? For example, the Punjabis who have gone to Canada and are now returning to Punjab? Or have you heard any similar stories about large populations of Punjabis who were producing Parma cheese in Italy, and how they have been impacted by all of this?

Chinmay Tumbe
Yeah, I mean, that was a huge concern. There were 200,000 Punjabis now in Italy, in northern Italy which is, you know, the ground zero of COVID-19 in Italy. And so, if I’m not mistaken, there are a few cases in Punjab from there. But I think because, you know, international travel was shut down fairly quickly, and not many people returned, thankfully, otherwise that would have been a major scare that the disease would have, you know, come from northern Italy to India via Punjab. You do have a few cases out there, just like I think over half the COVID cases of Kerala have come from the Gulf.

So these international migrant networks have of course, apart from sending back remittances, in the downside of course, in the times of a pandemic is that it can also lead to a spread of the virus. Other interesting clusters include…Places from Rajasthan as well now I have a golf connection. Singapore, Malaysia have a South Indian connection historically and even today. And there’s some emerging clusters now in Africa, East Africa, coming from, you know, some parts of India.

Sandip Roy
Do we know how previous pandemics have affected migrant populations?

Chinmay Tumbe
We do actually. We have very good evidence on the plague of Bombay in 1896-98. So, the period between 1896 and 1920 was the worst in probably global history, but especially Indian history. You can call it ‘the age of epidemics’. India suffered plague consistently for about 25 years. And Bombay in particular was badly hit. There were of course a few years where mortality was very high.

And then you had the influenza, Spanish Flu of 1918-19, which has been India’s greatest demographic disaster till date, where it knocked out 6% of the population and about 15 million deaths. It was devastating. All these things obviously were, in the case of plague obviously, spread through migrant workers when they were returning back. It’s not a one to one correlation. I mean, obviously some migrant workers took it back. But there were other factors as well. And there were a lot of interesting theories about how the virus spread.

But in both cases, interestingly, it’s it started from Bombay, and it started from outside. Soldiers returning, in the case of influenza. And something similar in the case of Plague. Now what’s interesting is even then migrant workers fled the city, right? And in the case of Bombay, in the plague of 1896-98 about half the population just left. Bombay’s population was close to a million back then, half the workforce left. What’s interesting is of course, they eventually did come back. But in the interim process, there was an interesting period where faced with tremendous labour shortages, the cotton mills had to give massive concessions to labour. Simply because labour got greater bargaining power. And so if you wanted to employ people, you’d have to not only bid up the wage but also give a lot of concessions.

So a lot of people trace the roots of trade union politics, which started about 20 years later, to this event. This demographic event tilted the balance between labour and capital in the city of Bombay. These are the kind of strange things that happen during epidemics. I won’t be surprised if on April 15, suddenly we find massive labour shortages in our cities such that very strangely, the bargaining power of labour might actually improve, for a few weeks at least, till people come back to the cities.

Sandip Roy
Yeah, because I mean, the Great Depression of the early 1930s also, and that economic slowdown and reduction of migration flows could possibly do that. But do you foresee that happening to that level this time, as it did in the early 20th century?

Chinmay Tumbe
I don’t think the migrant exodus has been that much precisely because of the clamp down. I think what we’re going to see on April 15, a lot of migrants who wanted to desperately get back home will actually go home. It’s also important to understand the time of the year we’re in. We’re very close to June, which is typically the month where migrant workers anyway go back home because it’s the rice sowing season in most parts of India. So what we’re going to see, I think, is migrants strategy where they’ll say, you know, ‘It’s very uncertain, life is very uncertain right now. Let me just stay it out at home for a few months’. And so June-July is anyway, you know, monsoon and so on.

So my guess is that a lot of people are going to go home and people who have gone home are not going to immediately return. And so we are actually going to see significant labour shortages in our cities and manufacturing clusters. I don’t think it’s gonna be permanent, I think it’s just matter of a few months. I think the industry that’s going to be hit really bad is construction sector. Because construction also slows down during the monsoon, one of its peaks are in the summertime and they’re gonna find it very difficult to find labourers.

So I think clearly some economic shocks are going to be phased in April May, after the lockdown has been removed, precisely because migrant workers are either not there or are going to go home.

Sandip Roy
[What] other lessons from the 1918 influenza pandemic would you say were devastating for the economy that India should be gearing up for?

Chinmay Tumbe
I mean, the 1918s is very simple in the sense that there was literally nothing done. So there are two lessons. One is, of course, in terms of government measures. There was a strange thinking among a lot of the British policy thinking, what historians call a very Malthusian view on population. That is, these epidemics are God given because it keeps a check on public growth. So they always thought that India’s population is too large and epidemics were a natural way to kind of control the population. I mean, the mortality levels were stunning. But the economic cost was massive. The influence of 1918-19 has been India’s worst economic year in recorded economic history, where the GDP of India in real terms fell by 10%. And inflation as measured by the GDP deflator, increased by something like 30%. So this is a classic supply side shock. I think that’s an important lesson.

I think we’re gonna see a huge strain on our supply chains in the coming days. And unless we get our act in order, unfortunately, what we might see is massive price hikes. Right now you’re seeing prices falling because people are just dumping goods, there’s no demand. But what you might find suddenly is that simply there’s not enough people working. Firms are producing less. And suddenly, as we go and start buying our goods and services, we find that they’re not enough goods and services and prices start going up. This is exactly what happened during influenza. And so I think very close attention to supply chains and ensuring that there’s at least enough people working, so that the goods and services are being produced is a very strong lesson to take from that particular episode.

The other thing, of course, being in terms of hygiene measures and all the stuff that we’re doing now in terms of social distancing, which by the way, started being advocated after the influenza. So in 1921 or 22, and I’ve tweeted about this, there was again a scare of some fever going around. And you had these newspaper adverts saying to XYZ and a lot of it would seem very familiar today. That basically said cover your nose and your sneezing and all those kinds of things, which people actually did not quite do at the starting of the epidemic.

Sandip Roy
Yeah, I’ve seen newspaper ads that basically told people at that time in 1918, you know, you just need to go home, lie in bed and wait for your coughs and fevers to subside. And now with all air travel stopped, in some ways, it feels like we’ve gone back to the future or something like that.

Chinmay Tumbe
Yes, absolutely.

Sandip Roy
But even before this pandemic, climate change and erratic weather, were probably going to be triggering mass migrations in both old and new corridors. So what are the trends that you foresee for internal migration in India, in the sort of post ‘Coronial’ world as it were?

Chinmay Tumbe
It of course depends a lot on how long this is going to play out. Let’s assume that it’s going to play out only for a few months, hopefully, I think then it’s not going to really change fundamentally, what’s happening or what I’ve argued in my book. Two or three big things that are happening in India right now.

First is North to South migration. The bulk of migration, which is historically from North to East or North to West, is now North to South. And so you’re seeing this huge migration from North India to South India, which was earlier not happening because of a linguistic barrier. You know, if you didn’t speak Tamil, how could you work in Ramnad? But now the wage difference is so high, I mean, the Biharis, what they get in Kerala…I mean any Bihari worker would tell you it’s a dream to work in Kerala. And they earn a lot, they get good labour rights and so on and they are willing to learn the language. So you have people who are speaking fluent South Indian languages who are otherwise native Hindi speakers. So that’s a big change, which is happening, North to South migration.

Climate change, of course, one has to make a difference…Climate has always been a factor in migration. As I said, the draughts have led to seasonal migration, cyclones, for example. Now, with a greater volatility, what you’re going to see is more seasonal migration. So it’s not going to affect the migration of the security guard, but it will affect the migration of the construction workers. So it’s a very different class of settler migrant workers that climate change is likely to affect. In terms of pockets, the major pocket, of course, of the low lying areas, but I think the Sundarbans belt, which already now has a lot of out migration, is particularly a sensitive zone for this climate change related effects. Not to mention Bangladesh as a whole. And so that’s an interesting dimension. That where will the Bangladeshi immigration switch to? It has been diversifying away from India. But the biggest threat in the subcontinent of climate change is actually for Bangladesh. And so if it actually does happen, then where are they going to start migrating? So I think that’s also one dimension to this story.

Sandip Roy
And the external migrant, the out migrant now, has since the Atal Bihari Vajpayee days… they get their own Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and there is a section of the ministry that is supposedly devoted to their needs, they created the OCI card…Do you think that now that these images of these internal migrant workers have been on front pages and television for days, that there will be somebody who will speak for them? Are there issues around migrant security in the places that they work that will come forth on the national agenda? Are you at all hopeful of that?

Chinmay Tumbe
I sincerely hope that this happens. I think, it’s high time that we had maybe something like an Interstate Migration Council. The problem is [that] right now during this crisis, suddenly you had concerns…the UP government wants to know how many workers from UP are in Gujarat? You know, the fact that we have no data or no timely data on interstate migrant flows in particular is a huge concern, especially in times like these. I think the main thing on the policy agenda has to be the universalisation of social security, which has been on their cards, which is supposed to be rolled out later this year. I think that should just be up on the priority list.

I think there are some politicians who have shown a lot of sensitivity, but again, it came after they were forced into it. I’d like to say, just like we had a Sushma Swaraj for international migrants, who literally, at least on Twitter, she was very active and a sense of reassurance that the Minister of External Affairs will do what it takes to help Indians outside India…I think we need those kind of Sushma Swarajs for internal migrants. Where it has to come from the state governments, maybe a nodal point at the centre, but state governments have to take the lead and say that, we will do what it takes to help our people who are in other states. Irrespective of whether there’s an epidemic or not, which means if there’s a major fire, for example, there’s a Delhi fire in a particular government hub, and if there are migrant workers, the source region should also reach out and say, ‘How can we help you? How can the families be bridged?’ And so on.

So I think that sort of sensitivity has to come in. And maybe this kind of a crisis is a good opportunity to now think about how do we really integrate migrant workers who have been invisible for so long into more visible policymaking streams.

Sandip Roy
Chinmay Tumbe, thank you so much for joining us today.

Chinmay Tumbe
Thanks a lot.

[Music]

Sandip Roy
Chinmay Tumbe is the author of the recently published India Moving: A history of migration. He joined us on the phone. Leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts from. Find us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram at Express Podcasts and stay safe. Stay at home and say a prayer for those who have not been able to make it home. Light a candle perhaps in their name? Thanks for listening. This is Sandip Roy on Express Audio.

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Understanding how India migrates, with Chinmay TumbeThe coronavirus pandemic has really brought into focus the problems of India’s internal migrants. After the 21 day lockdown was announced, we saw news coverage that showed thousands struggling to walk to their homes hundreds of kilometers away. Before this crisis unfolded, it seemed that these migrants had been practically invisible to most of us. And Chinmay Tumbe, a faculty member at IIM Ahmedabad, says that, for the most part, they have remained invisible to India’s policymaking. In this episode, Sandip talks to Chinmay about India’s internal migrants, the myths that surround them, how the government can better address their problems, the emerging trends in migration and his book, India Moving: A History of Migration. Transcript: Sandip Roy Hello and welcome to The Sandip Roy Show on Express Audio. [Music] Every great cataclysmic event, war, famine, the Bhopal gas leak, comes with its iconic image. The one that somehow cuts deep. The burning monk of Vietnam, the burial of an unknown child in Bhopal - her face bleached, ghostly white. This Coronavirus pandemic is no exception. But it's an image we did not expect. It was not about an empty city centre bereft of cars and buses. Or that Nilgai that wandered into a Gurgaon mall. The image that is indelibly imprinted on my memory is that of thousands and thousands of people. Sometimes entire families. Fathers with children on their shoulders, walking on foot for hundreds of kilometres across the breadth of India trying to go home. It was like a scene out of a documentary about the Partition or the Great Bengal Famine. One story haunts me in particular. Not an image but a sound, 42 seconds of audio, from a 38 year old man trying to walk 100 kilometres home from Delhi. His family screaming, beseeching him, "Is there no ambulance that can drop you?... Hello? hello?" And just silence on his end. The crackling line, the heavy breath and then his final words, "Lene aa sakte ho toh aa jao" (come get me if you can). They couldn't, not in time. 38 year old Ranveer Singh collapsed and died of a heart attack on his way home. Not killed by the virus directly, but a victim of the virus nonetheless. Singh, who worked as a delivery man in Delhi, was just one of many thousands of migrants who hit the road in desperation as India shut down in a bit to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. When we say migrants, we think about our NRI cousins in America or maybe labourers and nurses in the Gulf. But India's own internal migrants seem to have been in our collective blind spot. Left stranded by the lockdown that shut down trains and buses. This week, Chinmay Tumbe, a faculty member at IIM Ahmedabad and author of India Moving: A History of Migration, joins us on the show to talk about the migrants in our own backyard. Because of the lockdown this interview was conducted over the phone. [Music] Chinmay Tumbe, welcome to the show. Chinmay Tumbe Thank you for having me over. Sandip Roy So we have been watching these really heartbreaking images of migrants trying to walk home across the breadth of India, which leads to the obvious question, why were governments so caught off guard by the migrants? Did we just forget about our internal migrants? Chinmay Tumbe I think the migrant workers have consistently been a sort of invisible class of workers in policymaking. Starting with the fact that most of our social security benefits also are tied to a particular location. Historically, we've been a country which has just assumed that people don't move. Which is surprising because so many of us are migrants. And hence, the delivery of public services has always been tied to usually the place of birth. So on the one hand, I'm not surprised by the government's ignorance because it's been consistent. But having said that, I'm also surprised because it is under this government's administration that you know, in 2016, the Economic Survey of India published the numbers for the first time showing the scale of migration in India. It argued that there were over a hundred million circular migrant workers in India. Both interstate and intrastate. 2017 there was a report, Working Group report on migration, which had representatives, bureaucrats from various ministries. So I find it a bit amusing that, you know, despite all this evidence, migrant workers were completely off the radar when the lockdown was announced. And note that the circular to sort of assure migrant workers came only on 29th March. So it came a bit too late, by when you know, a migration crisis had been created. And though right now there are obviously clampdowns on migrant workers trying to go home, I would say the situation even today is quite dire. Literally 10s of thousands of shelters all over India. And the government has a new problem now, just trying to find ways to supply food to these migrants. Sandip Roy So when the government tells the court that no migrants are on the road right now, you don't find that particularly reassuring? Chinmay Tumbe I mean, they're not on the road because you're not making them go on the road. For example, in Surat, 500 migrant workers started walking and the police had to be called in. Police had to literally fire tear gas shells. This is a report in the news. And I know a lot of civil society organisations, like Aajeevika Bureau, who are working on the ground 24x7, on you know, running helplines for migrant workers. There's a huge pan-Indian need, it's not a Delhi specific story, it's a pan-Indian need for circular migrant workers to be home with their family, in these sort of distressing times. And I guess that means when the lockdown is officially, you know, removed on April 15, a lot of these migrant workers will go home actually. For some time at least. So that's what the situation seems to be like. So I think now that the visuals have stopped, because of a strict enforcement of containment within borders, it doesn't mean that there's no crisis. Because the need to go back still sort of exists. Sandip Roy Yeah, with the need to go back, can you sort of, you know because you've looked at this issue for so long, talk a little bit about the push and pull that's in effect here. I mean, the migrants often leave their homes for economic reasons, now when they want to return home, is it merely because the economic reasons have dried up in the city that they're in? Or is there something more deeper at play here? Chinmay Tumbe The way I see, there are two aspects. The migrant gets economic security in the big city. The migrant gets social security in the village of a small town where the migrant is coming from. And by social security I mean two kinds. One is the kind of security that comes just being with family. Like all human beings, all of us crave. But the second one is also official public security. That is, you know, PVs, rations, since all of that is tied to the local place, which means you know you can survive in your local place because you have access to all those things. You have access to a ration card which you cannot use while you're away in a different state for instance. So the minute the economic security dries up, as you said, you're clamouring for some sort of social security. And so it's a very rational response that we've seen of, you know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people trying to get home. Because I think what was not announced very clearly initially, was any package of economic security. And I think if that was done...for example on 29th March they did say, you know, there's an order now which says that all firms have to pay the monthly wage and so on. There's a one month rental waiver, now I don't know how much of this will be enforced, but at least these are assurances which should have been given on day one. The fact that it was not, I think, caused a huge amount of distress. So I see it as a very rational response of migrant workers who straddle between two worlds. Take social security or economic insecurity which the lockdown has unleashed. A lot of the migrant workers are also at daily wage, which means that, you know, if you don't have a job tomorrow, you don't have money. So it's an instant crisis. So it's not enough to say that, yes, I can survive this 21 day lockdown on a monthly salary. But for a daily wage worker, it's very hard. Sandip Roy You know, I read quotes from migrants on the road, where one of them said, 'Well, the choice is between staying put in the city and dying here or trying to reach my village. You know, no matter how hard this is'. And one person, an automobile worker, who was walking 155 miles to his village said, 'We will die walking before the coronavirus hits us'. So for them, it seems like the option...it was kind of, you know, you're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Chinmay Tumbe Absolutely. And you know, I mean, I've written about this. I've gone through a similar experience during the Bombay floods. In the sense that the choice was whether to go home, whether to brave the floods and try and get home, or stay where you are. And of course, you know, people had to make these choices. And for us, of course, we all try to get home because you don't know even if you stay there, if the water levels rise up. And so figuratively out here, the water levels are rising up for these daily wage workers in particular because simply there's no money. And just like how I was caught in a flood and try to get home, migrant workers are sort of caught in the figurative economic flood and are desperately trying to get home. So it's, of course, for from a policymakers point of view, they are hard choices to be made. But I do think that in this case, somehow this omission of the welfare of migrant workers initially has proved to be very costly. And unfortunately, we've seen deaths. We've seen, I think on last count, I saw at least more than 20, now the number might be 50, deaths of people who just died because of exhaustion or accidents because of people walking on highways and so on. Which is really unfortunate. Sandip Roy People will say, 'Look armchair critics will always criticise but locking down a country of the size of India is no mean task and something like this was inevitable'. But in your opinion, was it inevitable or was this eminently avoidable? Chinmay Tumbe I think it was eminently avoidable. Not the response time, the response time was four and a half days from the speech to the circular of 29th March, which was just very, very long. And I think this is precisely, you know, what I was reading somewhere...If the Prime Minister actually had given a press conference, this would have been a question asked and, you know, there would have been a response. Not the first concern after the speech was actually just people, if you remember, people, middle class people who had houses who did not need to go anywhere, they rushed out to buy supplies because it was not communicated in the speech. And the Prime Minister then had to tweet relentlessly sort of...come on social media to say everything is fine, don't go, don't go. That was the first panic. That was not of the migrant workers. The migrant workers had already started going back home. I think the other thing that I think policymakers did not see enough was the tremendous, sort of, signal that migrant workers were sending by just flooding railway stations before the lockdown. They were, at least four days before the lockdown, railway stations in India were absolutely flooded. I think we put more attention on international migrants and international flights or domestic flights, then just monitoring, you know, domestic trade. And shutting down the Indian railways, which is probably the first time in, you know, it's 150 year old history. It's quite a dramatic thing to do. And railways are the lifeline of workers. So if you take a hard decision like that, with absolutely no prior notice, it is going to lead to what we've seen, you know, the desperate attempts to get back and hence walking. Now, you mentioned armchair critics. From my vantage point, of course, there are I think, a fair amount of people who work on migration. Now, as I mentioned, these are now official government statistics. A government report had come out on this. So okay, maybe the government, you know, did not have any person giving advice on migration in India's decision framework. I think that's unfortunate. And if there's anything to be learned, it's that in future if there's a crisis of similar proportions, one has to take into account the fact that migrant workers exist. I think it's also a good lesson for other countries who might have a lockdown very soon. Example, a lot of countries in Africa are going to be in the case of India, maybe in a few weeks or a month. And so, I think the Indian template is important for other countries who have larger internal migrant populations to have a well thought out lockdown speech. I think that was very important. Sandip Roy So, according to I think the 2011 census it said that there are 54 million people or nearly 5% of India..people living in India migrated to their present state of residence from some other state. And in your book also you write that you estimate over 150 of India's some 600 or districts belong to this migration wave at present. But what we saw were images mostly of people trying to get back to places like UP and Bihar, or so it seemed to me. Why was that? Chinmay Tumbe I would disagree in the sense that, you know, this is again media bias. In the sense that, this is where the reports got written. I live in Gujarat. Gujarat is one of the largest migrant hubs of India. I can tell you right now, workers are stuck in industrial hubs across the state desperate to get back home. Living in absolutely horrendous conditions. And the reason they have not been able to go on the road is because of a very strong sort of police state where, you know, it was very quickly clamped down. So the fact that you don't see people on the road is not because people don't want to go but it's based on a lot of other things like state capacity, distance to home. So the distance from Delhi to UP and Bihar is much lesser than from Surat to UP and Bihar. The simple reason why you saw particular cities experiencing such large migrant exodus or the pressure exodus, one is the proportion of interstate migrants, okay, which varies across states. So in Chennai, for example, it's a very small number. In Delhi we're just seeing almost 90% of the migrants are interstate. And the proportion of migrants who come from rural areas in Bangalore and Hyderabad and Pune, in Chennai, the bulk of the migrant workforce comes from other urban areas. It's a very different migrant class. And so that's why you see in Mumbai, Surat, Delhi, who have a much more similar migrant profile. You find this very similar profile of the circular migrant worker who is trying to get back. And so I think that is why you saw much more of this pressure to sort of move in particular parts of India. Sandip Roy And the government has told the Supreme Court that, I think on Tuesday, that there's a possibility that 3 out of 10 people coming from cities to rural areas are carrying the coronavirus, COVID-19. I don't know where they got their figure from, but if that is true it sounds like a ticking bomb. Whether you stay in a crowded shelter in a city or go home to a village. I mean, are we looking at sort of potential hotspots springing up everywhere. Chinmay Tumbe I mean that number is complete nonsense. I mean, that has to be stated. 3 out of 10, on what basis? You either make a claim that 3 out of 10 of all Indians are infected right now, or you make a claim that it's about as low as proportion as it is. There's simply no way that it can be 30% right now. In fact, this is one of the thinking is that, you know, let us just lock up the migrants in the city so that we don't let the disease get back to the villages. And what we've seen is quite counterproductive, because migrants are anyways going to scramble home. There was time, there was time. There were 2-3 days where migrants could have gone home and with adequate communication on social distancing and quarantine. Just as with international travel. The international travel restrictions played out literally over several weeks. The UK government gave one week to its international students to leave the country. I think these are sort of more sensible measures, instead of playing hide and seek with migrant workers saying, you know, let's lock you up here and let's not let you leave these states and let's not take the virus back. Because at that point of time, on March 24, there was simply no way that 3 out of 10 migrant workers...in fact it's definitely not the case today. How do you arrive at such numbers? Without claiming that, you know, there's something different between migrant workers and non migrants. In which case, essentially what the government is saying the Supreme Court is that as of now 30% of India is infected. Which I think is a ridiculous number. Sandip Roy So, in your experience and through your studies, do you find that is internal migration here mostly driven by poverty? Or are the push and pull factors different when it comes to say people looking at going to Mumbai versus those who are thinking of going to Canada? Chinmay Tumbe Yeah, I think first, you know, point observation should be that India's poorest state Bihar and India's richest state Kerala, are at the same rate of out migration. They are of course going to different destinations, right? Keralites are going to the Gulf and the Biharis are also going to the Gulf but they're also going to different parts of India, and not the least Biharis we are going to Kerala themselves. So this connection between poverty and out migration pressure is not as clear cut. The driving force of migration is India's density and high rural density. So what's common between Bihar and Canada is high rural population density. Which basically since agriculture cannot support such high density, there's pressure for people to move out. Now, there are two kinds of circular migrant workers. There's the construction worker, who's the most disadvantaged, to say the least. And say a person like a security guard in a city. Now the security guard spends about 10 months in the city, you know, shuttles between, say, Bihar and Mumbai and eventually retires back in Bihar, right? So he spends 10 to 20 years of his life outside and then eventually goes back. And the construction worker is literally hopping from site to site in seasonal migration strands from 2 to 3 months. Now, these two people are very different. The construction worker is typically, you know, I mean, the whole class of workers out here is over represented by the poor, by the landless, by the historically marginalised social groups. Whereas the security guards, it's quite different. They have some land back home. They're actually slightly richer than others back home. This class of workers is overrepresented by historically non marginalised social groups. This class of circular migrant workers is quite diverse. And actually the overall numbers would tell you a story of so-called 'positive selection', which means the richer you are, the more likely you are to out migrate. That's what the data tells you. There's also a myth that, you know, if you're very prosperous in rural areas, people tend to stop migrating. The evidence suggests completely the opposite. Some of the most prosperous regions of India, agriculturally, for example, coastal Andhra Pradesh or Punjab, we have extremely high rates of out migration. For the simple reason that after a point, there are a lot of aspirations and nobody wants to stay in the village. And so people are trying to make...diversify into occupations, which typically cities provide. Either in India or in places like the Gulf or in Canada or the US or any of the other places. Sandip Roy Yeah, because I remember I was quite surprised when reading your book when I read that in Ratnagiri, famous for its mangoes, the orchards you say are mostly run by Nepali migrants now. So tell us about some of these other large pockets of internal migrants also that we don't normally think about. Chinmay Tumbe Yeah I think the most fascinating geography in India, apart from the Eastern UP, Western Bihar, which everyone knows about, is the west coast of India. Now, when you think of Kerala as this big hub of migration for the Gulf, but basically from Kanyakumari to Ratnagiri, the entire one side of the western Ghats, you take that drive, you know, it's just completely sown of out migration. Including pockets of Goa, where people are migrating, who have gone to migrate and work on ships. So they're not classified in any particular country, per se. Now, what's happening is of course that this is also one of the richest parts of India. Though there's consistent out migration or history of out migration of more than a 100 years, these places are fairly well off today. And as a result of that, nobody wants to do the low end jobs anymore because they've come up, they've risen. Kerala is a classic case, people have gone to the Gulf become rich, so none of them are going to the low end jobs. What it means is that in the entire west coast of India, there's a huge demand for labour at sort of low end jobs, which has led to now internal migrations. So one of the biggest migration corridors for India is from this Eastern India belt. Bengal, you know, Bihar, Eastern UP, a bit of Madhya Pradesh, a bit of Chattisgarh. And people going to the west coast of India, whether it is from Ratnagiri to Kanyakumari, this entire stretch, and so that's why you mentioned....So Nepal is also an important source. Though Nepali and Bangladeshi migration has diversified in the last few years away from India to the Gulf and so on. A lot of Nepalis go to the Gulf. But you can think of the west coast of India as one magnet, which draws in a lot of internal migrants. And then the major cities of India. So if you look at the top five, top six cities of India, they draw a huge number of migrants with them. And then you have some traditional out migration clusters. Apart from Eastern UP, Western Bihar, it's coastal Orissa, which is a huge belt. And you have Rajasthan, I mean, a lot of districts in Rajasthan today. And the hill economies. You mentioned Nepal, but it's pretty much the entire Himalayan range. So if you go past Nepal, on this side, you have Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. And there are also remittance economies. Uttarakhand is a completely remittance driven economy. So India has a very interesting geography of migration. And a lot of this is through historic networks. The reason why the Deccan plateau in India comparatively has very little out migration is because historically they were out of the traditional recruitment networks for migration. Whether it was for overseas recruitment that the British took part in or in military migrations which, like Ratnagiri's migration story, starts from military migrations. So it's important to understand the history of why certain pockets started these out migration waves and they've interestingly persisted over time. Sandip Roy But when you think about it, what has the impact of this internal circular migration been? I mean, are you seeing the impact of it in places like Bihar and Orissa and Uttarakhand, that you're talking about, in sort of changes in poverty levels there? Is there an effect there, as has happened with the Gulf migration in Kerala? Chinmay Tumbe There's no doubt that virtually every study on migration and remittances in India has found that those who migrate and have enough means to send back money, those households are doing much better, after controlling for a lot of factors, than those who are not able to send out people. So to that extent, yes. You know and there are studies which clearly show you poverty levels falling out migration. But precisely because this is a story of not a few years, but as my research has shown, you know, migration story of more than 100 years, the question should be, has it really transformed these regions? If not the households. Yes, it's a lifeline for the households, but has it transformed regions? And I've argued in my book that migration is an important way of transforming, but it's not the only thing. It has to be in conjunction with what the money is used for, with overall governance etc. And so I make this contrast between the west coast of India and the Gangetic plains. Both have had an out migration of history of more than 100 years, but one has gone way ahead, the west coast of India, and one has, you know, stayed back. And the difference seems to be what the migrants have done to invest in human capital. In the case of the West Coast, every generation invested much more in human capital and of course what the state has done in terms of overall investment in facilities and governance. Which has kind of lagged behind in Bihar and UP. The case of Uttarakhand is slightly in between. The question might also be, you know, when will this end? Is this migration going to persist forever? And there is the question again, it comes down to density. And migration routes are going to end only when fertility starts crashing and you're seeing those first effects in Kerala, where fertility is now so low. So the pressure on the land is reducing and so you're seeing out migration pressures also reducing. So this cycle of migration which has been persistent for so long, will eventually end sometime in the century, only when the pressure on the land starts reducing. And that's going to reduce when birth rates start falling. Sandip Roy So what has the eastern region of India been doing with the...you said that in the West, people have been investing in capital and doing...what has the East not been doing? Or rather, what has the east been doing with its remittances? Chinmay Tumbe It's been mainly, you know, sustaining household consumption, marriage ceremonies, the status sort of driven consumption, which is very similar to the west coast as well. I think the larger idea is precisely because of the overall framework within which what you can do that matters. You're based in a taluka in Goa, the person sends you back money, you're able to invest in something. Whether it's starting a shack or a tourism site or some business. That's not possible in many of these other places. There's also another ecological constraint. Many of these places which send out migrants from eastern India are also ecologically very volatile zones. So for example, if you ask the average Bihari farmer, Eastern UP farmer, so why they migrate to cities, they have some land back home, the common answer will be floods Continuous floods which affect their livelihoods. In coastal Orissa, there's a cyclone. So in that sense, you know, migration is safety walls from persistent climate related events that hit them. Can the government do more? Yes, if the government takes up education, for example, in as big a way as Kerala did, I think you're going to see a transformation. The migrations won't stop, but the quality of migration will improve every generation. That's what you've seen in the west coast of India. You know, now the migrants, the average migrant from Kerala to the Gulf is not the labour migrant. In the sense that, you know, earlier about only 10% of the migrants from Kerala to the Gulf, so called white collar professional workers, that number is now almost 40%. So, you see this complete transformation in literally one generation. Unfortunately [we're] not seeing that in Coastal Orissa. They still go into the factories of, you know, Surat and generation after generation is not really coming up in a meaningful way. Sandip Roy So, are you saying that the labour migrant going to the Gulf from India, now is no longer the person from Kerala but more likely to be someone from Bihar? Chinmay Tumbe Absolutely. That transformation happened over the last seven years. In fact, on labour contracts, more people go from UP and Bihar than Kerala. It started changing roughly around 2015. So, the Kerala migration story has a very different profile today. And the interesting thing is how the Biharis found the Gulf. They found it through Kerala because you have a large Bihari population in Kerala and they realise that the Keralites are even more in the Gulf. So that's how you know like the Bihari connection started. Just like the Keralites got found Gulf through Bombay. The first recruitment offices for the Gulf in the 1930s and 40s were in the city of Bombay. It was called Bombay then. And it's only after some time that the Keralites got into this network and took this whole HR staff recruitment offices down south to Kerala. It's quite possible that a similar thing happens in Bihar as well. I should make a point on the distinction, that in internal migration the remittance per capita is much lower than the international migration story. And so while we can say that Kerala and Bihar both got remittances, I think Kerala got much more on a per capita basis than the average Bihari gets. And so that's of course a huge difference. Kerala's remittance economy is much higher than the share of the GDP than Bihari's, because of the high per capita remittance flow available from the Gulf. Sandip Roy Chinmay, we've been talking about the internal migrants here, but what about these other groups of migrants, which you also talk about in your book? For example, the Punjabis who have gone to Canada and are now returning to Punjab? Or have you heard any similar stories about large populations of Punjabis who were producing Parma cheese in Italy, and how they have been impacted by all of this? Chinmay Tumbe Yeah, I mean, that was a huge concern. There were 200,000 Punjabis now in Italy, in northern Italy which is, you know, the ground zero of COVID-19 in Italy. And so, if I'm not mistaken, there are a few cases in Punjab from there. But I think because, you know, international travel was shut down fairly quickly, and not many people returned, thankfully, otherwise that would have been a major scare that the disease would have, you know, come from northern Italy to India via Punjab. You do have a few cases out there, just like I think over half the COVID cases of Kerala have come from the Gulf. So these international migrant networks have of course, apart from sending back remittances, in the downside of course, in the times of a pandemic is that it can also lead to a spread of the virus. Other interesting clusters include...Places from Rajasthan as well now I have a golf connection. Singapore, Malaysia have a South Indian connection historically and even today. And there's some emerging clusters now in Africa, East Africa, coming from, you know, some parts of India. Sandip Roy Do we know how previous pandemics have affected migrant populations? Chinmay Tumbe We do actually. We have very good evidence on the plague of Bombay in 1896-98. So, the period between 1896 and 1920 was the worst in probably global history, but especially Indian history. You can call it 'the age of epidemics'. India suffered plague consistently for about 25 years. And Bombay in particular was badly hit. There were of course a few years where mortality was very high. And then you had the influenza, Spanish Flu of 1918-19, which has been India's greatest demographic disaster till date, where it knocked out 6% of the population and about 15 million deaths. It was devastating. All these things obviously were, in the case of plague obviously, spread through migrant workers when they were returning back. It's not a one to one correlation. I mean, obviously some migrant workers took it back. But there were other factors as well. And there were a lot of interesting theories about how the virus spread. But in both cases, interestingly, it's it started from Bombay, and it started from outside. Soldiers returning, in the case of influenza. And something similar in the case of Plague. Now what's interesting is even then migrant workers fled the city, right? And in the case of Bombay, in the plague of 1896-98 about half the population just left. Bombay's population was close to a million back then, half the workforce left. What's interesting is of course, they eventually did come back. But in the interim process, there was an interesting period where faced with tremendous labour shortages, the cotton mills had to give massive concessions to labour. Simply because labour got greater bargaining power. And so if you wanted to employ people, you'd have to not only bid up the wage but also give a lot of concessions. So a lot of people trace the roots of trade union politics, which started about 20 years later, to this event. This demographic event tilted the balance between labour and capital in the city of Bombay. These are the kind of strange things that happen during epidemics. I won't be surprised if on April 15, suddenly we find massive labour shortages in our cities such that very strangely, the bargaining power of labour might actually improve, for a few weeks at least, till people come back to the cities. Sandip Roy Yeah, because I mean, the Great Depression of the early 1930s also, and that economic slowdown and reduction of migration flows could possibly do that. But do you foresee that happening to that level this time, as it did in the early 20th century? Chinmay Tumbe I don't think the migrant exodus has been that much precisely because of the clamp down. I think what we're going to see on April 15, a lot of migrants who wanted to desperately get back home will actually go home. It's also important to understand the time of the year we're in. We're very close to June, which is typically the month where migrant workers anyway go back home because it's the rice sowing season in most parts of India. So what we're going to see, I think, is migrants strategy where they'll say, you know, 'It's very uncertain, life is very uncertain right now. Let me just stay it out at home for a few months'. And so June-July is anyway, you know, monsoon and so on. So my guess is that a lot of people are going to go home and people who have gone home are not going to immediately return. And so we are actually going to see significant labour shortages in our cities and manufacturing clusters. I don't think it's gonna be permanent, I think it's just matter of a few months. I think the industry that's going to be hit really bad is construction sector. Because construction also slows down during the monsoon, one of its peaks are in the summertime and they're gonna find it very difficult to find labourers. So I think clearly some economic shocks are going to be phased in April May, after the lockdown has been removed, precisely because migrant workers are either not there or are going to go home. Sandip Roy [What] other lessons from the 1918 influenza pandemic would you say were devastating for the economy that India should be gearing up for? Chinmay Tumbe I mean, the 1918s is very simple in the sense that there was literally nothing done. So there are two lessons. One is, of course, in terms of government measures. There was a strange thinking among a lot of the British policy thinking, what historians call a very Malthusian view on population. That is, these epidemics are God given because it keeps a check on public growth. So they always thought that India's population is too large and epidemics were a natural way to kind of control the population. I mean, the mortality levels were stunning. But the economic cost was massive. The influence of 1918-19 has been India's worst economic year in recorded economic history, where the GDP of India in real terms fell by 10%. And inflation as measured by the GDP deflator, increased by something like 30%. So this is a classic supply side shock. I think that's an important lesson. I think we're gonna see a huge strain on our supply chains in the coming days. And unless we get our act in order, unfortunately, what we might see is massive price hikes. Right now you're seeing prices falling because people are just dumping goods, there's no demand. But what you might find suddenly is that simply there's not enough people working. Firms are producing less. And suddenly, as we go and start buying our goods and services, we find that they're not enough goods and services and prices start going up. This is exactly what happened during influenza. And so I think very close attention to supply chains and ensuring that there's at least enough people working, so that the goods and services are being produced is a very strong lesson to take from that particular episode. The other thing, of course, being in terms of hygiene measures and all the stuff that we're doing now in terms of social distancing, which by the way, started being advocated after the influenza. So in 1921 or 22, and I've tweeted about this, there was again a scare of some fever going around. And you had these newspaper adverts saying to XYZ and a lot of it would seem very familiar today. That basically said cover your nose and your sneezing and all those kinds of things, which people actually did not quite do at the starting of the epidemic. Sandip Roy Yeah, I've seen newspaper ads that basically told people at that time in 1918, you know, you just need to go home, lie in bed and wait for your coughs and fevers to subside. And now with all air travel stopped, in some ways, it feels like we've gone back to the future or something like that. Chinmay Tumbe Yes, absolutely. Sandip Roy But even before this pandemic, climate change and erratic weather, were probably going to be triggering mass migrations in both old and new corridors. So what are the trends that you foresee for internal migration in India, in the sort of post 'Coronial' world as it were? Chinmay Tumbe It of course depends a lot on how long this is going to play out. Let's assume that it's going to play out only for a few months, hopefully, I think then it's not going to really change fundamentally, what's happening or what I've argued in my book. Two or three big things that are happening in India right now. First is North to South migration. The bulk of migration, which is historically from North to East or North to West, is now North to South. And so you're seeing this huge migration from North India to South India, which was earlier not happening because of a linguistic barrier. You know, if you didn't speak Tamil, how could you work in Ramnad? But now the wage difference is so high, I mean, the Biharis, what they get in Kerala...I mean any Bihari worker would tell you it's a dream to work in Kerala. And they earn a lot, they get good labour rights and so on and they are willing to learn the language. So you have people who are speaking fluent South Indian languages who are otherwise native Hindi speakers. So that's a big change, which is happening, North to South migration. Climate change, of course, one has to make a difference...Climate has always been a factor in migration. As I said, the draughts have led to seasonal migration, cyclones, for example. Now, with a greater volatility, what you're going to see is more seasonal migration. So it's not going to affect the migration of the security guard, but it will affect the migration of the construction workers. So it's a very different class of settler migrant workers that climate change is likely to affect. In terms of pockets, the major pocket, of course, of the low lying areas, but I think the Sundarbans belt, which already now has a lot of out migration, is particularly a sensitive zone for this climate change related effects. Not to mention Bangladesh as a whole. And so that's an interesting dimension. That where will the Bangladeshi immigration switch to? It has been diversifying away from India. But the biggest threat in the subcontinent of climate change is actually for Bangladesh. And so if it actually does happen, then where are they going to start migrating? So I think that's also one dimension to this story. Sandip Roy And the external migrant, the out migrant now, has since the Atal Bihari Vajpayee days... they get their own Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and there is a section of the ministry that is supposedly devoted to their needs, they created the OCI card...Do you think that now that these images of these internal migrant workers have been on front pages and television for days, that there will be somebody who will speak for them? Are there issues around migrant security in the places that they work that will come forth on the national agenda? Are you at all hopeful of that? Chinmay Tumbe I sincerely hope that this happens. I think, it's high time that we had maybe something like an Interstate Migration Council. The problem is [that] right now during this crisis, suddenly you had concerns...the UP government wants to know how many workers from UP are in Gujarat? You know, the fact that we have no data or no timely data on interstate migrant flows in particular is a huge concern, especially in times like these. I think the main thing on the policy agenda has to be the universalisation of social security, which has been on their cards, which is supposed to be rolled out later this year. I think that should just be up on the priority list. I think there are some politicians who have shown a lot of sensitivity, but again, it came after they were forced into it. I'd like to say, just like we had a Sushma Swaraj for international migrants, who literally, at least on Twitter, she was very active and a sense of reassurance that the Minister of External Affairs will do what it takes to help Indians outside India...I think we need those kind of Sushma Swarajs for internal migrants. Where it has to come from the state governments, maybe a nodal point at the centre, but state governments have to take the lead and say that, we will do what it takes to help our people who are in other states. Irrespective of whether there's an epidemic or not, which means if there's a major fire, for example, there's a Delhi fire in a particular government hub, and if there are migrant workers, the source region should also reach out and say, 'How can we help you? How can the families be bridged?' And so on. So I think that sort of sensitivity has to come in. And maybe this kind of a crisis is a good opportunity to now think about how do we really integrate migrant workers who have been invisible for so long into more visible policymaking streams. Sandip Roy Chinmay Tumbe, thank you so much for joining us today. Chinmay Tumbe Thanks a lot. [Music] Sandip Roy Chinmay Tumbe is the author of the recently published India Moving: A history of migration. He joined us on the phone. Leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts from. Find us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram at Express Podcasts and stay safe. Stay at home and say a prayer for those who have not been able to make it home. Light a candle perhaps in their name? Thanks for listening. This is Sandip Roy on Express Audio.
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