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Structural Violence and Social Suffering among Marginal Nepali Migrants

Structural Violence and Social Suffering among Marginal Nepali Migrants

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Over the past decade, Nepal has witnessed a rapid process of social transformation which has accelerated after the end of the "people's war". In this report, the third in our series on change in Nepal, we look at migration, both internal and external, and how it affects the livelihoods of the poorer segments of the population. Mobility ranges from commuting for day labor to nearby areas and seasonal mobility to towns and cities or across the border to India, to organized migration to the Gulf, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Migration has become a significant and increasing part of the rural political economy. Our research documents the social suffering among migrants and locates their experiences in the wider context of social transformation in Nepal. It is based on in-depth interviews with the subjects themselves in different settings including cities like Kathmandu (brick kilns and the service, manufacturing, and construction sectors), towns and rural areas in Nepal (service and construction sectors), India (domestic work, service sector, etc.), the Gulf States (construction, agriculture, and domestic workers) and other sites where various forms of exploitative, bonded labor and trafficking practices are widespread.

Building on our earlier research, we find that mobility of labor has not necessarily meant more freedom for poorer migrants, although the idea of freedom appears to be driving much of the out-migration from rural Nepal. While migration has certainly opened up opportunities for cash income, the nature of work and working conditions have often resulted in social dislocation, humiliation, debt entrapment, social suffering, and structural violence. This highlights an apparent contradiction: migrants leave their villages because of their redundancy in the rural-agrarian labor processes and because of the attraction that modernity has to offer in the cities and towns, but they are constantly driven back to their village because of the transient and time-bound nature of their mobility. Thus, the identity of the migrant remains attached to the village even if the working sites and sectors are “modern” and urban.
Over the past decade, Nepal has witnessed a rapid process of social transformation which has accelerated after the end of the "people's war". In this report, the third in our series on change in Nepal, we look at migration, both internal and external, and how it affects the livelihoods of the poorer segments of the population. Mobility ranges from commuting for day labor to nearby areas and seasonal mobility to towns and cities or across the border to India, to organized migration to the Gulf, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Migration has become a significant and increasing part of the rural political economy. Our research documents the social suffering among migrants and locates their experiences in the wider context of social transformation in Nepal. It is based on in-depth interviews with the subjects themselves in different settings including cities like Kathmandu (brick kilns and the service, manufacturing, and construction sectors), towns and rural areas in Nepal (service and construction sectors), India (domestic work, service sector, etc.), the Gulf States (construction, agriculture, and domestic workers) and other sites where various forms of exploitative, bonded labor and trafficking practices are widespread.

Building on our earlier research, we find that mobility of labor has not necessarily meant more freedom for poorer migrants, although the idea of freedom appears to be driving much of the out-migration from rural Nepal. While migration has certainly opened up opportunities for cash income, the nature of work and working conditions have often resulted in social dislocation, humiliation, debt entrapment, social suffering, and structural violence. This highlights an apparent contradiction: migrants leave their villages because of their redundancy in the rural-agrarian labor processes and because of the attraction that modernity has to offer in the cities and towns, but they are constantly driven back to their village because of the transient and time-bound nature of their mobility. Thus, the identity of the migrant remains attached to the village even if the working sites and sectors are “modern” and urban.

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Published by: Feinstein International Center on Oct 17, 2013
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Strengthening the humanity and dignity of people in crisis through knowledge and practice
SEPTEMBER 2013
Structural Violence and Social Suferingamong Marginal Nepali Migrants
Antonio Donini, Jeevan Raj Sharma with Sanjaya Aryal
 
Feinstein International Center 2
 
©2013 Feinstein International Center. All Rights Reserved.Fair use o this copyrighted material includes its use or non-commercial educationalpurposes, such as teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and newsreporting. Unless otherwise noted, those who wish to reproduce text and image flesrom this publication or such uses may do so without the Feinstein InternationalCenter’s express permission. However, all commercial use o this material and/orreproduction that alters its meaning or intent, without the express permission o theFeinstein International Center, is prohibited.Feinstein International CenterTuts University114 Curtis StreetSomerville, MA 02144USAtel: +1 617.627.3423ax: +1 617.627.3428fc.tuts.edu
Cover photo: Migrant worker, brick kiln, Kathmandu valley, Nepal.In the background the hovels where the migrant workers live.Photo by: Antonio Donini
 
Structural Violence and Social Suering among Marginal Nepali Migrants3
Antonio Donini
is a Senior Researcher at the Feinstein InternationalCenter at Tuts University, where he works on issues relating tohumanitarianism and the uture o humanitarian action. He hasworked or 26 years in the United Nations in research, evaluation,and humanitarian capacities. His last post was as Director o the UNOce or the Coordination o Humanitarian Assistance toAghanistan (1999-2002). He has considerable experience in doingresearch in volatile or raught humanitarian contexts. He haspublished widely on humanitarian policy and practice issues,including on Aghanistan. At the Feinstein Center he coordinated amajor research project which analyzed local perceptions o humanitarian action in 13 crisis countries and authored the nalreport,
The State o the Humanitarian Enterprise 
. He has recentlypublished an edited volume on the politicization and manipulation o humanitarian action:
The Golden Fleece: Manipulation and Independence in Humanitarian Action
, Kumarian Press, 2012. His publications onNepal and humanitarian issues are available at c.tuts.edu
Dr Jeevan R. Sharma
is Lecturer in South Asia and InternationalDevelopment at the University o Edinburgh where he teaches andresearches international development issues with a specic ocus inSouth Asia. His current areas o interest include marginal areas o South Asia, border-crossing, political violence, social transormation,livelihoods, labor mobility, masculinities, brokerage, public healthsystems and oreign aid. Between 2009 and 2011, he worked as aSenior Researcher and Assistant Proessor at Feinstein InternationalCentre at Tuts University where he carried out extensive eldworkon oreign aid, Maoist insurgency and local perceptions o socialchange in Nepal. For details on Sharma’s current research andpublications please visit:
Sanjaya Aryal
has worked as a Human Rights Analyst at the UNResident Coordinator’s Oce in Nepal between 2012-2013 where headvised UNCT in advancing human rights into their programming.Sanjaya has carried out extensive eldwork on labor migration,border-crossing, child soldiers, armed confict induced human rightsviolations/abuses, squatter settlement.

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