Brokered livelihoods: Debt, Labour Migration and Development in Tribal Western India
Seasonal labour migration is an increasingly important aspect of rural livelihoods in tribal areas of Western India. Such migration can no longer be viewed merely as an adjunct to an essentially agrarian way of life, but has to be seen as integral to the coping, survival and livelihood strategies of tribal farming families. Rural to urban migration is often viewed as a consequence of environmental crisis in which migrants as 'ecological refugees' [Gadgil and Guha 1995] are forcibly displaced by processes of deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcity, land fragmentation, declining agricultural productivity and population increase. While increasing pressure on a fragile resource base has indeed contributed to widespread failure to meet subsistence needs among tribal households, the research discussed in this study shows that the forces leading to migration are as much to do with the social relations of dependency and indebtedness which subsistence failure entails, as with ecological decline. The problem is not so much one of declining production, as of systems of usurious money lending, labour contracting and exploitation. The social experience and consequences of migration are far from uniform, but shaped by class and gender. For a minority of Bhil households migration offers positive opportunities for saving, investment and meeting contingencies. For the poorer majority, migration is a defensive coping strategy covering existing debts and extreme economic vulnerability. In combining unequal and individualised income accrual with the need for joint livelihood strategies, migration has a major impact on intra-household relations.
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Volume (Year): 38 (2002)
Issue (Month): 5 ()
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