Migration, Gender, and Home Economics in Rural North India
Dinesh K. Nauriyal, Nalin Singh Negi, and Rahul K. Gairola, Routledge
 Senior Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi,
 Oxon and New York: Routledge 2020, ISBN: 978-0-429-26183-1(e-book)
|Title:||Migration, Gender, and Home Economics in Rural North India|
|Issue Date:||October 9, 2023|
|Publisher:||IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute|
|Appears in Collections:||IPRR Vol. 2 (1) [January-June 2023]|
(January-June 2023) Volume 2, Issue 1 | 9th October 2023
ISSN: 2583-3464 (Online)
Migration plays a crucial role in the process of socio-economic change and leaves a significant impact on gender-based power relations in rural households and communities. Migration, Gender and Home Economics in Rural North India critically examines how the migration pattern of male family members in rural North India in general and the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand in particular affects the left-behind families, wives, and agricultural lands. The book argues that the trend of male out-migration has reshaped kinship and gender dynamics, agricultural lands, and home economics at the origin places of the migrant members. The book attempts to examine various complex challenges faced by left-behind families in general and wives in particular in the absence of their husbands.
The book highlights that low employment opportunities in rural North India drive a major workforce to migrate to high-income states like Maharashtra and Delhi. The study, focussed on the Pauri Garhwal district, articulates that out-migration in Uttarakhand hills is largely driven by men but its effects go far beyond individual migrants. Male out-migration does not only affect left-behind families and wives but also has serious implications for the development of the region.
The co-authored book is a serious attempt to study a greatly under-explored area of research- left-behind wives which is overlooked by most of the studies available on migration, primarily focussing on the causes and consequences of migration by taking migrants as the central point of analysis. What was missing in the existing literature and which this work attempts to provide is the gendered dynamics of rural households, invoking the field of migration studies to critically consider the economic, social, and psychological impacts of migration on the left-behind wives.
Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, based on data collected through a survey and focus group discussion, the co-authors offer a detailed analysis of the challenges and opportunities that migration engenders.
By using a household approach, the book unravels the paradoxes of migration- On the one hand, out-migration provides economic gain to migrants’ households and contributes to women’s empowerment but that gain comes at psychological costs. On the other hand, out-migration has resulted in the collapse of agricultural lands and other livelihood options in the absence of able-bodied workforce at origin places.
The study backed up with statistics questions various pre-established common beliefs surrounding migration and its impacts. Conducting a comparative study of migrant and non-migrant households and the life experiences of migrant members’ wives parallel to non-migrant wives, the book seeks to analyze the impacts of male out-migration on four broad parameters- Patterns of farm activities, Health status and treatment-seeking behavior, Familial life, and work participation, Perceptions of husbands’ out-migration (pp. 40).
Beginning with examining the pattern of farm activities, the study finds that in view of the long-term absence of an active major workforce, the rural households with migrants are losing out on their productive assets- agricultural land and livestock. The shortage of economically active populations eroded the conventional sources of livelihood and hampered the development of source regions.
The subsequent chapter illustrated that male out-migration has no general impact on the health status of left-behind wives but it certainly affects their sexual health and emotional well-being. The absence of male members has contributed to increased awareness and greater accessibility to health care among women. Greater accessibility to health facilities in terms of arranging money for treatment shows high income enjoyed by wives of out-migrants through sent remittances (pp. 154).
Contrary to expectation, the study found no association between the out-migration of male members and the number of working hours of left-behind women (pp. 168). Women are traditionally involved in agricultural tasks in view of gendered roles and responsibilities. Wives of out-migrants are more autonomous in decision-making regarding money matters. Out-migration doesn’t have any statistically significant impact on agriculture-related decision-making autonomy among left-behind wives.
The last chapter demonstrated various costs and benefits associated with the migration process in the Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand. The benefits have been recorded in terms of survival strategy and future financial security. Non-migrant wives also favored migration as a tool for ensuring financial security and diluting gender roles in society (pp. 191). In the absence of their husbands, women deal with banks and government agencies, attend meetings at the panchayat level, and meet teachers at the school of their children. This indicates a greater degree of autonomy and higher mobility enjoyed by out-migrants’ wives whether out of choice or compulsion (pp. 196).
The costs of male out-migration have been reported in terms of loneliness, and suffering from spousal separation (pp. 185).
The work summarized its findings as: ‘Male only’ pattern of migration from rural to urban areas in search of gainful employment opportunities has both positive and negative ramifications. The migration process has contributed to improved economic standing and quality of life of migrants’ families to some extent and recalibrated gender roles. Simultaneously, origin places are losing a dynamic share of the active workforce which has resulted in worsening of crop production and other livelihood options. Male out-migration also resulted in long-term separation of family members which causes psychological and emotional stress to left-behind wives.
Well-researched work with valuable insights doesn’t confine itself to narrow economics which constitutes the major thrust area of most of the existing literature, it innovatively demonstrates how male out-migration also provides various opportunities for capacity-building to women that may not be available to non-migrant wives. This book is an important reading for those who want to have a comprehensive understanding of the link between gender and migration in rural North India.
The book has done a ‘superb job’ of highlighting the issue of ‘forced’ migration in hilly regions of Garhwal which has transformed socio-economic and demographic profile at the place of origin and created complex challenges for entire family unit in general and left-behind wives in particular. Exposing ground realities, this work invokes policymakers to tackle the issue of brain drain by providing adequate income-generating options for brain gain in the home state because the withering away of the population from hill parts of Uttarakhand given its strategic location may also have serious implications for defense of the country.
Had this work devoted a part of its analysis to the impact of male out-migration on women’s participation in community-based forestry- van-panchayats of Uttarakhand, it would have been better. Nevertheless, the book has achieved its desired objective of investigating the impact of gendered migration on the lives of left-behind wives along with left-behind lands, agriculture, and economics. This original work enlightens readers about first-hand experience of community lives living in remote hilly areas by throwing special light on unsaid and unheard problems of left-behind wives. This excellent work is a welcome text across disciplines and a ‘must read’ for those who are interested in migration, gender, development studies, and decision-makers for rural North India. This book provides several constructive questions for future research on migration in Garhwal such as to what extent migration shapes the level of women’s autonomy if it is maintained even when migrant husbands re-join their native places.