To Go or Not to Go: Unpacking Mobility Decisions in Mumbai During the COVID-19 Lockdown of 2020
Neuchâtel : nccr - on the move
Date de parution
nccr - on the move Working Paper
The hastily announced lockdown in March 2020 by the Indian government precipitated a wave of uncertainty and fear among urban residents living in auto-constructed settlements. In subsequent weeks, images poured in of people undertaking arduous journeys across hundreds of miles to try and get back to their native villages – a process that was dubbed the ‘migrant crisis’ by the mainstream media. This coinage, however, hides a number of differences in the positionality of city residents in terms of housing, employment, access to credit, political clientelism and family structure, factors which are themselves circumscribed by caste, religion, gender and ethnicity. Drawing on qualitative research in two separate field sites within Mumbai, this paper seeks to provide insight into the way choices on staying, leaving and returning to the city were made by various informal workers at the individual, family and community levels. While offering a chronological account of how the lockdown unfolded in the city, it makes three central observations. First, the status and relationship between landlord and tenant within the autoconstructed settlement was a key axis along which migratory decisions were negotiated. Second, the unforeseen gendered fallouts of punitive state action structured certain people’s desperation to leave. Finally, the collective psychology of fear and safety worked more along the lines of caste, religion and ethnic community rather than friends and neighbors. Taken together, these insights aim to emphasize the need for more granular categories and new vocabularies to understand the evolving relationship between mobility, social structures and precarious forms of urban labor.
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