Between the People and the Polis

Our own research on Pakistan has established that the most important reason for increases in migration is the changes that are taking place in the socioeconomic condition of rural areas. Through a long process, which I have documented in my writings, the rural economy has transformed from a barter economy to a cash one. And in the process, the link between caste and profession, which made village self-sufficiency possible, has either vanished or is under pressure. As a result, the village no longer – at least in Pakistan, in most of Pakistan – has a lohar, a kumhar, a barai, a chamar, a raj, etc. They have all migrated to the cities. The village today depends entirely on urban-produced goods and is no longer self-sufficient – a self-sufficiency that Gandhi admired very much. The landless labourer and the traditionally lower-caste cannot afford the city-manufactured goods, and so migration is the only option left.

The earlier migrants, made a conscious decision to migrate, to improve their livelihoods and families back home. They came from stable societies where local community governance systems functioned, even if they were questioned. The present migrants come from societies where the jirga has no moral authority – jirga is a form of inter-tribal association to sort out disputes. They come from societies where the jirga has no moral authority and the chaudhry, panchayat, the mukhi, the patel and the numberdar are all non-existent. Also, the clan and extended family is disintegrating, so there is a freedom to choose, move, and freedom from community controls and loyalties. This is the trend. It’s a very powerful trend, and it’s not going to be reversed.

For the first time, “lower castes”, such as bheels, kohlis, meghwars and jogis, who did not migrate before except as individuals now have the freedom to migrate en masse. And they do. However, due to their lack of skills, there are, in essence, large, circulating populations going back to the rural areas during the harvesting season and having no permanent residence. All this is new. It’s in Pakistan, and it’s in the last 15-20 years that these changes have started consolidating themselves.

There, something else has happened. Most of the migrants used to work on building sites. Building roads, building buildings; mechanisation of construction projects has limited their jobs. We just studied a road-building project, a small road-building project, in which everything was mechanised. Excavation was mechanised, earth refilling was mechanised, compaction was mechanised, the laying of the tarmac was mechanised, and we asked the contractor how many people had he employed and he said 60. And we said if you didn’t have these machines how many people would you have employed? He said about a thousand. Now, this is a very big factor in demitting of jobs. This is a study that we are currently doing to see how this works and how it affects migrant labour. There are other reasons for migration as well which I will talk about later, but one very important factor is that the cities that we are talking about are becoming cities of migrants – increasingly. And the local population will have less of a presence. In Karachi it’s already so.

Also, the cities to which migration is taking place have also changed. For one, they have expanded spatially and land and real estate has replaced gold as an investment. As my friend, he says, whatever happened for, “Jo bhi sone kiliye hota tha, zamin kiliye hota hai” (Whoever used to deal with gold now deals with land). ‘You kill, you occupy, you pressurise’, has replaced gold as an investment. It is no longer possible to squat near the city center and work areas as it was before. The Katchi Abadis of Karachi history, they are not going to be there anymore, because the land is not there. The only areas where the poor can find affordable land, and that too informally developed or only for occupation, is on the extreme city fringe, which is far away from work areas. If I look at land values in Karachi, which we’ve studied to some extent, in 1991 one square metre of land on the city’s periphery used to cost 1.7 times the daily wage at that time. Today, it is 40 times the daily wage, far away, even further away from the city than it was in 1991. So, there are other problems. The non-regularised informal settlements and even regularised ones are needed for middle-class housing whose demand has grown by 300 percent in the last decade. And this demand is likely to grow as the middle class increases.

Living on the fringe is more expensive than renting within the city. Utilising transport costs on the fringe means expensive commuting and time, and there are also social costs. Our studies show that women cannot work on the fringe. Fathers often do not see their children because of long hours of travelling. Entertainment and recreation cannot be accessed. People are fatigued due to commuting in uncomfortable and expensive transport in terrible environmental conditions. The worst affected are women, there’s transports studies, which will be out soon, where 62 percent of the women interviewed said that if they lived nearer to their places of work, they would have better job opportunities. Many said they would work, which they don’t, if they lived nearer the city, or if transport was cheaper and better. The impact on men was less. So what has happened now is that these informal settlements which were single-storey and double-storey and were near the city are now becoming five-storey, six-storey, 10-storey buildings. In Bombay it has already happened. And these are informal ownerships because this is informal high-rise development. They are becoming extremely overcrowded and they suffer from all the negative aspects of overcrowding, which are very serious. And this overcrowding is increasing, since the renters are increasing because of the rise of these multi-storey buildings. Before you had a house, you lived in it. Now, you live in a building, and your house has become six floors or ten floors. The environment, the place has changed, it is not the same place. And people have come here whom you don’t know, the street is no longer a public space, so these are the changes that are taking place.

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