Vigil Human Rights Diary - August 2012

While ‘migration’ per se is part of a vastly complex scenario of socio-economic mobility of diverse groups to new areas of work-opportunities to stave off joblessness and hunger, the recent return of thousands of North East people from different cities to Assam, as a fall out of clashes there, has brought out manifold challenges in educating the migrant workers’ children.

The problem is of such gigantic proportions that, despite paucity of authentic data on ‘distress migration’ in India, a conservative estimate is that “around 70 million people migrate every year in search of livelihoods, of whom the number of school-age children (up to 14 years) is about nine million,” emphasizes Smita Agarwal, Director, Education (India), America India Foundation, New Delhi.

These are children accompanying their migrating parents who move in search of work for several months every year.  And migration comes in different forms, ranging from thousands of labourers travelling 600 to 800 km by train from tribal districts of western Orissa to work in brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh, people moving into the sugarcane cultivating belt of western Maharashtra that extends up to Surat in Gujarat and Belgaum in Karnataka, tens of thousands of people moving to work in the salt pans of Gujarat, to migrant hands required in other sectors – construction sites being the foremost in our burgeoning cities and towns.

These mobility patterns, accentuated particularly after India embarked on economic liberalization in 1991, have thrown up a monumental task in educating the children of the migrant labour force.  The issue has gained more focus with the ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ coming into force last year, say policy experts and NGO activists who had gathered at a national seminar on ‘Education of internal migrant children’, organized by Give Life Trust, a Chennai-based NGO active in this area.

Even without scanning the social profile of these ‘Other India’ migrant worker families, the numbers are staggering, though not definitive.  While the ‘India Migration Report – 2011’, based on the 2011 Indian Census data is awaited that will throw more light on different facets of Indian migration, the latest 64th round of National Sample Survey (NSS) data is itself a goldmine.

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