Conference paper: Vibrant small cities can keep rural youth closer to home
I was in London late August this year to present a paper on small cities in the context of internal migration in India. Read the full paper here.
I chose as a case study for this research project a small, I would say tiny, city called Narendra Nagar located in the Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Here, out-migration is a familiar phenomenon. Men have traditionally left hill villages for employment opportunities to metros- Delhi, Mumbai and the like. More recently, young men and women are moving out to industrial and service-sector cities in the plains an hour or two away, to seek education and employment, a better life.
Its been eight months since my field visits to Narendra Nagar and the faces of the youth I interviewed are still fresh in my mind. I can recall their names, their words, their enthusiasm for life, their innocent narration of life in a small town. To the surprise of many who heard me in that cozy room at the RGS IBG conference, this is what I found:
- Small cities like NN are at the cusp of two migration flows, (1) from the village into the city and (2) from the small city out to larger cities
- The perceived migration costs are high for rural youth who commute to Narendra Nagar for work on a daily basis. Under-confident of their ability to secure well paying jobs in larger cities, they are satisfied to work close to home where they can continue to support and be supported by their families.
- In contrast, youth who already live in Narendra Nagar whose parents are already in secure government or private jobs are more ambitious and see eGramServe as an opportunity to gain experience that will secure them better jobs in a larger city.
- For women, employment near home allows them to continue to work despite the bindings of a patriarchal society that denies them independence in movement and decision-making.
- Migration decisions of young people appear rational, albeit complex and a number of interesting patterns including multiple cycles of migration as well as return migration exist
- The study questions the notion that educated youth in rural and small town India aspire to migrate to the big city fulfill their dreams. Instead, it indicates that it is worthwhile to find ways to support small urban entities like Narendra Nagar in terms of investment and governance to enable rural youth to be meaningfully employed closer to home.