Labour Migration in India: Journeys with Wood Carvers from Uttar Pradesh

Thomas Chambers // Anthropology // 13th February 2013 // 1-2pm // Arts C

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This lecture explores the migration experiences of Indian Muslim craftsmen from the city of Saharanpur (U.P.), as they seek work and opportunities across the country.  Their lives are played out on the fringes of the state and provide challenges to common assumptions within both, Indian government and academic discourses on North Indian Muslims which tend towards narratives of marginalisation, confinement and ghettoisation.  The lecture also sets the scene in the context of the informal nature of working arrangements and the networks through which migrants move.

The lecture is based around the stories of four craft workers in the city and engages with their lives in Saharanpur as well as joining them as they ‘go outside’.  The narrative begins in the gullies of Saharanpur’s wood working neighbourhoods and explores the importance of origin in order to ‘set the scene’, locate lives of migrants in the home space and give attention to those who choose not to migrate.  The second part of the lecture focuses on migrants experiences in destination spaces.  Here the lecture explores how both structure and agency have played their parts in these processes.

In the early 1980s a combination of government policy and increased competition resulted in a decline in Saharanpur’s large wood carving industry which had, until then, seen rapid growth and drawn in large quantities of labour from the city and surrounding areas.  Whilst the industry would recover, workers and craftsmen had already started to build up migration networks and a ‘culture of migration’ had developed which persists to this day.  This experience has had a profound effect on the social and economic circumstances of those involved. However, the emergence of a ‘culture of migration’ interplayed with other factors which will be explored during the course of the presentation.

Whilst the lecture utilises a variety of data, including surveys and interviews, the primary narrative is drawn from the researcher’s own participation in work and migration during journeys with woodworking friends from Saharanpur to various areas of the country.

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