Resilience as process: The case of rural migrants in eastern India

Authors: Shreya Sinha*, University of Cambridge, Nivedita Narain*, PRADAN
Topics: Development, Migration
Keywords: resilience, migrants, livelihoods, political economy, India, COVID-19
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 6:25 AM / 7:40 AM
Room: Virtual 17
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The struggles of migrant workers in India returning to their villages in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown are now widely known. They publicly visibilized for the first time the structural challenges faced by these individuals and their households in making a living. This paper asks what ‘building back better’ and ‘building resilience’ means for this social group. Its geographical focus is the indigenous/tribal areas of the state of Bihar in eastern India, arguably the largest source of migrant workers across the country. It builds on ongoing collaborative research in one administrative unit, Chakai block, in this area since April 2019 and uses data gathered through conventional qualitative fieldwork before the pandemic and through Interactive Voice Response Systems (IVRS) since the pandemic. The paper delineates the structural challenges and response (agency) to the COVID-19 crisis at multiple levels: individual, household, community and region. The analysis takes seriously differentiation within the community (for instance, along gender and age), livelihood strategies of the households other than migration as well as the relatively disadvantaged position of indigenous/tribal peoples and the region in India’s wider political economy. The paper argues that resilience needs to be understood not only as adaptation and through social relations but also as a process if we are to expect any meaningful improvement in the lives of these most vulnerable sections of rural society.

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