Misfortune, misfits and what the city gave and took: The stories of South-Indian child labour migrants 1935-2005

Vegard Iversen, Yashodhan Ghorpade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We use a primary data-set comprising the work-life histories of 90 individuals from Coastal and central Karnataka who migrated for work to Mumbai, Bangalore and other destinations sometime between 1935 and 2005. These migrants were all below the age of 15 at the time of leaving home, and their work-life histories provide a unique platform for studying persistence, change and spatial variation in relation to the incidence and causes of child labour migration, in the intrahousehold agreements and dissent that preceded these migration events, and in the workplace experiences and other outcomes awaiting these very young migrants. While migration prior to 1975 was mostly from the Coastal belt, it was often prompted by financial distress and usually targeted small, South-Indian eating places in Mumbai. More recent migration frequently involves educational â€̃misfits’. In spite of their young age when leaving home, our informants typically came to regard migration as a transformative and attitude-changing experience that opened new avenues for acquiring work-related and other skills, languages included. This transformative potential varied across time, destinations and occupations and is, we suggest, intimately linked to leisure becoming a reality. Limitations are identified for those who migrated early, for agricultural labourers whose social lives would often be confined to caste-fellows from their native place and for girls working as domestic servants. This paper illustrates how early migrants to Mumbai were uniquely placed, in that migration for work improved their educational opportunities. Their accounts of the Kannada Night Schools they attended provide a useful corrective to official documents and evaluations. © 2010 Cambridge University Press.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1177-1226
Number of pages49
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Misfortune, misfits and what the city gave and took: The stories of South-Indian child labour migrants 1935-2005'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this