State-Migrant Relations in India: Internal Migration, Welfare Rights and COVID-19

Pankhuri Agarwal’s forthcoming article in a special issue of the journal, Social Change, explicitly centres on state-migrant relations and provides tools to understand the efficacy of social welfare policies in contemporary Indian bureaucratic transformations.

Through a multi-sited ethnographic study of internal migrants working in informal occupations in Delhi, Pankhuri shows that the everyday lived experience of these migrants in India is negotiated by multiple and often intersecting forms of inequalities and exclusion. To that end, she gives an overview of their efforts to access available social welfare schemes. Their interactions with street-level bureaucrats and the paperwork (like an Aadhaar card or a ration card) required to access welfare schemes show how their mobility is restricted, compelling them to enter into dependency relations with brokers, employers and others. Thus, internal migrants’ rights to move freely throughout the country as citizens do not necessarily protect them, for simply being an Indian national does not equate to being a citizen with fully socially recognised persons with rights. The formal, administrative and spatial exclusion makes it nearly impossible for migrant workers to access welfare benefits in the city even if they wanted to.

The paper reveals the multitude of complex factors that motivate workers to move and find work that must be acknowledged in any administrative effort to ensure access to rights and legal aid. In doing so, the paper also raises pertinent questions on the move towards digitisation of welfare schemes and the creation of a central database of migrant workers.

The paper will be available to read in June 2022.



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