Centre for Development Practice and Research, Patna

TISS Patna Lecture Series on Migration, Lecture - 17


Date and time: April 20, 2021 3:30PM - 5:00PM

Venue: Online (via zoom)

Migration Lecture Series, Lecture - 17

Precarious Transitions: Disjunctions between Mobility, Democracy, and Citizenship in a Rising Power

Dr Indrajit Roy

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Abstract of the lecture

On March 25, 2020, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the world’s largest lockdown in a bid to stem the threat of COVID 19. The stringent lockdown triggered a mass exodus from cities across India, with panic-stricken people desperately trying to leave for their homes in villages, walking over hundreds if not thousands of kilometres. Over the next few days national and international newspapers reported horrifying stories of migrant workers being harassed, humiliated, and brutalised by the Indian state.

Who were these men, women and children streaming out of India’s cities? Why did they feel compelled to leave the economic engines of one of the world’s fastest growing economies and return to their rural homes? Why had they flocked to its cities and towns in the first place? The plethora of commentary that followed the exodus from India’s cities point to the urgent significance of these questions. They also direct attention to even more fundamental questions about what citizenship in the world’s largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies means for the country’s 100 million labour migrants.

The exodus compels us to reflect on the “precarious transition” that marks the disjunctions between mobility, democracy and citizenship in a country that styles itself and is hailed internationally as a Rising Power. This lecture asks how a discussion centered on “mobility” might contribute to understanding the changing processes and practices of citizenship in India and broader issues of politics and democracy. India’s draconian lockdown and the exodus it triggered exposed the disjunctions between mobility and citizenship in India. On the one hand, political change and the challenges to calcified caste hierarchies through social movements have enabled oppressed people to hope for better lives. On the other hand, they continue to face economic, social, and political marginalisation despite impressive rates of economic growth. The migrants’ crisis of the summer of 2020 revealed the immobile foundations of mobility and the precarious trajectory of citizenship. Drawing on reflections of collaborative ethnographic work and insights offered by other commentators of internal migration in India, this lecture offers an account of the “precarious transitions”.

Bio-note of the speaker

Dr. Indrajit Roy is Senior Lecturer at the University of York. He researches and teaches the politics of ‘new development futures’. His work illustrates the profound ways in which agents in the Global South disrupt prevailing understandings of development. By going beyond Eurocentric and elite-centric narratives, this work opens new debates for critical explorations of development. Indrajit was a student of MA in Social Work (Specialisation: Urban and Rural Community Development) at TISS from 1999 to 2001.