Migration E-Article


By: Staff Reporter
People move in and out of places every day and have done so throughout human history. This short essay outlines the pattern of migratory movement and reflects an ever changing India. About 29 per cent of India’s population are migrants, which impacts tahe cultural landscapes in ways that often lasts well beyond lifetimes.

Migration involves spatial mobility of people from one well defined administrative unit be it village, town/city, district, state and country to another. However, movement within the same village or city is not migration; but simply relocation of residence. Also, people may move due to pilgrimage or pleasure trips, but that is not migration either, as these movements are purpose oriented with no intention of settling down in the new place. Broadly therefore, migration may be defined as a change of residence from one administrative unit to another with the intention of settling permanently or semi-permanently.

In India, two main sources of migration data are Census of India and National Sample Survey Organisation. Both these sources have adopted specific criteria in defining migration. The Census of India, that covers the entire population, has defined migration from two perspectives.

  • Place of birth: If a person lives in a different place from his place of birth during the census enumeration, he is considered a migrant. Census 2001 records about 307 million persons as migrants of which 6.1 million, about 2 per cent, were international migrants, by this approach.
  • Place of last residence: A person is considered as migrant by place of last residence, if the place in which he is enumerated during the Census is other than his place of immediate last residence. This definition gives an estimate of persons who have moved more than once. Persons who migrate out for various reasons such as for education, employment, seasonally etc., but return to the place of origin and are present there at the time of enumeration are not treated as migrants by place of birth, but as migrants by place of the last residence. This measure gives a current scenario of the migrants. According to Census 2001, by this concept out of the total migrant population of 314 million, 5.1 million, or about 1.6 per cent, comprise of international migrant while the rest pertains to internal migration.

The National Sample Survey defines migration somewhat differently, which can broadly be equated with the concept of last residence of the Census. According to the National Sample Survey, a member of sample household is treated as a migrant if he had stayed continuously for at least six months or more in a place. The village/town where a person had stayed continuously for at least six months or more prior to moving to the present place of enumeration is referred to as the ‘last usual place of residence’ of that migrated person.

Migration Pattern

The National Sample Survey is a sample survey covering entire India, excepting few inaccessible areas. The latest year for which this data set is available is for 2007-2008. Accordingly, about 29 per cent of India’s population are migrants. The migration rate in urban area is higher (35 per cent) as compared to that of the rural area (26 per cent). As a whole migration stream can be divided into four: rural-rural; rural-urban; urban-urban and urban-rural. Rural-to-rural is the most dominant stream accounting for nearly 62 per cent of the total internal migrants, followed by rural-urban (20 per cent); urban-urban (13 per cent) and urban-rural (6 per cent).  A gender wise analysis reveals that women predominate in rural-rural migration stream while men do so in urban stream (Table 1).

Table 1: Streams of migration

Source: Report on Migration in India, NSSO, 64th Round, 2007-2008.


Women outnumber men in migration because they usually move to other places after marriage and family reunion. That is why women are viewed as tied or associational migrants.  For example, 91 and 61 per cent women in rural and urban areas move for this purpose respectively. On the contrary, most of the men move for employment purposes. Nearly 29 per cent of rural and 56 per cent of urban men move for work related reasons.

Of late, the opening up of various employment opportunities in the cities has attracted women migrants who work in export processing zones, fishing industries, construction sites, etc. Not only within the country, women also cross international borders for educational and employment purposes.

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