Money, migration and missing capital: The case of Uttarakhand

In times of heightened interest in migration and migrants, a lecture deals with key issues underpinning it.
Village in Uttarakhand (Image: Paul Hamilton; Flickr Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0) Village in Uttarakhand (Image: Paul Hamilton; Flickr Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Uttarakhand’s rural areas are marked by massive outflux of people and it is believed that rural migration may alter the state’s political geography. A comparison between the census data of 2001 and 2011 indicates a very slow decadal growth of population in most of the mountain districts of the state with Almora and Pauri Garhwal showing an absolute decline in the population.

To examine all aspects of the problem of migration a special lecture was held on ‘Money, migration, and missing capital in the processes of development in Uttarakhand’ on July 7, 2020. The lecture delivered by Prof B S Butola, Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi was organised by the Centre for Work and Welfare, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi. Excerpts from the lecture are reproduced below.

Role of migration in shaping human history

Before economics became the basis of class formation and class struggle, it was migrants who determined how hierarchies are created in places. Migration also helped in transporting local myths and making those universalised, be it religion or race, class, or the nation-state.

Migration is mostly explained in terms of what it achieved, but the costs of migration are often ignored. For example, European colonialism and associated migration processes led to the disappearance of ethnic culture, knowledge systems and introduced new norms and expressions. Biblical culture and civilizational norms were imposed on the ‘crypto-barbarians’.

Migration related processes essentially involve territorialisation, de-territorialisation and re-territorialisation of the individuals/groups. Gerrymandering (manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favour one party or class) is one such practice by which the nation-states checkmate the entire democratic process.

Territorialised states envisioned floating population as ‘problems’ due to difficulties in universalisation, standardisation and normalisation of the migrant population.

The treatment meted to Albanians by Italians, Rohingyas by South Asia among others bear testimony to such anxieties. Drawing from Roberto Esposito’s thought the reduction of the migrant’s life to a ‘bare-life’ and the lack of a universal definition of a migrant was elicited.

Scholars have dealt with the spatial, social, and economic aspects of migration, but the psychological dimension of a migrant’s life is often ignored. Quoting from the conversations that ensued between Yudhishthira and the Yaksha in the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira considered ‘Pravas’ or life outside one’s own territory as the most painful experience; thereby bringing out the deep emotional distress and alienation a migrant undergoes.

Migration also involves the transfer of the self from one ‘legitimising authority’ to another which involves alteration of all social contracts, compelling the migrants to suffer from a deficit of trust and re-establishment of trust in the new locale.

The process is associated with de-skilling and re-skilling of their selves and continuous re-adjustments to regain social and cultural capital. As migrants become a part of a new community, s/he develops new ‘immunity’ as a part of that community and the constant alteration of immunity leads to the development of ‘auto-immunity’ with negative consequences.

The case of Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand was locally ruled until 1783. The Gorkhas eventually annexed the territory and the region started experiencing out-migration. Post-1814, the British took over the territory and transformed the barter economy to a monetised labour and market economy.

History is replete with ‘begar’ (forced labour without payment) and stories of exploitation and alterations in community life with the introduction of ‘bride-price’ and ‘kaur’ marriages. The ‘money-order’ economy of Uttarakhand is unable to convert money into capital because migration into Uttarakhand follows 5 Ps; (Placement, Promotion, Punishment, Pilgrimage, and Pension) which does not generate investment.

The outmigration of skilled youth has led to the absence of entrepreneurial zeal in the region. The oft-hyped potential for tourism in the state was busted by exposing heavy dependence on pilgrimage tourism which is austere in nature leading to no profit. Likewise, hydro-electric power generation suffers from the absence of adequate demand from within the state.

Ayurveda could provide a viable option but unfortunately, the processing units are often located outside the state. The lack of impetus for developing research and development of indigenous skills like handicrafts and weaving as well as learning centres for indigenous languages like ‘Bhotia’ have been some of the missing links.

The need to develop spring-shed zones and popularise dry farming cultivation along with mixed farming methods could enable the people of Uttarakhand to find a meaningful way of engaging with their own land and lead to the development of the region.

The lecture concluded by re-emphasizing the concept of exclusive inclusion and inclusive exclusion by drawing the analogy of the body as a system where organs get severed through the process of migration posing difficulties in getting it re-implanted in the new body.

The migrant, like the organs as well the receiving body (community) has to forever depend on immunosuppressants in order to help keep both together and this is how the fear and anxiety associated with the implant (migrants) continue to ail societies.

Beyond economic, social, and psychological loss, a migrant’s acquired auto-immunity through migration is the crucial issue that migration studies need to incorporate while analysing processes of migration.

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