Unskilled and semi-skilled migrants are the largest chunk of the internal migrants in India who migrate in search of livelihood options.

Unskilled and semi-skilled internal migrants in India, leaving their homes in desperate search of the elusive earning option that they could not get at their homes, begin their journey on an unpredictable note, without any planning, much like their journey.

Some of them take to the roads but for most, the Indian Railways is the only option.

Indian trains have an unreserved class, also called the ‘general class’, offering cheapest fairs, and almost no amenities. Anyone who is even slightly capable of meeting some ends would never want to board these ‘general class compartments’ of any train.

Most of the Indian trains are notorious but the general class compartments can effectively be put in the ‘horrible journey experience’ category when they chug from and to the poorer or poorly governed states; states providing the rest of the India with unskilled or semi-skilled manpower. Most of them are daily wage earners. Unorganized occupation units like construction, private transportation and small time vending employ almost of the lot.

Though the labour law sets rules of engagement but it is never followed in such manpower sectors. People, for whom the law is enacted, can’t read even the newspaper properly. Their only concern is to survive the coming day. It is silly to expect that they would raise voices to say that they are not being paid the basic minimum wage as defined by the statute.

And they pack the general class of these Indian Railways trains which are devoid of even the basic amenities.

Take a walk on a major railway station like Delhi, Mumbai or Howrah and you can see the large queues struggling to enter the general class compartments of the trains heading to the states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and some other poor states. Police force is employed to manage the swelling crowd that overcrowds the trains packing them many times beyond the capacity. Some stampedes in past have killed many.

But they have no other option than to board these compartments.

For them, life is restricted to the environs of the general class compartment of the Indian Railways trains – neglected, marginalized, overburdened, and ignorant!

And this symbolism continues with their lives in the big city India.

They do carry hope when they board the train but it is not the kind of hope that the passengers boarding the air-conditioned coaches of the same train carry. Their hopes, most of the time, don’t fall even in the category of the hopes carried by the reserved sleeper class passengers, a class having slightly better amenities than the unreserved general class.

Also, the sleeper class is known as ‘second class’ in common man’s terminology. That, invariably, leaves the ‘third class’ notion and ‘treatment’ for the ‘general class passengers’. Isn’t it?

These internal migrants of India do carry a hope when they leave their homes or when they return to their homes.

Yes, they carry just one hope, the hope of survival that they would be able to find something to do there, to earn, and to live further. Their agenda of life is limited to a day or set of a few days only and keeps on changing. The glitzy metros with their blitzy environs are just like the air-conditioned class of the train they just pass through but do not even notice while heading to the cramped ‘general class’ compartments with ‘third class’ amenities.

They toil on the city roads and in the city environs during their working hours and head to the city slums or look for a corner on the road pavements to complete their day for the next day.

It is a dark aspect of the internal migration in the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic of India.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –



Migrants face denial of basic entitlements including access to subsidized food, housing, drinking water, sanitation and public health facilities, education and banking services and often work in poor conditions devoid of social security and legal protection. Positive impacts of migration remain unrecognized.

— Overview of Internal Migration in India, UNICEF, 2012

The 2001 Census said the internal migrants were 30 per cent of the Indian population (309 million). According to the (National Sample Survey Office) NSSO 2007-08 findings, the proportion came down to 28.5 per cent. But 17 million more left their homes for varied reasons taking the count to 326 million. The estimates are for every type of migration – rural to rural, rural to urban and urban to urban. Another significant sociological indicator comes from the Census 2011 data. For the first time in 90 years, since the Census 1921, the Urban India added more to its numbers than the rural India. And the rural to urban migration has a significant stake. P Sainath equated this with ‘distress migration’ in one of his articles.

According to the NSSO 2007-08 findings, employment was the major reason behind migration of the male population. 29 per cent of the rural males and 56 per cent of the urban males migrated in search of the livelihood options.

And Rahul Gandhi’s Girish is just one ‘nameless faceless’ man among the millions of the migrating lot who face exploitation, poor working conditions and a poor life as the report puts it.

The trend implies a darker aspect. This migrating lot, basically the unskilled and semiskilled working class from poorer or poorly governed states, is in such a miserable conditions of survival that it opts for a life of exploitation hoping it can give some desperate earning options to meet the basic requirements like food and medicines of the family left behind.

Imagine the deplorable conditions millions of Indians are living in.

They survive on virtually nothing and that makes them tough and rugged. Those who survive the flirtations of hunger and shelter can tolerate any persecution, so be it the life where one shares a cramped room of 8 feet by 8 feet with 8 other fellow migrants in a heartless and hypercompetitive Indian metro like Delhi or Mumbai. It is not the IIMs way of making ‘workers’ rugged, workers who face problem of plenty. It is how the life makes one rugged where choices are non-existent and only the will to live further makes one to take the next step in life.

Though the government has enacted a Right to Education Bill making provision of educational facilities to every child a mandatory act, education is not at all a basic requirement of life for this migrating lot. Millions of them are still living in the dark-age mentality where more number of the male children means increased number of the earning hands in the family.

Members of this migrating class don’t have a dream when they leave their homes. They are well aware of the situation awaiting them in the metro India where they will be cornered in some slum locality or at the outskirts of the city.

Many can’t even afford that.

Delhi, India’s national capital and a city that boasts of maximum increase in per capita income, shows it. Take a random night drive crisscrossing the city, from its posh colonies to the slum localities, from its office spaces to its marketplaces, and one can see migrants surviving their day-to-day lives on road dividers, on footpaths, on railway stations, on hand-pulled rickshaws.

And Delhi is not the standalone case. Almost every big city in India will take you across a similar canvas of predicament.

There is no denial to the fact that skilled and highly skilled workers, too, are migrating but they cannot compensate for the negativity that owes its genesis in the ‘forced-by-circumstances’ migration of millions from the lower bottom of the social pyramid.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –