Namaste from India.
I’m here in Northern India for the summer working and learning about migrant populations in India, as well as their access to education, healthcare, and other services.
Despite some organizational difficulties, my time here so far has been fascinating, fun, and filled with awe-inspiring landscapes. I spent my first week in Himachal Pradesh living with a homestay, and this was the view from their house:
Although the Himalayas in the background look close, they’re actually several weeks’ trek away.
As for the migrants here, those who I’ve encountered so far typically fit certain profiles: they are originally from Punjab or Rajasthan (two states just south of Himachal Pradesh); they work in the home, or as agricultural laborers, trash pickers, or dog breeders; and they live in semi-permanent camps of a few dozen people, in structures made of bamboo and tarps and with mud stoves for cooking.
(Picture credit to Paula.)
Before I came here, I thought that as agricultural workers, the migrants would move around every few months. But in fact, the groups I’ve met stay in one place for 6-8 years at a time! The reason they are still ‘migrants’ is because they generally do not have official citizenship in the places they go, are not connected to public utilities like electricity and running water, and do not send their children to local schools.
So, why not? I’m still trying to answer that question, but I can hazard a few guesses. The migrants I met, it turns out, do have citizenship papers-but in Punjab. They intend to go back there some day, and even own land in the state, so they don’t want to give up their Punjabi citizenship for papers in Himachal Pradesh. As a result, however, they can’t access many of the charities and services provided to the rural poor in the state.
A child drawing at a migrant camp. (Picture credit to Paula.)
As for school (my main focus), the picture here is interesting. There are a variety of reasons why the migrant children do not go to school:
-they are needed for household chores and work at the camps, such as cooking and fetching things
-as dalits (low caste Indians), they risk discrimination and teasing by classmates and teachers at school
-because most of the migrant children haven’t received formal education, they would need to enter school in classes with much younger children
-the children and their parents do not necessarily see school as relevant to their lives
All of these points deserve deeper analysis than I can provide right now, but the last point is especially complex. Most of the migrants I’ve worked with (both children and parents) have shown strong interest in learning subjects like math and English, but much less interest in formal school (though it’s worth noting that several of the children attended school previously in other states). This overall disinterest in school may be due to the other factors above, or there may be more to the story. Language barriers make it difficult to discover these nuances, and it’s also important not to assume that standardized education is the best path for all people. But I hope to continue learning during the rest of my time in India, and will seek to understand more of the migrants’ backgrounds, needs, wants, ideas, and worldviews while I am here.