Mobile citizens, portable rights: Social and political inclusion of internal migrants

wolfson college


Conveners: Indrajit Roy and Matthew McCartney

Speakers: Priyanka Jain (Ajeevika), Ravi Raman (Kerala State Planning Board), Harsh Mander (Centre for Equity Studies)

A growing number of people migrate from their localities of origin in search of employment, education and other opportunities. Yet, our understandings of rights and representation remain structured by sedentary notions of citizenship. By exploring the policies and practices that enable the access of internal migrants to social and political rights, this consultation will offer insights into emerging models of ‘portable rights’. Its themes of interest lie at the intersection of social policy, welfare state development and migrants’ rights.


The consultation’s focus on the social and political inclusion of internal migrants is justified by the fact that nearly three-fourths of such individuals live and move within the countries of their origin[1]. For instance, the number of internal migrants in such Rising Powers as China and India is higher than the total number of international migrants in the world. A vast number of internal migrants circulate between several locations where they live and work for short durations of time, ranging from a few weeks to several months.


One official response to internal migration has been for governments to institute highly restrictive migration policies that either seek to control migration from rural to urban areas or limit migrants’ residences in urban areas to restricted neighbourhoods. Indeed, a recent UN Report on World Population Policies reports that as many as 80 per cent of governments instituted policies to slow migration from rural to urban areas in 2013, an increase from 38 per cent in 1996 (UN DESA, 2013: 107)[2].


However, such policies have not succeeded in restricting the mobility of rural populations. Indeed, approximately 40% of urban growth in the Global South results from migration from rural to urban areas within a single national jurisdiction (UNESCO/ UNHABITAT, 2012: 20)[3]. Such populations are the engines of economic growth in their respective countries. Their labour fuels industry, services and retail. Internal migration in the Global South contributes to large cities becoming megacities.


Nevertheless, despite their movement being limited within national frontiers, internal migrants confront many social and political exclusions. Internal migrants, particularly from low-income and low-status backgrounds are subjected to prejudice. the social and political exclusion of internal migrants have resulted in millions of people living on the margins of legality in the burgeoning cities of the Global South, exacerbating socio-economic inequalities. The lack of planned housing for a mobile population, financial and social inclusion to meet the everyday needs of impoverished populations and political voice together sharpen the disparities among urban populations.  Not only do such inequalities vitiate the public sphere in cities of the Global South but also threaten to interrupt their growth achievements.


By exploring and discussing governmental interventions that facilitate the social and political inclusion of internal migrants, the consultation will contribute to a Policy Brief on social and political inclusion of internal migrants being developed by three practitioners from India: Harsh Mander (Centre for Equity Studies), Priyanka Jain (Ajeevika Bureau) and Ravi Raman (Kerala State Planning Board). Their work build on our year-long collaboration over the ESRC-funded research project Fragmented Transitions.   We plan for the consultation to be a half-day workshop to interact with academics interested in this issue within and beyond the Indian context.


A provisional agenda for the half-day workshop is outlined below. Each of the sessions will comprise 10 minutes of presentation followed by 20 minutes of Q&A.


9:30 – 9:45 a.m.                                Arrival

9:45- 10:00 a.m.                               Welcome remarks and introductions                                                          Matthew McCartney & Indrajit Roy

Session 1

10:00- 10:30 a.m.                            Social and political exclusion of labour migrants in India                            Priyanka Jain, Ajeevika

Session 2

10:30 a.m.- 11 a.m.                         Social and political inclusion of labour migrants: Lessons from Kerala       Ravi Raman, Kerala State Planning Board

11.00 a.m.- 11:30 a.m.                    COFFEE

Session 3

11:30 a.m.- 12 noon                        Institutional arrangements for portability of rights in India’s federal context Harsh Mander, Centre for Equity Studies

12 noon – 12:30 p.m.                      Synthesis of issues and ways forward                                                          Indrajit Roy


[1] The United Nations estimates a total of 232 million international migrants: See Table 1. A technical paper commissioned by the UN in 2005 estimates the total number of internal migrants to be 723 million. See here: See page iii. This figure does not take into account the millions of peasants in China, India and elsewhere in the Global South who iterate between different locations in search of employment and opportunities.



Further Information

Organised by the University of York and the South Asian Research Cluster (SARC), Wolfson College