Anurag Chaturvedi describes himself as a modestly ambitious recluse with no major regrets in life. Born 38 years ago in a bank employee’s family in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, he’d wanted to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force ever since his world view found its feet. He remained committed to his ambition and sat the armed forces recruitment exam when the opportunity arose. Providence, however, had different ideas about how Chaturvedi’s life was to be textured. The recruiters told him that their requirements and his capabilities did not sufficiently converge.
He was studying computer applications at a college in his hometown, and it was towards the end of 2004, when he was about to enter the final semester of the master’s programme—which required him to work on a project with a firm—that he fiddled with the idea of moving to Bangalore. He had apprehensions aplenty, and the thought of leaving home for a distant land, and alone at that, was fairly unnerving. “Acquaintances in Bangalore helped and encouraged me a lot. They told me there were plenty of job opportunities there,” says Chaturvedi.
After much deliberation, he moved to Bangalore, where he completed his project and subsequently got a job. Even while signing up for it, he thought that he’d stay for a year or two and then ultimately find a job in Delhi and relocate, driven by a desire to stay near his hometown and ageing parents. It’s been over 13 years now and Chaturvedi is yet to move back. If things go right, he’ll buy a house in Bangalore later this year. “The employment prospects are better here than in Delhi. Plus it’s safer—we read about gory crimes in the NCR every day. The weather is lovely throughout the year, there are good schools and colleges, and it’s quieter,” he says. His wife taught at such a school until recently.
High economic growth and low population growth in the south have triggered a demand for migrant labour.
Chaturvedi is among lakhs who migrated from north India to the south in pursuit of employment opportunities. The trend of southward migration picked up somewhere around the 1980s, strengthening impressively in the subsequent decades. It was a stark change because the trend had rather been for south Indians to move northward, to Mumbai and Delhi, seeking employment. Recently released Census 2011 data on people’s mother tongues has been telling. It shows that the number of Hindi speakers in the southern states continued to swell in the 2001–11 decade, as it had done in the 1991–2001 decade. Experts say the language data gives at least a fair idea of the migrations, even though it’s not an entirely accurate picture.
Karnataka had 2.7 lakh Hindi speakers in 1991, which rose to 13.4 lakh in 2001, and subsequently to 20.1 lakh in 2011. Dipendra Nath Das, an expert on population studies, says the city of Bangalore is chiefly responsible for the influx of migrants to the state. “Even before the IT industry boom in the 1990s, Bangalore was rapidly developing as an urban industrial centre. Its population almost doubled in the 1981–91 decade. The surge in the IT industry in the 1990s totally changed the city’s landscape,” says Das, professor at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The rise of the IT sector also powered tremendous growth in the tertiary sector, particularly the informal service sector. “If an IT professional is making two lakh rupees a month, he would want a good quality of life. To secure that, he’ll need the services of various people. He’d keep a person to clean his car; he might also want a driver, probably a gardener too. As a consequence of this, there will be demand for such jobs,” adds Das. So, the migrant population will be patterned as a small number of highly skilled workers and a large number of low-skilled workers. In addition, he says, educational institutions and research and development INStitutes also proliferated in Bangalore as a fallout of the IT industry having taken root.
The policies of state governments also seem to have had an understated role in southward migration. Labour economist K.P. Kannan argues that the main factor spurring the migration is the change in demography of the southern states, caused by active social development policies vis-à-vis literacy, healthcare and poverty reduction. “The result is a slowing down of population growth, which in turn has led to lower growth in the labour force. A combination of high economic growth and low labour force growth has triggered an increase in the demand for labour,” says Kannan, chairman at Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. The gap between supply and demand is filled by migrant labourers pouring in from states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh—states with high population growth and low social development.
Further, Das says that when regions develop socioeconomically, their native populations tend to stabilise. Such regions—developed countries, for instance—are thus a destination for immigrants rather than a source of emigrants. Tamil Nadu’s high level of development, suggested by its large urban population, has attracted people to the state for at least a couple of decades now. The number of native Hindi speakers in Tamil Nadu rose from 1.3 lakh to 1.9 lakh between 1991 and 2001, and doubled to 3.9 lakh by 2011. Sravan Kumar, 27, a native of Madhubani in Bihar, moved to Chennai when he was seven, and now runs a beauty parlour there. His father and grandfather once worked as cooks in the same city. Although he longs for his birthplace, he wants to stay put because “Idhar ka padhai tight hai, loot paat nahin hai, aur road pe bhi suvidha 24-hour hai (The education opportunities for children are better here; it’s safer, and there are good emergency services on roads too),” says Kumar.
The neighbouring state, Kerala, besides scoring high on development, has a curious reason behind the rise in migrants—the number of Hindi speakers grew from 26,000 to 52,000 between 2001 and 2011. Many Keralites work in West Asian countries and send remittances home. “They have a fascination for big houses, and the money they send back home is used in building them. The construction work stirs a demand for labourers and the migrant labour force from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal comes into the equation,” says Das, who has worked for five years with the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, the government body that conducts the census in India.
The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh received the highest number of north Indians among the four southern states. The state had only 3.7 lakh Hindi speakers in 1991, but their number shot up to 24.6 lakh by 2001. It continued to grow steadily, if less drastically, and in another ten years, the figure had reached 31.2 lakh. As in Karnataka, this was mostly concentrated in one city—Hyderabad in this case. And as in Bangalore, the growth of the IT sector right from the early nineties was the foremost reason for people from north India coming and settling in Hyderabad.
An urban geographer based in Hyderabad says the Y2K bug (a problem relating to dates in computer systems at the turn of the century) played a huge role in the city’s migrant influx. “Hyderabad became a huge gateway for people going to the US to fix the bug. But after the task was done, the people had to come back. There were a lot of people going, coming back, acquiring new skills, figuring out other ways of work, and that dynamism also contributed to the growth,” says Anant Maringanti, director at Hyderabad Urban Lab, an organisation that aids and promotes sustainable development. The BPO firms, the research and training institutes, and of late, the coaching centres preparing students for competitive exams fostered migration.
The southward walk of the migrant population is complemented by another trend that emerges from census data—the dip in the numbers of Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada speakers in Delhi and Maharashtra. This is a marked departure from the trends till 2001, which showed that their numbers in the two states were consistently increasing. Although the decline in Delhi is in the order of a few thousands, it’s far more visible in Maharashtra. In 1991, the state had 10.5 lakh Kannada speakers, which grew to 12.5 lakh by 2001. The 2011 census, however, threw a surprise: the number had plummeted to 10 lakh. Similarly, the figures for Telugu speakers in Maharashtra were 10.1 lakh, 14 lakh and 13.2 lakh in the years 1991, 2001 and 2011 respectively.
Das says that when someone’s native state is prospering, that person does not feel the need to go outside in search of employment. “There have been colleagues who left jobs here and joined universities and institutes in their native states. In addition, the more crucial reason is low population growth. With increased literacy and education comes better awareness. Every person wants to give his child better facilities and education than he got, and wants the child to reach a social stratum higher than his own. The best facilities for a child mean a higher cost of raising the child. To be able to afford that, he’ll have fewer children. Now when there were five children, three or four could easily migrate. But when there are one or two, will they?” he says.
Almost all experts agree that the migrant’s orientation will remain the same in the coming years. As recently as 2016, Uttar Pradesh’s income per capita was a third of that of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while that of Bihar was nearly a fifth of the two southern states. The economic performance of states will continue to determine the direction of the migrant’s march, concur the experts.