Left-Behind or Left-Ahead? Part 1

COVID-19 has laid bare the magnitude and ubiquity of migration in India. Various sources across different studies estimate there there are over 100 million migrants in India. Economic migration in India, like in other parts of the world, is also male male dominated. In my dissertation project I look at the consequences of migration in source regions from a gendered perspective. Specifically, I look at how the absence of men due to migration is affecting women’s political lives in migrant sending regions.

Thanks to the generous support from CASI I have spent this summer conducting phone interviews with elites, frontline workers and resident men and women in Araria, Bihar. These interviews have helped me sharpen my hypothesis and make connections with those on the field so that I can hit the ground running once things begin to ease in India.

The interviews have revealed that men are away either for short duration (2-3 months) or for longer periods (8 months-1.5 years). Women experience extreme difficulties in the absence of men and often told me that they have to do things in majboori (or having no option). They take care of housework, children and official work related to ration, gas connections and other day to day work. Even though this is painful in many ways, indirectly, they experience greater exposure and empowerment.

Politics in India is considered a male arena. Through this project I aim to highlight the role played by women as political actors at the local level. The findings from this project will generate insights into our scientific understanding of women’s political empowerment, and the shifting nature of women’s interaction with political actors in the absence of men. In addition to this, it will allow us to better target policies in sending regions that specifically encourage women’s participation in the political and civic arena – a crucial driver of larger change in women’s overall well-being. Given that the nature of migration in India is identical to migration in other parts of the world, the results from this project will have wide application.

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About Rithika Kumar