FARANGI IN TOWN: Modern migration —Ella Rolfe

Cities have recently ceased to be seen as places where everyone can be employed in some back-breaking but steady unskilled job

I think one of the most thrilling things that has happened to me recently has been the expansion of my Urdu vocabulary to include words such as vatan and rahne vala. The chance to enquire of anyone and everyone, ‘aap kahan ka rahne valay hen?’ has provided not only a new way for me to ingratiate myself to Pakistanis and to seem less ‘foreign’, but also a fascinating perspective on the beast that is Lahore.

Not that I’ve necessarily understood the answers. But from those that I have mostly comprehended, I have been able to form a haphazard and probably wildly unrepresentative picture of geographical groups in Punjab’s supposedly diverse and culturally heterogeneous capital, based on an assortment of rickshaw wallahs, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. My enquiries set me wondering if what I had found out reflected the statistical truth about Pakistan’s internal migration trends.

A paper published in 2000 in the Pakistan Development Review, examining the nationwide Labour Force Survey (LFS) of 1996-7, provides some illuminating conclusions. The majority of internal migrants in this year, it points out, cited non-economic reasons for their moves.

The findings go against enshrined concepts of modern migration in more ways than one: not only are Pakistan’s itinerant population apparently motivated more by educational opportunities or obscure ‘other’ reasons (that blight of the analyst) rather than the traditional streets-are-paved-with-gold mentality, they are largely not agriculturalists flocking to try their hand in the big city.

Urban-urban migration, between large cities and from town to town, has for the first time overtaken rural-urban migration within Pakistan. Pakistan, it is stated in the paper, is part of a much wider trend of exchange of people between middle-sized provincial towns, with the rural population more likely to stay put.

Why should this be? The aforementioned paper does not offer explanations, having fulfilled an admirable function simply in drawing out trends and conclusions from the LFS’ mass of data.

As far as I can see, the survey speaks one of two ways about rural conditions in Pakistan in the late nineties.

It could show an impoverishment of rural areas such that their populations have less capacity to migrate; possibly because much of the non-agriculturally inclined labour force already resides in small towns, rendering rural populations less able to fill demand in labour markets and thus deprived of opportunities to move elsewhere.

The survey recorded almost negligibly small numbers of migrants to rural Sindh and Balochistan, whereas about a third of migrants to Punjab and the NWFP went to rural areas; this may hint at a poverty of land in the former two provinces which would support the above contention.

Alternatively, however, a reduction in out-migration from rural areas may suggest that in fact, life is good for more of Pakistan’s rural population — given that migration to urban areas to find work is often undertaken in desperation rather than aspiration. Cities, maybe, have recently ceased to be seen as places where everyone can be employed in some back-breaking but steady unskilled job; is this due to the now substantial history of urbanisation in Pakistan, which has surely allowed plenty of time for those who migrated to report back home on conditions and opportunities in the cities?

The key is, I suspect, that both explanations apply in different areas, as revealed by comparisons referred to above between, say, Sindh and Punjab.

And this does fit with my own poor enquiries — I met no migrants from rural areas. Those I spoke to who occupied what could patronisingly be called lower economic brackets all said they were from Lahore, as were (in the very few cases when I remembered to ask) their parents.

The migrants I met were overwhelmingly students, supplemented by a relative few migrating for jobs (though not to find a job, as the above-cited paper confirms). This reflects a startling finding of the LFS in 1996-7: that the highly educated are far more likely to migrate than those with only primary, or even secondary, education.

I find this a rude debunking of the familiar ‘urbanising unskilled workforce driving industrialisation’ paradigm. I suppose that model is now a bit outdated; and I’m sure migration specialists, who are identifying all sorts of new and more complex patterns, would agree with me.

However, this does not necessarily mean that migration trends reflect a new progressive strand of society. One of the biggest changes identified by the analysts of the LFS was a rise in the number of women migrating for education: 94 percent of the women migrants surveyed had moved for non-economic reasons, half of these for education.

This is encouraging as it certainly indicates the rise of higher education for richer women at least; however the figures show that this does not translate to upward career mobility for most. Very few of the female migrants surveyed were moving for job-related purposes — they are the reason why overall job-related migration was found to be so low, diluting rather higher male levels.

This may be bad news for both rich and middling women. The former migrate for higher education but then cannot capitalise on this in expanding their prospects; those with some education but not enough to go to university are unlikely to migrate, possibly indicating their reduced opportunities also.

The conservative forces still prevalent in Pakistani society in 1996-7, however, are illustrated even more starkly by another reason for movement: marriage. This is by far the most common reason for migrating among women surveyed, and a minor motivation for men. Ninety-seven percent of those migrating for marriage were women. Although this suggests that migratory men are perhaps seeing their migration as permanent rather than as a temporary expedient — arguably supporting the non-economic-reasons idea — and thus wanting to establish families in far flung areas, for women this means that migration within Pakistan is far from a vehicle for social change.

Rather, it is a more conservative means of enforcing social patterns. Pakistan has, it seems, once again belied the stereotype.

The writer is a staff member at The Friday Times

Source: Daily Times, 7/7/2008


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