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CESLAM Kathmandu Migration Conference 2024

CESLAM Kathmandu Migration Conference 2024
organised by
the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha
was held on 15 February 2024, from 10:15 am to 4:35 pm NPT via Microsoft Teams.


Schedule
(All times are in Nepal time)

15 February 2024 (Thursday)
10.15 am–4:35 pm

10.15 am to 10:20 am
Welcome remarks 

Panel 1
10:20–12:00 pm

Chair and Discussant: Arjun Kharel, Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM)

1. Deurali Daandi: The Last Chapter of Ghatu – Making Another Chapter for Sati Ghatu in the Time of Widespread Labor Migration
Rose Schwietz Malla, Masters Student, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

2. To Partner and Influence? A Post-Colonial Approach to Dissecting the Historical Narratives about the Gurkhas
Chaaru Jain, Independent Scholar 

3. Footloose Labourers of Nepal
Pinki Sris Rana, Journalist 


Lunch Break: 12:00 to 1:00 pm

Panel 2
1:00 –2:40 pm

Chair and Discussant: Diya Rose Jojo, PhD Scholar, Christ University, India

4. Impact of Remittances on Economic Structural Change in Nepal: A Time Series Analysis

Bhupendra Jung Keshari Chand, Assistant Professor, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

5. Barriers and Challenges of Female Migrant Workers: A Study on Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19 on Nepali Returnee Female Migrants
Lazana Deshar, Research and Documentation Officer, CLARISSA

6. Health Shock, Remittances, and Household Welfare: Evidence from Nepal
Kapil Pokhrel, Research Scholar, Tribhuvan University, Nepal
Nirmal Kumar Raut, Associate Professor, Tribhuvan University, Nepal 


Break: 2:40 to 2:55 pm

Panel 3
2:55–4:35 pm
Chair and Discussant: Sadikshya Bhattarai, Research Coordinator, Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM)

7. Educational Crossroads: Nepali Student Migration in India
Sabeena Khatoon, PhD Scholar, University of Hyderabad, India
Geetha Gopinath, Assistant Professor, University of Hyderabad, India

8. Labour Shortage in the Agrarian Economy? The Case of Low-income Country
Ishwor Adhikari, PhD Scholar, South Asian University, India 

9. Mental Health Status of Nepali Migrant Workers in the United Kingdom
Diya Rose Jojo, PhD Scholar, Christ University, India
Ngaitlang Mary Tariang, Assistant Professor, Christ University, India 

4:35 pm
Closing remarks

 

Abstracts

  1. Deurali Daandi: The Last Chapter of Ghatu – Making Another Chapter for Sati Ghatu in the Time of Widespread Labor Migration
    Rose Schwietz Malla, Masters Student, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

An under-discussed impact of Nepal’s high rates of labor out-migration is that delicate cultural practices – like the Gurung and Magar sati ghatu dance-drama – are fading. To call attention to this rapidly growing issue and to appeal for action against the complete disappearance of such practices, the author conducted observational field research into one village’s sati ghatu practice. This research took place over several months in 2022, focused in Nalma, a primarily Gurung village in Lamjung. Following this research, the author worked with theatre-makers to create a new play, Deurali Daandi: The Last Chapter of Ghatu, about the disappearance of sati ghatu due to trickle-down effects from labor migration. The objective of this paper is to analyze the creative research process of developing this play. Included too is a brief summary of the field research and aspects of sati ghatu, covered minimally for the reader’s understanding. Discussed in greater detail is the exploratory process of creating the play: training in aspects of sati ghatu, experimenting with translating such aspects into a contemporary theatre setting, researching Nepal’s labor migration situation, and portraying aspects of labor migration in a theatrical setting. The creative research methodology included training the actors in the ghatu dance, which provided the corporeal foundation, body language, and mental/spiritual atmosphere for the play. We also explored sati ghatu as a total theatrical form, experimenting with how we might incorporate more than just the dance elements: theme, language style, structure, pace, characterization, and visuals, for example. Before rehearsals started, the author/director collaborated with a playwright to develop a script that translated theatrical elements of sati ghatu into a story about labor migration.

We were particularly interested in addressing one question: whether (and if so, how) cultural performance practices that are disappearing due to labor migration can be translated into contemporary theatre (and preserved therein). The findings are three-fold: 1) many theatrical elements can be translated to the stage beyond simply performing the dance or recreating the ritual; 2) true preservation of sati ghatu in its fullest form, however, can only come from the communities that practice it; and 3) in any preservation, all elements of sati ghatu should be considered, in collaboration with ghatu practitioners, with the understanding that sati ghatu is a living, oral, folk dance-drama. Great value can be found in this particular approach to research, within the conversation around labor migration issues in South Asia. Examining social issues through an artistic lens highlights new perspectives: witnessing stories about the human impacts of labor migration played out on the stage can remind us of the toll of such a widespread issue. Moreover, it is crucial to discuss the impact that labor migration has had, will have, and is currently having upon cultural, performance, and artistic practices. Sati ghatu is just one of many cultural practices that are quickly slipping away from active practice and collective memory, as economic migration grows. Raising awareness of this unfortunate progression and taking action to prevent or change further disappearances is crucial and urgent.

  1. To Partner and Influence? A Post-Colonial Approach to Dissecting the Historical Narratives about the Gurkhas
    Chaaru Jain, Independent Scholar

This study, situated within the broader context of migration studies, focuses on examining the varied narratives within the historiography of Gurkha soldiers and identifying gaps in the historical accounts across different time periods. Utilizing Hillary Janks’ critical discourse analysis and Ruth Wodak’s discourse historical approach, the research will analyze three official documents in the public domain: two speeches from the bicentenary celebration of Anglo-Nepalese relations and one website/report from the Nepalese Embassy. Furthermore, primary, archival research conducted at the Gurkha Museum, Winchester (UK), will be combined with a visual analysis of the museum’s permanent exhibition to gain insights into the existing narratives surrounding Gurkha soldiers outside of Nepal. Interviews with veterans will also be used to understand their experiences with reintegration upon returning from their post in foreign militaries and being a part of the Gurkha community. These will be considered within Michel-Rolph Truillot’s way of understanding the (postcolonial) processes that go into the construction of history. 

This study seeks to contribute to the migration discourse by exploring how historical narratives, shaped by discursive strategies, influence perceptions of migration and identity among and of Gurkha soldiers both at home and abroad. The primary objective is to understand the reasons behind how the some narratives prevailed over others, shedding light on the role of historical representations in shaping narratives of migration experiences, particularly to create a dream-like image of the “Lahures”. The study also delves into the impact of the United Kingdom's ex-colonizer status within the Indian subcontinent on the historiography of Gurkhas, offering insights into the connections between colonial histories and contemporary migration narratives. The broader questions that will be addressed by this study encompass the dominant as well as the less heard of narratives, attempting to gauge the level of agency the Gurkhas themselves had in constructing their collective identity and in becoming a national symbol as the “courageous and loyal”, while simultaneously being categorized as the soldiers that would receive “primitive training to prepare for primitive environments” which are not suitable for their British counterparts. This paper attempts to uncover these other facets of the narrative that are invisible in the image portrayed by official institutions as well as determining the rationale behind such decisions by political bodies. The findings suggest that ex-imperial powers can exert lasting influence similar to that of colonizers, impacting migration patterns and identity construction. This underscores the importance of recognizing the need for active efforts to decolonize surrounding countries and populations, offering a nuanced perspective on the relationship between colonial legacies and migration dynamics. 

  1. Footloose Labourers of Nepal
    Pinki Sris Rana, Journalist

The foundation of urban cities like Kathmandu, quite literally, sits atop the blood, sweat and tears of the construction workers who overwhelmingly come from informal sectors. Most of their numbers are made by the in-migrant daily wage workers who come to Kathmandu to make a living. Not bound to any specific company or an employer, these footloose labourers gather around on major bus stops, also called labour chowks by the labourers, early in the morning and end up wherever their employer takes them. Kathmandu Valley alone has five major labour chowks including those in Baneswar, Mahalaxmisthan, Ratnapark, Thapathali, and Chakrapath. However, the government has hardly reckoned this labour force as leverage and has done anything tangible for the population. 

With no official data on the situation of this demographic, the research was conducted to firstly understand what made the labourers end up with this line of work, their challenges in this field and what could make it easier. Using an open-ended survey questionnaire, 50 labour workers were interviewed from five different locations: Mahalaxmisthan, Baneswar, Chakrapath, Ratnapark and Thapathali labour chowk. 

These labour chowks were often understood to be dominated by labourers from Tarai and Indian origins. That, however, seems to be changing. Although labourers from the Madhesh region can be seen dominantly with 30.6%, the other increasing labourers migrated to the Valley are from the eastern hilly districts with 34.7% indigenous nationalities and 8.2% Dalit. Contrary to what was assumed theoretically, this newly increasing demographic has a slightly different trend than the old ones who came to Kathmandu seasonally for employment; they bring their families, mostly wives and children, to the capital and survive with what they earn in a day. 

With no education and skill requirements, the labourers opt for this work for the daily earnings ranging from Rs 800 to Rs 2500 depending on the job which is much higher when compared to the monthly wages earned for menial jobs like this one. The main challenge, however, is to land the job for the day amidst the hundreds of labourers that gather around the labour chowk. The additional effects of the recession have only slimmed down the work opportunities for these labourers. Even after securing a job, getting their hard-earned money from the contractors who hired them is a common challenge. Lack of guiding regulations for this sector seems to be the root problem. When asked about what would make it easier, the underlying answer was to get guaranteed work opportunities. 

4. Barriers and Challenges of Female Migrant Workers: A Study on Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19      on Nepali Returnee Female Migrants
    Lazana Deshar, Research and Documentation Officer, CLARISSA

Nepali women migrants make up 30% of total Nepali migrants and 90 per cent of Nepali women working abroad as domestic help are undocumented and travel to destination countries through informal channels via India, Bangladesh and recently from Sri Lanka. Nepal government has imposed various provisional bans for aspiring women migrant workers since 1990 aiming to protect women from forced labour and other forms of exploitation. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ban on national and international flights, closing of embassies and visa processing has also caused dilemmas upon prospective female migrant workers. The migrant workers whose Vissa was on the verge of expiry were also unable to get back home whereas those on the way to their destination countries were left stranded due to travel bans and closing of international flights. The COVID-19 situation hit the already disadvantaged migrant workers with a bigger blow due to the pandemic outbreak in their destination countries as well.

This is a qualitative study and in-depth Interviews were taken among 20 respondents returning from major destination countries and the aspirants of foreign employment who took the employment permit after the lockdown. Also, the key informant interviews were taken with the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Malaysia. 

The findings of this study presents the vulnerability faced by the female migrant workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them faced job loss where as others who managed to keep their jobs faced problems like increased/decreased working hours, deferred wages, unpaid leave, abuse/ harassment etc. The undocumented female migrant workers faced multiple vulnerabilities to their situation during the pandemic as the embassies refused to assist them for returning back to their homeland. After the pandemic outbreak, despite the orders of Supreme Court, the government failed to repatriate the migrant workers. Also, the delay and limited testing and failure to maintain quarantine facility increased the risk of COVID-19 transmission as the quarantine facilities became the hotspot for the virus transmission. 

5. Health Shock, Remittances, and Household Welfare: Evidence from Nepal
    Kapil Pokhrel, Research Scholar, Tribhuvan University, Nepal
    Nirmal Kumar Raut, Associate Professor, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

COVID-19 was a major health shock that is believed to disproportionately affect the livelihood of poor and vulnerable population. This study investigates the impact of COVID-19 on household welfare, the latter measured in terms of food and non-food consumption. More importantly, this study examines the role of remittances as an insurance strategy to cope with the effect of COVID-19 during the times of the health crisis. The study uses a unique nationally representative household survey data collected by the Central Department of Economics, Tribhuvan University in 2021. For a cleaner identification of the impact, the study also considers the endogeneity of remittances by employing a two stage least squares method. The results show reduced probabilities of 8.6 and 12.4 percentage points of both food and non-food consumption respectively in highly affected areas. This finding is true for both the actual and self-reported consumption profile reported by the households. Further, the study shows that the remittance recipient household did not experience COVID-19-induced fall in food and non-food consumption suggesting that remittances acted as an insurance strategy to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 on household consumption. Interestingly, in the specification relating to the non-food consumption, the result shows that the remittance receiving COVID-19 affected households, actually experienced increase in their non-food consumption. This study is expected to guide policy makers to get insights about the role of remittance to minimize the effects of health shocks on household welfare. 

6. Educational Crossroads: Nepali Student Migration in India
    Sabeena Khatoon, PhD Scholar, University of Hyderabad, India
    Geetha Gopinath, Assistant Professor, University of Hyderabad, India

This research delves into the motivations, experiences, and challenges faced by Nepali students pursuing higher education in India, unravelling the intricate tapestry of educational migration at the crossroads of two neighbouring nations. Employing a mixed-methods approach, including surveys, interviews, and qualitative analysis, the study explores the multifaceted dimensions of Nepali student migration, shedding light on the impact on individual trajectories, cultural identities, and the broader educational landscape. The study investigates the push and pulls factors influencing Nepali students’ decisions to pursue higher education in India, considering academic opportunities, cultural affinity, and socio-economic considerations. Through in-depth interviews, the research captures the diverse narratives of students, highlighting their aspirations, challenges, and the transformative impact of cross-border educational experiences. Furthermore, the research analyzes the role of academic institutions, governmental policies, and cultural initiatives in facilitating or hindering the integration and well-being of Nepali students. It seeks to identify best practices and potential areas for improvement in creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for international students from Nepal in Indian campuses. The findings of this study contribute to the understanding of student migration dynamics, providing insights for policymakers, educators, and international student support services. By fostering a deeper comprehension of the challenges and opportunities faced by Nepali students in India, this research aims to inform strategies that enhance the educational experience and cultural integration of Nepali students, thereby strengthening the educational ties between Nepal and India.

7. Labour Shortage in the Agrarian Economy? The Case of Low-income Country
    Ishwor Adhikari, PhD Scholar, South Asian University, India 

This paper examines the conundrum of labor shortage in a surplus labour agriculture sector of Nepal. The research question focuses on whether labor market failure contributes to this puzzle and to what extent. Using the Household Separation framework, the study examines the seasonal and regional dynamics of the labor market. The main results demonstrate that despite the overall surplus labor in the rural economy, labor shortages can exist in specific agricultural seasons and regions due to spatially segregated labor markets. The inter-rural labor movement seems to mitigate the issue of labour shortage though such movement has caste dynamics to it. The findings highlight the importance of addressing labor market failures and regional disparities in tackling labor shortages in Nepal's agriculture.

8. Mental Health Status of Nepali Migrant Workers in the United Kingdom
    Diya Rose Jojo, PhD Scholar, Christ University, India
    Ngaitlang Mary Tariang, Assistant Professor, Christ University, India

The phenomenon of migration is a significant aspect of today's globalised world, and this trend is evident in the movement of Nepali healthcare workers to the United Kingdom in pursuit of improved job opportunities and prospects. These workers migrated to the UK, leaving their families behind in Nepal and the distance between them and their family can also create a lot of stress which can lead to mental disorders. The escalating issue of mental health in Asian communities, particularly within the burgeoning Nepali population in the UK, presents a critical public health challenge, notably in accessing mental health services. Our current knowledge about mental health concerns among Nepali migrants in the UK is quite sparse, highlighting the need for a thorough examination of this issue. This study aims to delve into the key factors influencing mental health issues among Nepali migrant workers and the barriers they face in accessing and engaging with NHS mental health services. A qualitative methodology was employed in this research, consisting of detailed interviews with ten Nepali migrants employed in the UK. The analysis of the data was conducted using a thematic approach, leading to the identification of six central themes: stigma and fear, gender-related issues, language barriers, the influence of tradition and culture, the role of family involvement, and a general lack of cultural sensitivity among healthcare workers. These themes emerged as significant factors impacting mental health. This research provides valuable insights into the understanding of mental illness within the context of Nepali culture, aiming to enhance early intervention strategies in UK mental health services. The study underscores the urgency of incorporating cross-cultural perspectives in healthcare practices, emphasising it as a priority for the improvement of health services. 

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