From the margins: Exploring Low-income Migrant Workers' Access to Basic Services and Protection in the context of India's Urban Transformation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science

Abstract

Indian cities attract a considerable number of low-income migrants from marginal rural households experiencing difficult economic, political and social conditions at home who migrate in search of livelihoods and security. These migrants come from around the country as well as across the border from Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar to work in low-income manual occupations in a range of small-scale petty trade, service sector work, transport and construction work. Low-income migrants live and work in precarious conditions and are often denied basic amenities and fundamental rights. Poorly-paid intermittent and insecure jobs make them vulnerable to abuse, extortion or bribery. Many such migrants, both internal and international, lack documentation and proof of identity, whether for basic services such as health care and schooling or electoral voting. Their marginal position entails poorer access to health care provisions and other determinants of health than general (non-migrant) populations, thereby enhancing their vulnerability to ill-health, abuse and ill treatment whilst simultaneously compromising their ability to access protection, legal support or redress, and forms of accountability. Language, appearance and cultural differences exposes many low-income migrants from interior parts of the country or across the border to harassment and political exclusion. Moreover, despite their ubiquitous presence, their precarious livelihoods, informality and invisibility keep them unnoticed in urban planning, in the work of civil society organisations and in social science research.
In this context, this collaborative project has been designed to generate evidence to advance the rights and protection mechanisms that must be planned and provided for low-income urban migrants. We shall examine what India's urban transformation means for low-income migrants, their inclusion and social justice by exploring:
1. Low-income migrants' views on transformations in Indian cities, and the opportunities and challenges that confront them;
2. Low-income migrants perceptions of their entitlements, claim-making processes and attempts to protect their own health in a context of poor living and working conditions;
3. The prevalence of violence and extent of exclusion experienced by low-income migrants and how they protect themselves from various forms of violence;
4. The legal, developmental, humanitarian and human rights responses to low-income migrants in Indian cities.
Fieldwork based in Guwahati (Assam) and Jalandhar (Punjab), two of India's fastest growing cities, aims to enrich our understanding of access to health care, the social determinants of health, and experiences of violence, inclusion/exclusion and accessing justice, from the vantage point of diverse low-income migrant workers, from within India as well as cross-border. The project will focus on migrants' perceptions and lived experiences and will generate evidence to advance the rights and protection mechanisms that must be planned and provided for low-income urban migrants. Low-income migrants are mobile, dispersed and invisible, so they present methodological challenges, especially for creating a sampling frame or mapping in a particular locality. A distinctive strength of the project is its innovative methods for accessing these 'hard-to-reach' groups.
The proposed research will adopt a mixed methods approach. In order to unravel the nuances and complexities of low-income migrants' experiences and situate these within the broader processes of urban transformation in Jalandhar and Guwahati, we shall combine ethnographic fieldwork with in-depth interviews, a brief survey, and participatory methods such as photovoice.

Planned Impact

The impacts that we are seeking to make with this research are of several kinds, and are emergent from the extensive networks that the research team already have in the UK, India and South Asia, and will further develop during the course of the research. The first will be academic researchers in the UK, India and elsewhere interested in low-income migrants' entitlement to basic services, equity and justice. More specifically, we will engage with the debate on citizenship and generate evidence to expand the conceptual debate on the possibilities for ensuring migrants' citizenship to access services and protection in face of structural and direct violence in urban areas. We will also develop a methodology to reach out to low-income migrants that are often difficult to geographically map. The second will be policy makers and urban planners at a domestic and international level who are interested in the welfare and protection of low-income migrants, and in sustainable development of cities. The include officials from State health & social development Ministries (and other Central planning structures such as Niti Aayog) as well as representatives of multilateral international agencies such as the UNHCR, UN Women, ILO, International Organisation for Migration (Chopra and Sharma have previously worked in collaboration with these organisations). The third, and main beneficiary, will be human rights groups, health and social equity movements (e.g. Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), NGOs and migrant organisations/ associations who are seeking to advance the rights, welfare and protection mechanisms for low-income migrants. This constituency includes initiatives of international prominence such as the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (Kapilashrami has previously worked with the Director, Dr Sanjoy Hazarika) as well as national and local organisations working on crosscutting issues of gender, health & homelessness. Through a programme of dissemination, including exhibitions in collaboration with local organizations, information and knowledge will be used to improve public awareness on the pattern and experiences of low-income migrants.

Impact is built into the design of the project. We will engage with each of these constituencies in the project inception workshop that will be help in Delhi at the start of the project. We will invite 20-25 key stakeholders from these three constituencies in the inception meeting. In the inception workshop, we will discuss the scope of the study with them and learn from their insights and to assess their perspectives on our research questions and views on the knowledge gap, and provide important information and access to help us firm up our field research plans. The project will also consist of an advisory board drawn from academia, international organisations and NGOs. As a part of our study, we will carry out a mapping of the legal, developmental, health care, humanitarian and human rights responses in Jalandhar and Guwahati, which will help us understand the current welfare architecture and identify good practices and gaps.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Research & Policy Gaps in Migration & Health
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 11/2018
 
Description Strengthening Policy and Research Capacities on Migration, Rights and Global Health
Amount £29,690 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Description Inception Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We organised an inception workshop in Delhi in July 2018 where key stakeholders working in the field of low-income migrants were invited. A total of 16 participants took part in this inception meeting where we discussed key issues facing low-income migrants and access to services in India.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited to Colombo Process meeting in Kathmandu 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Sharma was invited to take part in the Colombo Process Ministerial Dialogue in Kathmandu where he was able to meet the Ministers and senior government officials from labor sending countries discussing the coherent policy on social safety net for low-income migrants. Sharma was able to meet key stakeholders and the Minister of Labour and Employment from Nepal invited Sharma to meet him to consult on problems faced by Nepali migrant workers; it is possible that this meeting (yet to take place) offers an opportunity for impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Migration and Health Consultation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We organised a consultation on migration and health in New Delhi in November 2018 where participants from key organisations working in the field of migration and health took part to discuss research and policy gaps. As a part of this consultation, we decided to organise an Early Career Research Workshop in April 2019 and a funding has since been secured for this workshop. This early career workshop is expected to build research capacity of 30 researchers from the Global South and the UK.

In addition to this, Sharma and Kapilashrami made trips to Bangladesh, Malayasia and Kathmandu where they met with key stakeholders working in the field of migration and health to identify potential opportunities for impact related KEI activities and to solicit the research needs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Nepal National Conference on Gender and Migration: Promoting an Evidence-based Policy Dialogue 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Sharma was invited to speak as a panelist and chair a panel as a part of a national conference (National Conference on Gender and Migration: Promoting an Evidence-based Policy Dialogue) organised by IOM, ILO, UNWomen and SDC in Kathmandu on 11-12 December 2018. This event allowed Sharma to share information on the ongoing research on low-income migrants in India .
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018