Migration from small towns to big cities is a common phenomenon driven by various challenges individuals face in their places of origin. Limited educational and economic opportunities, violence, instability, corrupt institutions, natural disasters, financial difficulties, and agricultural issues are among the factors that prompt people to seek a better life in urban areas. This migration trend can be observed in different regions, and two specific cases exemplify the motivations behind such movements.
In the first case, during a visit (visit: April, 2023) to a beauty parlour in Adyar, Chennai, I interacted with two staff members who hailed from Manipur, a state in northeast India. Being from a similar region myself, we engaged in conversations, and I inquired about their decision to move to the city for work.
They shared that one of the primary reasons for their migration was the availability of lucrative salaries in cities. However, it was evident that obtaining employment required overcoming certain challenges, including completing certification courses related to grooming and undergoing interviews. Once they acquired the necessary skills, their earning potential increased significantly, highlighting the direct correlation between skills, job prospects, and wages.
In the second case, I observed a significant influx of skilled and unskilled labourers in various accommodation units around Pelling, a small and less explored hilly hamlet in the Himalayas. This area has gained popularity as a tourist destination, resulting in the emergence of numerous accommodation establishments catering to the needs of visitors. To understand the motivations behind the migration of these workers, I interacted with staff members employed in different accommodation units (interactions May, 2023). Evidently, those with hospitality training and skills were employed in higher-end accommodation units and received comparatively higher wages. Conversely, unskilled workers without training were employed in economy accommodation units and received lower wages. The wage disparity is directly correlated with the level of skills attained by the individuals.
In this case, individuals such as Mr C from Darjeeling, Mr D from Kalimpong, Mr E from Nepal, and Ms F from Kolkata migrated to Sikkim, seeking better-paying job opportunities. They were motivated by the prospect of higher wages in Sikkim compared to their hometowns. Mr C left Darjeeling to take advantage of the higher pay in the region, while Mr D, originally from Kalimpong, had been working as a cook in Sikkim for five years due to the better wages available there. Similarly, Mr E from Nepal found employment as a hotel manager in Sikkim for seven years, attracted by the better pay compared to his home country. Ms F from Kolkata also chose to work as a hotel manager in Sikkim for nine years, enticed by the higher salaries offered in Sikkim compared to Kolkata.
The main driving force behind these individuals’ migration from small towns to big cities or from one region to another is the prospect of higher wages and better job opportunities, often limited in their hometowns. Understanding these factors provides valuable insights into the dynamics of migration and the choices individuals make when pursuing opportunities for growth and prosperity.
Pema Choden Bhutia is a Research Scholar at Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.