A Study of Internal Migrants
To Vulnerable Occupations in Delhi

By Harsh Mander and Gayatri Sahgal

Millions of footloose and impoverished men, women and children in India, migrate from the countryside each year to cities – in crowded trains, buses, trucks and sometimes on foot – their modest belongings bundled over their heads, in search of the opportunities and means to survive. Some arrive alone; some are accompanied by family or friends. Some stay for a season, some several years, some permanently. Many tend to drift quickly to low-end, low paid, vulnerable occupations – picking waste, pulling rickshaws, constructing buildings and roads, or working in people’s homes.  They service a city which does not welcome them. Forever treated as intruders and somehow illegitimate citizens, they live in under-served makeshift shanties, under plastic sheets, or on streets and in night shelters. Police and municipal authorities notoriously harass and drive them away. Laws protect them in theory, but rarely in practice. Their wage rates tend to be exploitative, illegal and uncertain, works hours long, and conditions of employment unhealthy and unsafe. They are often unable to easily access even elementary citizenship rights in the city, like the right to vote, a ration card, supplementary feeding for their children, and school admissions. Their numbers are substantial; their economic contributions enormous; yet internal migrants tend to remain in the periphery of public policy.

Centre for Equity Studies undertook a study  to investigate the lived experiences of internal migrants to vulnerable occupations to Delhi, one of the most powerful magnets for such migration in the country. The study enquires who these people are, what factors propel them to the metropolis, how do they organise their movement to the city, and for what periods do they stay in the city? What is the nature and frequency of their interactions with their families in the village they have left behind? What are their experiences of living and work in the city? What are their conditions of work: wages, work hours, security, safety and dignity? What is the extent they are able to access legal protections, and food, social security and livelihood schemes to which they are entitled as citizens?

The study aims also to identify distress, if any, which motivates such internal migration for villages to vulnerable occupations in cities. For this study, we define vulnerable occupations as those occupations which are located in the informal sector , are unorganised and unprotected, offer little or no social security benefits to their employees, and are associated with working conditions which are exploitative, unsafe and often strip workers of their very dignity. In the words of Zhu, such occupations can be best described as those which are ‘dirty, dangerous and demanding’ . The occupations we chose for inclusion in the study are waste picking, rickshaw pulling, domestic work, construction labour and other casual labour.

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