Understanding Migration: A lecture by Professor Chinmay Tumbe on August 3, 2021

Dr. Chinmay Tumbe, author of India Moving: A History of Migration, helped students at the Asian College of Journalism understand why people migrate and how India could have averted the migrant crisis that occurred during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Higher wages, the availability of a network of friends and relatives, education and marriage are some of the reasons why people migrate by choice, the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad professor said.

He blamed economic distress, natural disasters and political turmoil for forced migration.

Prof Tumbe introduced students to “circular” migrant workers who leave their hometowns behind for around 10 months a year for work and come back for the agricultural season.

One in six Indian households has a family member who is a work-related migrant, he pointed out, underscoring how the districts with the highest migration are those with higher population density.

Poorer migrants send most of their salaries back home. Their social security benefits, identity proofs and familial bonds are tied to their native villages.

The government could have avoided the migrant crisis during the first wave of the pandemic if it had planned the lockdown better and given the migrants enough time to go back to their villages, Dr Tumbe said.

During the second lockdown, the government did better by letting trains run, albeit in a scaled down manner. It also set up 20,000 internal refugee camps to support the migrants in the city.

Dr Tumbe elaborated a clutch of policy initiatives that will help migrants including the portability of social security benefits, affordable rental housing and a system that holds labour contractors accountable in times of crisis.