Migration: Issues in India

By: Davendra Sharma

Human migration is the movement of humans, either individually or in groups, from one geographical region to another. The phenomenon is as old as human history and almost all the present day societies owe their existence to some kind of migration. Migration could be due to a number of causes which could be economic, social, political or environmental. Military conquest of one region by the other was one of the most important causes of migration in earlier period of history. Migration, apart from affecting the migrating group or the individual, affects both the region of the origin as well as the region of migration.

Indian Context

India like most other countries has seen a lot of migration which has deeply influenced its culture and contributed to its diversity. Military conquest was the main cause as well the mode of migration in earlier days which brought Indo Aryans, Sakas, Arabs, Afghans, Turks and Turk-Mongols (Mughals) into India.  Internally, movement of Marathas into Central India after conquering part of the area is an example of this kind of migration. Others causes of migration included natural calamities like famine, trade & employment, religious missionaries and desire of the rulers to bring some an individual or group of individuals mainly artists and scholars.

In the present day, migration through conquest or due to natural calamities is no longer practiced. However, changed socio-economic conditions have led to continuous migration from one region, which has also been facilitated by improvements in modes of transport and communication. Some of the important reasons for migration are as under:

  • In the present day context, economic reasons are most important cause of migration both within the country as well as outside the country. More developed areas attract people as these provide better employment opportunities. However, this kind of migration is controlled by ‘pull’ and ‘push’ factors.
  • In cases, where the difference in opportunities is less, ‘pull’ factor comes into play and the person weighs the benefits of economic developments with the problems he would face in migration. Due to this migration is comparatively less in numbers and involves a higher percentage of skilled workers. Migration of people to Mumbai for working in film industry or to Bangalore for working in IT industry is an example of this kind of migration.
  • Migration due to ‘pull’ factors also comes into play in case of migration outside India. Professionals and skilled workers as well as those unskilled workers, who can afford travel expenses and legal formalities, move to other countries for better opportunities.
  • However, in areas where development is minimal, ‘push’ factor becomes more important. Here, people do not have much option in their region and are forced to migrate due to these compelling situations. In such cases, the migration is higher and has a higher percentage of unskilled workers. Migration of unskilled or semiskilled labour from Bihar and eastern U.P. to Mumbai and Punjab are examples of this kind of migration.
  • Urbanization has resulted in development of towns and cities which have emerged as centers of trade and commerce and have higher prospects of employment. Apart from this, these centers also have better infrastructure and facilities. This has led to large scale migration to these centers due to both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors.
  • Rural to urban migration has also been forced by situations prevailing in rural areas. Larger families and continuous division of agricultural land has reduced the size of agricultural land holdings, average land holding size in the country being reduced to about 1.3 hectares. In some of the states like Uttar Pradesh the size is below one hectare. This has increased pressure on land and agriculture is no longer able to support a large or even an average family. This has forced the people to migrate to urban areas.
  • Social causes are also an important cause of migration among which marriage is the biggest cause of migration. However, as most of this movement is within the same region and same social background, it does not have much impact on the socio-economic conditions.
  • Casteism is another important factor. In our society, caste system is not only an alignment of social groups; it is also linked with economic and social power. Those at the lower end are discriminated and are more inclined to migrate to urban areas where the caste system is virtually non existent in public life giving them the opportunity to participate in the society on more equal basis.
  • Migration is also caused by conditions like insurgency and riots. Wherever such conditions arise, people tend to migrate to safer areas. As per Internal Displacement Monitoring Committee working under Norwegian Refugee Council, India has more than 5 lakh such internally displaced people. Migrants from Jammu & Kashmir form the bulk of these migrants, while others are from the North Eastern states, Gujarat and Orissa.
  • Migration can also be caused by conditions outside the country. India is also home to a number of refugees from other countries. As per data compiled by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) they numbered about 2 lakhs in 2011. Majority of them are from Tibet, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Apart from this, illegal migrants from the neighboring Bangladesh enter the country in large numbers and are a cause of concern.

Impact of migration

 Migration affects all concerned, the individual, region from where he is migrating and the region to which he is migrating. The effects like causes are again social, political and economical. Some of the effects are as under:

  1. When a person migrates due to ‘push’ factor, his region is relieved of the responsibility of providing employment to one person. Although, the family faces some problems due to non availability of one working member, these are compensated by better earnings he sends home. Apart from benefitting the family, this also benefits their region as earnings are spent there.
  2. However, when a person migrates due to ‘pull’ factor, his region loses one person who is in demand in his own area. This negatively affects the human resources of the area. As most of these people are skilled and qualified, the loss is substantial in terms of human resources, though this is partly set off by the remittances received, particularly those received from overseas. Incidentally, remittances sent to India account for 3% of India’s GDP and form a substantial share of the net domestic products of Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.
  3. In the migrating region the immigrant competes with the locals for jobs and wherever the jobs are scarce, the competition brings in resentment, resulting in social tensions.
  4. In urban areas, where the migration is more and uncontrolled, this brings pressure on land and infrastructure. One of the unpleasant aspects of this kind of migration is the growth of slums.
  5. In areas where the number of migrants is higher, political aspect comes into play as these people could be potential source or threat to the political domination of a political party. This has resulted in the issue being politicized. A recent example of this is Mumbai, where some politicians blame north Indian migrants for almost every problem of the city, though the majority of migrants in the city are from Maharashtra itself. A more unpleasant example is from tribal areas where the immigrants are seen as a threat to their traditional culture as well as political dominance. Such situations have sometimes acquired militant overtones which are not in the best interests of the country.
  6. Migration also brings changes in the behavior and attitude of the migrant. This is more prominently observed in the migrants from rural to urban areas. While on hand he is apprehensive in the new place he also comes into contact with new values and norms like delayed marriage, smaller family and importance of education.   Gradually these ideas percolate to his native place which is beneficial to the society.
  7. Problems of internally displaced persons are more complex as migration has been due to the violent behavior of another section of the society. Apart from economic problems, the problems are also psychological. They are not able to come to terms with the reality and the inability of the state to protect them in their homes. On the other hand, refugees from other countries like Tibet face to twin problems of economic survival in an alien land as well as preserve their national identity.


Migration is an important social phenomenon and has played an important role in shaping our culture and heritage. It is neither feasible nor desirable to stop migration. However, it is also true that migration forced upon people has brought innumerable miseries to them. Therefore, an ideal situation would be creating conditions where no one is forced to migrate for any reason whatsoever. This condition can be achieved by removing disparities in economic development and by removing social discriminations. As regards tensions between the locals and the migrants, it must also be understood that while giving a job or getting a job is a personal matter, every human being is entitled to a life of respect and dignity in any corner of the world and unless he has done something against the law of the land, he needs to be given that respect and dignity. 


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