Between Khet (Field) and Factory, Gaanv (Village) and Sheher (City): Caste, Gender and the (Re)shaping of Migrant Identities in Urban India

South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ), 8 November 2018

This paper examines the intersections of caste and gender in the context of migration, industrial work and urban spaces. Drawing upon fieldwork in two cities in North India—Delhi and Ludhiana, it explores what inter-state migrant workers articulate about identities, work, and urban/rural spaces. Migration narratives display a strong undertone of negotiating with traditional village-level hierarchies of caste and gender. In several accounts, while prima facie, the process of migration is strongly represented as a means of breaking away from traditional hierarchies, the intersections of caste and gender underlie the narratives, and these traditional identities often provide context and meaning(s) to how the migration process is envisaged. Migrating for industrial work—from how it is envisioned to how work in the urban context is seen—is not independent of these identities; rather they are reinforced and reconstituted in varied ways. The accounts are also marked by prioritization of particular identities over another in specific contexts—such as the workplace and the urban neighborhood—which I argue, offers valuable insights for understanding workers’ agency and politics.