The Indian Himalayan Region: A Lesser-Known Migration Story

India Migration Now
Jul 6 · 5 min read

by Chitra, Annesha, and the IMN Team

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The Indian Himalayan Region. Source: National Mission on Himalayan Studies (NMHS)

Census of India 2011 places the total population of the IHR to approximately 46 million. The Himalayan ranges are marked by heterogeneous caste groups, ethnic groups, tribal and indigenous communities spread across different regions, leading to diverse regional and international migration patterns. However, owing to their status as frontier regions of the country, migration in the IHR is often overlooked.

In this blog, we present an overview of what migration in the IHR looks like.

Internal Migration in the IHR

The eastern Himalayan region consists of the eight north-eastern states and the autonomous hill regions of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal, while the western Himalayan region consists of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

Internal migration within the IHR is usually inter-district and intra-state — from the hill regions to the lowland areas.

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Transhumance is a cyclical migratory movement of communities and livestock from one region to another. Transhumant communities inhabit the upper-Himalayan meadows for the summer months and shift to the lower Himalayan ranges by the winter months. Migration, thus, is a survival strategy. Some of these pastoral communities are the Bakarwals and Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir, Changpa of Ladakh, Van Gujjars and Rungs from Uttarakhand, and Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh.

Outmigration from the IHR

Migrants from the North East or Eastern IHR, especially Manipur and Nagaland, are usually sought after by the hospitality and cosmetic industries in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi where a study shows that their labour is in high demand because of their exotic ‘un-Indian’ look and somewhat fluent English. A large number of women migrant workers also work in the garment industries in Tamil Nadu, and have been facing adversities during the pandemic.

Educational aspirations are a major reason for the youth in Darjeeling to migrate to metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata. Similar patterns are observed among Ladakhi youth who migrate to Chandigarh, Delhi, and Jammu.

As a result of political unrest, insurgency, underdevelopment, and alienation from the rest of the country, the out-migration from northeast to Delhi, Bengaluru, Kerala, and other metropolitans has become a common phenomenon (Marchang, 2017; McDuie-Ra, 2012).

Mass outmigration has affected Uttarakhand in the western IHR with a rising phenomenon of “ghost villages”.

Migration to the IHR

Migrant labour in Jammu and Kashmir largely arrive from northern and eastern states of India, especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — forming almost 80% of the workforce in the region. Two to five lakh workers are seasonal migrants in Kashmir. Labour from Jharkhand and Bihar also form an important part of the labour force in Himachal Pradesh, especially in the orchard, pharmaceutical and industrial hubs.

According to a 2013 report by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, over 40% of the population in the eastern Himalayas is indigeneous/tribal, except for Assam (3% tribal population). Therefore, migration to the eastern IHR region — moving into Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh can come with opposition to non-tribal migrants to protect indigenous rights.

Cross-border Migration

Nepal and India have had a longstanding relationship with each other, owing to the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty, which confers reciprocal treatment of citizens of India and Nepal in each other’s territories.

A bulk of migrants from Far West Nepal are involved in low-paid unskilled work in hill regions of Uttarakhand, where the men mostly work as security guards and women do domestic housework, according to a study conducted in 2003.

In the Eastern IHR, Tripura has experienced a large influx of Bengali refugees, especially Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh leading to the natives of the state attaining a minority status to 31.78% in 2011.

The Chakma and Hajong communities of the Chittagong Hill tracts arrived in India as refugees in 1964–65, mostly due to persecution of indigenous, non-Bengali communities.

Return Migration and the Pandemic

COVID-19 cases are now surging in the region, as anxieties rise about healthcare capacities in the IHR, for both residents and return migrants. This is compounded by floods in particular regions like Assam.

We hosted a webinar on 29 May 2020, discussing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in the IHR, touching upon the impact of lockdown on the tourism industry, crisis of reintegration of return migrants, issues of racial discrimination against people from eastern IHR, and cross-border migration between India and Nepal. You can watch the webinar by clicking on the image below.

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EXPLORE PRAVASI.HELP is a webpage dedicated to our work and the work of multiple organisations and collectives in the area of COVID relief and rehabilitation.

All our work in the last few months has been aimed at understanding the needs of migrants and their households, providing and coordinating relief, and contributing to the research and policy agenda going forward. We have written about the challenges migrants face, been interviewed by leading media outlets, and pursued advocacy strategies to effect change for migrants everywhere. Do consider supporting our work with migrants and their households by donating through the link below.

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