The World Upside-Down: Nepalese Migrants in Northern India

The article is centred on the experiences of high-caste Nepali migrant workers in India, while briefly describing their migratory processes. It particularly focuses on migrants in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, in towns such as Pithoragarh, Mussoorie, Dehradun, Kedarnath, Pauri Garhwal, and Almora. It is based primarily on 94 in-depth interviews with high-caste men from mid-western and far-western development regions of Nepal and observations made on migrant worker’s behaviour in the city and their living conditions in India. It depicts how migrants’ choice of destination is shaped by their ambitions and constraints at home; they migrate to Indian towns due to shortage of food, money, and employment at home. With family or social networks facilitating their migration, the article illustrates how migrants view temporary migration to India as a normal part of their lives. It describes this trend of ‘coming and going as a way of life’ for the migrant workers. This movement also symbolises a ‘rite of passage’ for many young boys who leave their villages in order to undertake family responsibilities as adults. The author describes the alienating experience that migrants undergo in the crowded, noisy, and dirty urban spaces of India. Here, Nepali migrants commonly work as porters and take little pride in their jobs, which are strenuous, poorly paid and socially undervalued and survive in the Indian labour market by taking up jobs that locals would not want to do. As a result, the author notes the process through which migrant workers internalise their inferior status. He describes India as a place where high-caste Nepali men learn about exploitation, modesty and dishonour, an experience that stands in stark contrast to their lives back in the villages. The article also explores ways in which migrant workers cope with these adversities such as through the adoption of new names that allows migrants to identify themselves as farmers and disassociate themselves as workers.

Bruslé, T. 2006. European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. 31, 172-83.

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