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Ensuring Education for the Children of India’s Migrants

This article also appears in India in Transition

The seasonal migrant labor population of India is estimated by some migration scholars to be as high as 100 million. Labor migrants face barriers in accessing social services and settling permanently in urban areas and often prefer to keep their link with the village, especially during the agricultural season. As a result, they “circulate” between their village and various “destination areas” for labor work, spending significant portions of the year away from home.

While migration can open new economic possibilities for families, it also comes with high risks. These risks are disproportionately felt by the children of migrants who are often compelled to travel to worksites with their parents. Some have estimated that around six million school-aged children in India participate in family-based labor migration every year. Millions more are impacted indirectly, forced to take on most of the household responsibilities in their parent’s absence. Unfortunately, the Indian administration at the central and state level has not made migrant children a priority and has been negligent and inconsistent in addressing the unique vulnerabilities of such children.

Consider the case of the migratory hostel program run by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA, “Education for All”), India’s flagship program for universalizing elementary education. The idea is simple but effective: at the request of the local school, students who would otherwise be forced to migrate with their parents are allowed to stay in the primary school building for the six-month migration period. SSA provides for two wardens hired from the community, meals, and some basic supplies. The program is cost-effective because it uses facilities that are already available at the local school. Participants in the program benefit from the positive environment where they can focus on their studies and stay within the safety of their own village.

Unfortunately, due to a “change in priorities,” the central government has decided to deny funding to Rajasthan’s eighty migratory hostels for the upcoming year. Closing this program– a small component of SSA’s budget– will have deep repercussions for many vulnerable families in Rajasthan. Evidence from my fieldwork in Southern Rajasthan, as well as a review of social protection strategies for migrants, shows that “source-based” intervention in the areas where migrants originate, like migratory hostels, are needed to prevent child migration and child labor.

The urban areas of central Gujarat have long been a popular destination for poor migrants from Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities living to the north and east in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. Much of the seasonal labor for the brick kiln, construction, cotton ginning, and agricultural industries in Gujarat is sourced from this area. In Southern Rajasthan, many ST families (mostly of the Bhil and Garasia tribe) depend on migration to make ends meet.

A private bus transports construction laborers to Surat from a remote village in Southern Rajasthan.

A private bus transports construction laborers to Surat from a remote village in Southern Rajasthan.

Due to high poverty levels, female participation in migrant labor is high. A 1997 study on migration in the area led by David Mosse found that 42 percent of the migrant workforce from the Bhil area was female. My survey in villages in Banswara district of Southern Rajasthan found that 75 percent of women and 82 percent of men had migrated to Gujarat for work at least once in their lifetime. While almost all ST families in this area own some land, their landholdings are small and often unproductive, with few having access to irrigation. Massive deforestation in the region has also limited opportunities for these communities which, at one time, were able to sustain their livelihood off of the forest.

While some have been able to harness their earnings from migrant labor to move ahead economically, most remain burdened with economic insecurity and indebtedness to local moneylenders. Because most of their income comes from migrant labor, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) program has had little effect on the migration patterns of families in Southern Rajasthan. While 79 percent of adults surveyed reported that they had participated in the program, only a few families said it had impacted their migration behavior; 75 percent of adults who reported they had migrated within the past year had also participated in the MNREGA program at least once.

Reliance on migrant labor as a livelihood strategy has major costs to the family. For the most marginalized communities engaged in migration, the whole family must migrate to the worksite because they have no place to leave their children in the home village. The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action estimates that there are 840,000 out-of-school children at brick kilns alone. In Banswara, I found that 34 percent of the migrant households had taken at least one child with them to worksites that year. Children can begin helping their parents at the construction worksite from age twelve, but work begins as early as age five in the brick kiln industry, where the piecemeal wage system encourages child labor.

Children brought to worksites face the risk of injury, illness, and exploitation, while missing out on educational opportunities that might have helped them escape the cycle of poverty. Various NGOs, many with funding by the American India Foundation (AIF), have piloted educational outreach for children at worksites. Worksites cannot be easily made into education-friendly environments, however, making any benefits from such interventions marginal. Accordingly, AIF, which supports migratory hostel programs for high-migration areas in three states, has shifted its Learning and Migration Program (LAMP) from a dual focus on source and destination areas to one entirely source village-centric.

For children left in the village when both parents migrate, most or all of the household responsibilities fall to them. This has led to an increasing incidence of child-headed households in Southern Rajasthan, which was documented recently by Save the Children. In their parent’s absence, children as young as twelve must manage all household responsibilities and care for younger siblings, leaving them little to no time to attend school. For most primary schools in Banswara, attendance dwindles as the academic year progresses, especially after the migration season begins post-Diwali. Many schools I visited had a dropout rate of around 25 percent.

Many of Rajasthan 410,957 out-of-school children have exited the school system due to migration pressures. Re-integrating those children into the school system is done through SSA’s “Special Training Programs” (STPs), bridge courses to prepare them academically for entry into the “age appropriate” standard in school. This is a daunting task both for the hired contract teacher and for the students, who may have already been in the workforce for a few years. It is not surprising, therefore, that many STPs fail. During the year I conducted fieldwork in Banswara, over a third of the STPs in the district had to be shut down by SSA. The most successful STPs were the ones with residential facilities like the migratory hostels.

Re-integrating students is a challenge. Since migration-induced dropouts account for much of the out-of-school population, particularly in the ST areas, it makes sense to invest in dropout prevention. The migratory hostels, as well as the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyala (KGBV) program of girls’ residential primary schools, have both proven to be effective in preventing migration-induced dropouts. Expanding both of these programs should be recognized as integral to the government’s strategy for preventing child labor and school dropout.

Research across India is beginning to piece together a picture of an increasingly mobile labor class.  Addressing the risks faced by this population, especially those risks felt by the children of migrants, must be made a key priority in order for India to meet its development targets. Source-based interventions can protect children from the greatest risks of migration and ensure that no family is forced to remove their children from school due to migratory pressures.

Megan Reed is a CASI Research Coordinator. She was a 2012-13 Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Fellow.


The Numbers Game: An Analysis of the 2014 General Election

This article also appears on India in Transition

In the 2014 General Election post-mortem, much has been made of the fact that the BJP won 282 seats, 52 percent of the contestable seats, on just 31 percent of the vote share. By contrast, in 2009, the Congress got just 206 seats, 38 percent of the contestable seats, on 29 percent of the vote share. What explains this great disparity in the number of seats won given similar vote shares?

At the outset it should be clear that in a multi-party first past the post system discrepancies between vote shares and seat shares are the norm, not the exception. In the last UP Assembly election, the SP won 224 seats with 29 percent of the vote while the BSP won just 80 seats with 26 percent of the vote. A closer look at the election numbers not only explains the BJP’s ability to convert vote percentage into winning seats, it also sheds light on attitudes in the Indian electorate.

Where did the BJP win its seats?

This analysis uses two concepts that are helpful in examining electoral outcomes: strike rate and competitive party. The strike rate of a party refers to the proportion of constituencies the party wins for a given set of constituencies, and a party is deemed to be competitive in a constituency if it is one of the top two vote getters in that constituency.

The BJP contested a total of 428 constituencies, winning in 282 and accounting for a 66 percent strike rate. However, there is considerable variation in the strike rate by region and by party opponent.


The BJP’s seats are extremely regionally concentrated. Six states alone – Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh – contributed 194 seats to BJP’s kitty, 69 percent of the total number of seats won by the BJP. In these states, the BJP’s strike rate was an incredible 91 percent among seats that it contested (it did not contest every seat in Bihar or Maharashtra due to pre-poll alliances), but these contested seats comprise only 39 percent of the contestable seats in the general election.

The BJP was particularly successful in head-to-head battles with the Congress. Consider the constituencies in which the BJP and Congress were the top two vote getters; there were 189 such constituencies, and the BJP won 166 of them for a whopping strike rate of 88 percent. By contrast, the BJP’s strike rate was even (49 percent) in the remainder of the constituencies it contested. All told, the BJP and Congress were in a head-to-head battle in 35 percent of contestable constituencies, but these constituencies yielded 59 percent of the total number of seats won by the BJP.

Outside of head-to-head battles with Congress, and outside of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (where the strike rate was 86 percent), the BJP contested 144 constituencies, but was competitive in only 56 of them. Even when it was competitive, the BJP had a lower strike rate of 63 percent. In short, the numbers demonstrate that the success of the BJP in this election was due to its spectacular strike rate against Congress and its remarkable performance in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These two categories account for 247 of the 282 BJP seats won in this election.

How does this help explain the BJP’s ability to convert vote share into seats? The answer lies in the strike rates in the analysis above. When the BJP was contesting head-to-head against the Congress, or when it was in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, its strike rate was extremely high. Outside of this, however, the BJP wasn’t particularly competitive. In other words, there were very few BJP “wasted votes.” When people cast their ballots for the BJP, it was very likely to be in constituencies in which the BJP won.

figure 3

Where is the BJP not winning its seats?

For as well as the BJP did in these elections, it still had a hard time breaking into states with strong regional parties and regional identities. This may seem like an odd statement given that the BJP did so well in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but many people discount the fact that the BJP already had strong bases in those states. The BJP had been a part of the ruling coalition at the state level in Bihar until June 2013 and it was the largest party in the 1999 Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha elections (and has had double digit seat share since).  In this sense, it was not “breaking into” these states.

To understand this point, consider the state of West Bengal, a state where the BJP received its highest ever vote share at 17 percent. The BJP contested all 42 constituencies and won just 2 seats (one of which it had also won in 2009). It was competitive in just 3 other constituencies. Not only did the BJP fail to convert its vote share into seats, it wasn’t even close. Nonetheless, given the weakening of CPM in West Bengal, the BJP may emerge as the main opposition to the ruling TMC in the future.

Similar patterns were seen in many states with strong regional identities. The BJP won just 3 of the 12 seats it contested in Andhra Pradesh, 1 of the 8 seats it contested in Tamil Nadu, 1 of the 21 seats it contested in Odisha, and none of the 18 seats it contested in Kerala. These five major states yielded a strike rate of just 7 percent for the BJP.


Interpreting the data

In pre-election analysis conducted by the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), using surveys from the Lok Foundation, we argued that the major concerns in the electorate – economic growth, corruption, and inflation – centered around the larger macro-economy. These concerns, packaged with the charisma of Narendra Modi, generated a cogent, powerful national campaign. Congress, on the other hand, found itself in no man’s land, unable to find a solid national identity and too enfeebled in the parts of India with strong regional identities to mount much of a challenge. Congress’ attempt to paint itself as the party of welfare benefits never really took off; voters understood that most welfare programs also require coordination of bureaucrats and state-level implementation, and myriad corruption scandals served to chip away at the credibility of Congress in delivering those benefits.

Those constituencies in which BJP went to head-to-head against Congress served as a referendum on the parties’ respective national visions. The spectacular strike rate of the BJP in these constituencies suggests that Congress never really developed one.

It will be interesting to speculate where the parties go from here. As the data suggests, it will be difficult for the BJP to seriously break into states with strong regional identities. Will it devote significant resources toward this effort or instead, consolidate its power in the places it has already swept? The Congress party, for its part, needs to completely reinvent itself, address its leadership dilemma, and develop a more compelling national vision.

The BJP emerged as the only party with a persuasive national vision in this election, but, as its vote share reveals, this does not mean it is representative of all of India. Apart from the apprehensions of India’s Muslim community, the data show that significant swaths of India were relatively unaffected by the “Modi Wave.” One of the new government’s challenges will be to address the obstacles generated by this regional polarization. Much will depend on the personal equations that the Prime Minister establishes with the regional leaderships. This will likely be relatively easier with Tamil Nadu, somewhat less with Odisha, and perhaps most difficult with West Bengal.

Notes: On its website, the ECI reports 428 candidates for the BJP; I count 427. The results should not be materially affected. In an earlier version, I reported the strike rate in Bihar and UP at 85%; it is 86%. I have included the seat given to S. Gurumurthy by the BJP in the calculations, even though his nomination was rejected. Again, this does not materially affect the results.

I wish to thank Milan Vaishnav for providing me with elections data in a usable form. On editing, I want to thank Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav for making sense of what I wanted to say, and then making it make sense to you, the reader. All opinions and calculation errors are my own.


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Dynastic politics are here to stay

This morning the Washington Post published an article, India’s new parliament is not as new as you think about the continuing hold of dynastic politics in India. The author contextualizes dynasticism in politics by comparing it to the US and discusses reasons why Indian voters might prefer dynastic candidates. He pulls from the research of Fall 2013 CASI Visiting Scholar, Patrick French, who has done extensive research on political dynasties in India including for his his 2011 book India: A Portrait. Read his January 2014 India in Transition article on the subject.

The new attention to dynastic politics emerges after a recent preliminary report that at least 130 of the new MPs elected in the 2014 election are from political families indicating little deviation from previous years. This was anticipated in our own pre-election research which found that 46% of Indian have no problem with supporting a dynastic candidate. The reasons given for supporting dynasticism are listed in the table below.

Source: Lok Pre-election Survey 2014

Source: Lok Pre-election Survey 2014

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Beyond Immediacy: India and America in the 21st Century

Rudra Chaudhuri

Rudra Chaudhuri

India and the U.S. share a relationship like none other, a relationship that can use matters of immediacy to energize and build the necessary confidence to disagree and argue those of international concern. This will require ambition and a sense for vision, but has the potential to draw India and the U.S. into a dialogue that will help shape a more constructive and balanced twenty-first century.

ChaudhuriRudhra Chaudhuri, Senior Lecturer at the Department of War Studies and the Indian Institute at King’s College London, is the author of this week’s India in Transition article, “Beyond Immediacy: India and America in the 21st Century.” In it, he discusses some key issues like Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), defense, and the Right to Protect (R2P) doctrine.

Chaudhuri is also the author of the recent book Forged in Crisis: India and the United States Since 1947. Follow him on Twitter.


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New from CASI

Check out the latest from CASI:

  • CASI Spring 2014 Visiting Fellow, Ambassador Jayant Prasad, has written a brilliant opinion piece in The Hindu on how US-India relations can be revitalized under the new Indian
  • CASI Director, Devesh Kapur, has published a paper in the latest volume of the Annual Review of Political Science called “Political Effects of International Migration”. He presents a framework for understanding the channels through which international migration has political consequences and then outlines some of the consequences on institutions, conflict, and political economy.
  • Dr. Kapur and Milan Vaishnav, Associate at the Carnegie Endowment, contributed to the 10-part series on the post-election national agenda, a partnership between Carnegie Endowment and Mint. Read their article, “Strengthening India’s rule of law“, which is an adaptation of a chapter they have contributed to the forthcoming book Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda for Reform which will be out next week.