DAY SIXTEEN: Jawan Beetal Baa, Uhe Geetwa mein Chhapal-ba – Bhojpuri Women and Articulations on Migration

For our final blog for this year’s Blogathon, Asha Singh writes about Lakhpati Devi’s songs, which are a reflection of how many women experience migration in their families.

Asha Singh

Featured image: ‘Lakhpati in centre’ was also taken in 2014 in Bhairotola, which is under Chandi thana of Bhojpur district. Bhairo-tola is Lakhpati’s natal village. Image credits: Asha Singh

Baba ho kate da na duyi-das dinwa nu ho,

Tale praabhu-ji lawati ayihen ho.

E beti ho humase na kati toharo dinwa nu

Chali ja na matariya bhiri ho

E mai ho kate da na duyi-das dinwa nu ho

Tale praabhu-ji lawati ayihen ho

E beti ho humase na kati toharo dinwa nu ho

Chali ja na bhaiyawa bhiri ho

Oh father, let me spend a few days at your home

Till my husband returns

Oh daughter, I can’t take care of you,

Go ask your mother.

Oh mother, let me spend a few days at your home

Till my husband returns.

Oh daughter, I can’t take care of you,

Go ask your brother.

I collected this song from Lakhpati Devi, a septuagenarian unlettered woman who is also my mother. Lakhpati, like many other Bhojpuri women her age, is a storehouse of songs. I grew up with these songs. Researching them has always been a bitter-sweet experience for me.

Sweet, as they are the only living repertoire of Bhojpuri women’s collective experiences. Bitter, as they are used to reproduce the violence of traditional gender roles and caste affinities. This is not to argue that women’s songs don’t question traditions. They do, especially when they come in contact with new ideas and aspirations.

It has been my aim as a researcher to convey this bitter-sweet nature of songs and underline their undeniable place in Bhojpuri women’s experiences of mobility and immobility.

Now, let me turn to Lakhpati Devi’s song. It is an excerpt from a long dialogue between a married daughter and her natal family. She pleads to stay with them a little longer till her migrant husband returns home. Her parents remain unwilling to commit a decision and evade her appeal. The song works as a fact-fiction. It captures the generic conditions of ‘marriage migration’ – the inaugural experience of mobility (and immobility) for most women in Bhojpuri society.  Patrilocality ensures that women make no claims to resources in her natal village. This disenfranchisement, a form of structural gender-based violence, is regulated through social rituals, rules and oral art forms. This song reminds women of their status in their paternal home, post-marriage. It mirrors her own alienation from the natal home, a place she co-produced with her labour as a peasant-daughter. However, she (and the protagonist in the song) doesn’t hate her parents. Rather a deep sense of sorrow permeates the song where poor daughters realize how their equally poor parents can’t share much with them; that marrying a daughter is an economic transaction that settles delicate questions of resources. Thus, a deeper sense of patriarchal structure as violence, springs from the script of the song. Lakhpati’s parents died young of easily curable diseases in the 1970s. Singing this song perhaps is a way to remember them – a migrant child’s memories. Take a look at another such song where the daughter laments being married off to Bhojpur instead of urban Arrah or Chhapra. 

#भोजपूरी#सबकेबियहलाआराजिलाछपराहमरेबाबूजी #BOJPURI  #HAMKE BIYAHLA BHOJPUR HAMARE BABU JI

In the Bhojpuri milieu, the migrant figure is usually a young man who leaves his family to earn a living. His life and actions are commemorated in women’s folk songs. If we look close enough every such song recognizes two categories of migrants. One, the easily identifiable economic male migrant. And two, the implicit, taken-for-granted marriage migrant – the main voice in the song. Let us take a look at one such song, recalled by Lakhpati Devi, which captures an exchange between these two categories of migrants –

Kahe dhani angawa ke paatar ho ram

Kahe dhani chowkathiya dhaile jhuruvas ho ram

Toharo je maiya prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho

Tauli naapiye telwa dihalan ho ram

Toharo bahiniya prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho

Loiye ganiye hathwa ke dihalan ho ram

Husband: Why do you look so thin, dear wife?

Why do you look so sad, standing at the doorway, dear wife?

Wife: Oh husband, your mother is such a bitch,

She gives me only a few drops of oil.

Oh husband, your sister is such a bitch,

She gives me only a handful of flour to cook.

When the husband asks his wife to explain the reasons for her frail frame and sorrow, the newly-wed wife tells him that her in-laws deny her oil (telwa) and portions of kneaded flour (loiya). The song is woven together additively, with ‘prabhu ho awari chhinariya ho’ acting as a bridge to add new lines. Like other women’s songs on migration, the protagonist is a ‘newly-wed’ wife. One rarely comes across songs where a middle-age married woman becomes the protagonist. The ‘newly-wed’, is a migrant coping with forms of everyday violence—the scarcity, the control, the refusals of her wishes—in her marital home. 

Bhojpuri Folk Song (Jatsaar) | Saraswati Devi | भोजपुरी लोक गीत (जतसार)

The household is characterized by conflicts and negotiations of a marriage migrant. The micro-politics of oil and flour – daily necessities – is a slice of how women experience migration.  Reflecting on the content of the song, Lakhpati Devi conceptualizes them as lapsed or persistent lived experiences which are orally passed down through generations (‘jawan beetal baa, uhe geetwa mein chhapal-ba’ or what we experience is ‘printed’ in the song). The presence or absence of the migrant husband or khanihaar (breadwinner who has the first claim to all resources) determines the status of the marriage migrant. Lakhpati’s husband, my late father, was a migrant, for almost half their marriage. His absence adversely affected her life and that of her children. Her children survived only when she left for the city with her husband.

Women’s articulations on marriage migration and its everyday violence have silently shaped Bhojpurian notions of pain and displacement. Irrespective of gender, Bhojpuri migrants draw from women’s lives and sing like women to endure the pangs of mobility. The conditions of migration in Bhojpurian society are shaped by the structural violence of socio-economic institutions. Songs register (if not reflect) disappointments with such forms of violence but also work as painkillers to endure them.
This image was taken in 2012 in village Dihari under thana Sandesh, district Bhojpur (Bihar). Dihari is Lakhapti’s conjugal village. Image credits: Asha Singh

Author’s Bio

Asha Singh is an Assistant Professor in Gender Studies with Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC). She has also taught at Ambedkar University-Delhi, Amity University-Noida, Adamas University-Kolkata and Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya HindiVishwavidyalaya-Kolkata centre. Prior to her academic career, she was a journalist in Hindi newspapers NaiDunia, Bhopal and LokmatSamachar, Maharashtra. Her PhD is from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her doctoral work focuses on the intersections of gender, caste and migration in Bhojpuri folksongs. Her current research focuses on the sociology of Bhojpuri language, its institutional history and implications on social transformation. She has published with EPW, Sociological Bulletin, Sage, Routledge and Prabudhha.As a bilingual scholar she has contributed essays in popular platforms like Hindustan Times, Roundtable India and Savari.

DAY SIXTEEN: ‘Why not make darkness my god?’: Writing to Resist 

Bahar Fayeghi Ghadimi introduces us to Massome Jafari’s work and the use of writing and other cultural practices among Afghan women as a form of resistance.

Bahar Fayeghi Ghadimi

Featured image from  

The people in these stories are looking for a place to find the stability they have lost. The migration of people is not always geographical, sometimes this migration (movement) takes place in their minds and within them.

Massome Jafari

Due to four decades of conflict, about five million Afghans have found refuge in the neighboring country of Iran (Amir-Abdollahian, as cited in Gupta, 2022). However, despite these numbers, the underlying policy of the Iranian government has always been to treat Afghans as temporary guests who will return to their country one day. Afghans in Iran have been denied permanent residency and citizenship rights and their freedom of movement is strictly restricted including through the designation of no-go areas, such as cities and counties bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, which prevents Afghans from traveling to, working, and studying in these places. 

Living in a state of limbo is even harder for Afghan women, who face double discrimination. As Afghans, they are treated as inferior and excluded from the Iranian society. As women, they face many forms of gender-based violence by their families, society, and the government. These forces control women’s personal and public lives from their clothing, to their right to education, work, and freedom of movement.

A striking example of institutional violence against women is the fact that the government only issues work permits for Afghan men in specific categories of hard labor which forces women to find illegal employment and accept poor working conditions (e.g.,including long working hours, lack of health insurance, low pay). Furthermore, the patriarchal nature of Iranian society and Afghan families gives male relatives the power to limit women’s participation in society and their access to basic rights.  

Despite all these restrictions, however, women have fought to acquire the necessary skills for improving their lives. Mothers especially have been advocating for the education of their daughters. Thus, second and later-generation Afghan women are well-educated and better equipped to resist marginalisation and oppression. By participating in cultural activities such as writing, poetry, and filmmaking, they can shed light on the obstacles they face, reclaim their identities and demand their rights.   

Writing has become a significant tool for young Afghan women to resist power structures. They often use short stories to voice their grievances and say the unsayable.

Masoome Jafari, a second-generation Afghan born in Iran in 1996, challenges violence against women using creative techniques such as surrealism. Her book Why not make darkness my god? consists of eleven short stories written between 2015 and 2020, where she addresses issues, such as being denied Iranian citizenship, domestic violence and racism within Iranian society. Her characters are brave young women trying to free themselves from the forces that constrain them. Liberation is often achieved by going to the university, working, undertaking artistic activities, moving away from controlling families and migration to a third country.  

In the story “Few months before 1399”, Jafari writes about the struggles of a woman to make a living in a society that does not accept her. At the end, the character discovers masturbation as a form of liberation. The young mother of the story has recently moved to the “town” (which refers to Iran), and works in a tailoring workshop, a common profession amongst Afghans in Iran, to save money and bring her child with her. She is overworked and underpaid by her employer and made to work and sleep in the run-down building of the workshop. She is ignored by her colleagues and denied honey, a source of strength for the people of the “town”. However, she does not give up or stop her search for honey. One day, feeling so hungry and weak, she tries to find honey within herself through masturbation.   

When she completely collected the honey with her finger, she felt that she loved her life more than she could ever imagine, she even loved her employer and her husband. She thought she was not upset with anyone. At that moment, it did not matter to her if the whole workshop caught on fire and went up in the air. The important thing was that she finally found the honey mine and she was no longer hungry (Jafari, 2021, p. 27).  

Jafari’s character displays resistance in many ways. She found employment despite governmental policies that deny women work permits and give employers carte blanche to exploit women’s productive labor. She does not stay silent when Iranians tell her to go back to her country, and instead demands to know why she is not sold honey. Finally, she tries to make her own living despite difficult conditions.  

Jafari channels her resistance through writing, which she uses to raise awareness about the difficulties facing Afghan women in Iran and inside their homes. In fact, honey is a metaphor for many commodities that Afghans in the country can hardly access. Furthermore, telling a surrealist story of a woman’s discovery of sexual pleasure is a way of challenging structural silencing and social taboos, which ultimately make it so hard to talk directly about gender-based violence in all its forms.  


Gupta, K. (2022, May 24). Face to face with a hostile host. Asia Democracy Chronicles.  

Jafari, M. (2021). Why not make darkness my god? Nashr Rowzaneh. 

Author’s Bio 

Bahar Fayeghi Ghadimi is a third year PhD student in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her background in politics and international relations of the Middle East, her experience working with the United Nations in Iran and her interest in gender and refugee studies have led to her current research on the everyday resistance of Afghan women in Iran. Specifically, she focuses on how women combine multiple practices to resist material and ideational domination at the family, societal and governmental levels. You can tweet her @BFayeghi  

DAY FIFTEEN: Hostile Environments of Gender and Reproduction

In this harrowing piece, Lucy Lowe reflects on the hostile environment and how it impacts pregnant asylum seekers and babies in detention centers.

Lucy Lowe

Featured image: “Yarl’s Wood Protest.” by Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Pregnancy and birth are complex experiences that can evoke hopes and anxieties about the past and future, and illuminate the need for care and community. For migrants, it can also mean a confronting engagement with borders and immigration controls, and regimes of surveillance and management that are defining characteristics of both pregnancy care and immigration in the UK.

In Scotland, people in the asylum system are subject to contradictory policies and political ideologies on immigration, from ‘New Scots Integration Strategies’ that claim to welcome migrants, to the UK-wide ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies that seek to make life as unbearable as possible.

The treatment of pregnant asylum seekers in the UK reveals how the control and enforcement of borders are themselves tools of violence that are frequently used but rarely recognised by the state. Increasingly restrictive access to visas or official pathways to asylum force people to pursue irregular and more dangerous journeys. Such routes put women in particular at heightened risk of violence, including sexual violence.

Taking high doses of contraceptives before their journey is one strategy that women adopt in order to prevent pregnancies occurring as a result of rape. Even if they successfully reach a country where they might seek asylum, persecution that is deemed domestic or even feminised, often fails to meet narrow legal definitions of a refugee. The ‘hostile environment’, which restricts access to basic needs and services including accommodation, healthcare, employment, and financial assistance, keeps people in a state of destitution. This state of precarity puts people at further risk of exploitation.  

Pregnancy is usually presented as an additional challenge and source of vulnerability for people in the asylum system. Their experiences of pregnancy are often complicated by health problems, including poor nutrition and mental health problems. The dispersal policy, introduced under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, was intended to reduce the ‘burden’ of asylum seekers in the south of England by relocating people to key sites across the UK. This forced relocation has resulted in many people experiencing repeated relocations, reducing the possibility of any meaningful sense of community or support.

Such policies can have damaging effects on the health of individuals and their children. These problems are exacerbated when people are housed in poor-quality accommodation, as they were in Glasgow in the Mother and Baby Unit, and still are, in deficient hotel accommodation, where people lack access to cooking facilities and are provided with insufficient nutrition.

This accommodation, run by the private company Mears, has been widely critiqued as unsafe and unsuitable, particularly for pregnant people and new babies. It is therefore unsurprising that asylum seekers often experience a deterioration in health during their first two to three years in the UK. The hostile environment ensures that people seeking asylum frequently encounter poverty, destitution, and insecure housing. These are key barriers to health for everyone.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has emphasised the impact of social disadvantage on maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. It classifies refugee and asylum-seeking people’s pregnancies as ‘high risk’ due to the ‘complex social factors’ they face, and recommends increased efforts to improve access and engagement with maternity services.

This ‘high risk’ categorisation involves a pathway of care led by obstetrics, rather than midwifery, and a more rigorous regime of surveillance and interventions. They frequently experience high intervention births, with notably high rates of inductions and caesarean sections.

Despite this high-intervention care, refugee and asylum-seeking women in the UK continue to be at increased risk of poor pregnancy and birth outcomes. This is part of a wider context of reproductive inequalities, where Black women are four times more likely and Asian women two times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes.

These fatal inequalities exemplify the need for a reproductive justice approach. Reproductive justice was developed as a framework for activism and analysis to conceptualize the relationship between reproductive rights, racism, classism, and other forms of oppression. While reproductive rights movements have often focused on struggles for access to contraceptives and abortion, underscored by the concept of ‘choice’, reproductive justice acknowledges both the right to have or not to have children, and the right to safely and adequately parent children.

Pregnant asylum seekers in the UK are highly restricted in their choices, from what they eat, to where they live, to where and how they give birth. The hostile environment produces and compounds these multiple oppressions among some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The political salience of borders and immigration in the UK is resulting in increasingly violent policies to prevent migrants, including people seeking asylum, entering or remaining in the country.

Borders reproduce and reinforce racialized and gendered violence by categorising people as ‘criminals’, or as unworthy of human rights, which exposes people to further violence and restricts their capacity to receive care and support.

Research on forced migrants frequently emphasises the violent state exclusion of refugees, yet reproduction presents a potential zone of inclusion, where women and their infants are rendered deserving of protection on the basis of motherhood, rather than persecution. Pregnancy and motherhood can allow refugee women to form networks of social and familial support, but the financial, physical, and emotional demands of raising children can risk further isolating marginalized women and exacerbating mental health conditions that are already more prevalent among refugees and asylum seekers.

Although healthcare is provided by the NHS and (minimal) financial support is provided by the Home Office (in the case of asylum seekers and some refused asylum seekers), a plethora of organisations exist to advise, support, and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers. In Glasgow, Amma Birth Companions provide antenatal, birth, and postnatal support for refugees and asylum seekers. Frequently referred to as the ‘Amma Family’, staff and clients frequently use kinship terminology to convey the support they provide and receive. This intimate labour, grounded in opposition to the hostile environment, provides immediate support and advocacy, but also highlights the ways in which new communities of care and solidarity can be produced through universally shared challenges of pregnancy, birth, and parenting.

Author’s Bio

Lucy Lowe is a senior lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. This post draws on her ESRC New Investigator Grant funded project Maternity, Migration, and Asylum in Scotland (MAMAS).

DAY FOURTEEN: The Courts of Women – AWHRC, El Taller International and Vimochana. 

Corrine Kumar speaks about Courts of Women, assembled together in tandem with various organisations, that receive testimonials and offer judgments on different forms of violence like war, militarization, feminisation of poverty. They create possibilities for exchange among women’s and human rights groups and organisations in the regions.  

Corrine Kumar

Featured image: “Women of the court” by Nick in exsilio is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The Vision 

this eye  

is not for weeping 

its vision must be unblurred 

though tears are on my face 

its intent is clarity 

it must forget  


Let us tell you the story of the Courts of Women: 

It was a dream of many years ago; a dream to break the silence that enshrouds the violence; to rewrite women’s histories, to reclaim our memories; to find new visions for out times. To tell our stories not only of pain, but also of courage and survival; to find another logic; another way to know 

It began in Asia through the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council who together with several other women’s rights groups across the Asia and the Pacific has held nine Courts in the region; India held several Courts of Women; El Taller International, a sister organisation based in Tunisia has taken these Courts to the other regions of the world: Africa, Arab, Central and Latin America. 

The Courts of Women are an unfolding of a space, an imaginary: a horizon that invites us to think, to feel, to challenge, to connect, to dance, to dream. It is an attempt to define a new space for women, and to infuse this space with a new vision, a new politics. It is a gathering of voices and visions of the global south, locating itself in a discourse of dissent: in itself it is a dislocating practice, challenging the new world order of globalisation, crossing lines, breaking new ground: listening to the voices and movements in the margins. 

The Courts of Women seek to weave together the objective reality (through analyses of the issues) with the subjective testimonies of the women; the personal with the political; the logical with the lyrical (through video testimonies, artistic images and poetry); the rational with the intuitive; urging us to discern fresh insights, offering us other ways to know, inviting us to seek deeper layers of knowledge; towards creating a new knowledge paradigm. The Courts of Women are public hearings: the Court is used in a symbolic way. In the Courts, the voices of the victims/ survivors are listened to. Women bring their personal testimonies of violence to the Court: the Courts are sacred spaces where women, speaking in a language of suffering, name the crimes, seeking redress, even reparation. 

It speaks of a new generation of women’s human rights. 

It is an expression of a new imaginary that is finding different ways of speaking truth to power; challenging power, recognising that the concepts and categories enshrined in the ideas and institutions of our times are unable to grasp the violence; violence that is not only escalating, but is also intensifying, the forms are becoming more brutal.  

The Courts of Women also speak truth to the powerless, seeking the conscience of the world, creating other reference points than that of the rule of law, returning ethics to politics. It invites us to the decolonisation of our structures, our minds and of our imaginations; subsumed cultures, subjugated peoples, silenced women reclaiming their political voice and in breaking the silence refusing the conditions by which power maintains its patriarchal control.  

It speaks too of another notion of justice; of a jurisprudence, which bringing individual justice and reparation will also be transformatory for all. A jurisprudence that is able to contextualize and historicise the crimes; moving away from a justice of revenge, a retributive justice, to a justice seeking redress, even reparation; a justice with truth and reconciliation; a restorative justice, healing individuals and communities.  

Through its very diverse voices, the Courts of Women attempt to speak of equality, not in terms of sameness, but in terms of difference; a difference that is rooted in dignity that comes from depths, from the roots a people who have been dispossessed and denigrated.  

The Courts of Women invite us to write another history: 

A counter hegemonic history, a history of the margins. The Courts of Women are a journey of the margins: a journey rather than an imagined destination. A journey in which the dailiness of our lives proffer possibilities for our imaginary, survival and sustenance; for connectedness and community.  

The Courts of Women invite us to dismantle the master’s house; for as the poet Audre Lorde says the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. There is an urgent need to challenge the centralising logic of the master’s narrative implicit in the dominant discourses –of class, of caste, of gender, of race. This dominant logic is logic of violence and exclusion, a logic of civilised and uncivilised, a logic of superior and inferior. 

This centralising logic must be decentered, must be interrupted, even disrupted. 

The Courts of Women speak to this disruption; to this trespass. The Courts of Women are about crossing lines, about breaking new ground, about finding new paradigms of knowledge and of politics. 

The Courts of Women are our dreams of trespass. 

Author’s Bio 

Corrine Kumar is Founder and International Coordinator of the World Courts of Women that work with local organizations to assemble these courts that have a different ethos and emphasis. An assembled Jury receives testimonials and then offer judgments that offer a valuable input into local, national and international campaigns against different forms of violence like war and militarization, monoculturalisation and the feminisation of poverty. They contribute to a growing body of knowledge that will help to question, transform and initiate alternative thinking, institutions and instruments which seek to address the violation of women’s human rights at regional, national and international levels. They create possibilities for exchange among women’s and human rights groups and organisations in the regions.  

Over the years the Courts have grown into a movement that has gathered momentum from the time of its inception in 1992 to the over 40 Courts held in the global south; deepening its vision of politics and power, justice and transformation and the making of violence against women unthinkable.   

DAY SIX: Migration, mobilities and displacement: A view from the ground in Nithari, India

Sunalini Kumar writes about displacement and the disproportionate effects of migration on women in Nithari, a village of thousands of ‘urban villages’ in the industrial suburb of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Area) in India.

Sunalini Kumar

Featured image credits: Joint Women’s Programme

Nithari village is one of thousands of ‘urban villages’ in the industrial suburb of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Area), just outside India’s national capital, Delhi. Nithari presents a picture of congestion, overflowing sewage, narrow galis (streets in Hindi) and ramshackle, hastily erected tenements. Nevertheless, over the decades Nithari has become home to thousands of marginalised and poor Indians from North India and beyond.  

In the popular press – both Indian and foreign – economic liberalisation brought prosperity to the country and expanded opportunities for the poor. However, the underbelly of this growth has been devastating especially for those who were suddenly defined as ‘unskilled’. Women form a huge section of the category of the especially vulnerable, ‘unskilled’ poor in a phenomenon termed the ‘feminisation of poverty’ by economists.

Often illiterate, jobs like babysitting; elder care; and employment in hospitals and factories, which were previously open to them, are now denied under the modern, ‘corporate’ organisation of labour.  

Therefore, urban migration for women is different from the experiences of men who are generally literate and have a higher bargaining status. Migrant women find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of low wages and a sudden decline in status compared to their lives in the village. In Nithari, the Joint Women’s Programme – an autonomous women’s organisation established in 1977 – reports that despite their lower status, migrant women have become the primary breadwinners of their families. This is either due to destitution; domestic violence; or because their male partners are afflicted with physical and mental health issues. However, persistent cultural factors in these communities simply don’t acknowledge the reality of women as workers. Due to these long-term factors, the effects of the 2020-22 COVID-19 pandemic have been especially devastating in Nithari. Padmini Kumar of the JWP shared some examples of migrant women’s distress during the pandemic: 

‘Food on plate’ Image credits to: Padmini Kumar

A migrant labourer from Bihar, Rani was stranded in Nithari with her children. Her husband had gone to another district in search of work and lost contact with the family. With no money in hand Rani would stand in front of the gate of the emergency food ration service organised in the school run by JWP. One of the teachers asked her if she was looking for someone. She started crying and confessed that she and her children had not eaten for three days. They did not have a phone to contact anyone in their village and were staying under a stolen old polythene banner to protect themselves from the hot sun. JWP continued to give her food till the end of lockdown but lost touch with her post-pandemic.  

Omvati was working as a construction labourer along with her son after her husband had died due to a workplace accident. The contractor paid them a small token amount to cremate the body. With grief weighing them down they preferred to go back to their village. But the sudden lockdown had left them with debts and the contractor refused to give them their earlier payments. The single room they had rented needed to be cleared of dues. They were left locked inside the work site, with very little to eat and with no access to a clean toilet. After four days when they ran out of groceries, they started waving their clothes to try to catch the attention of passers-by but due to the lockdown there was hardly anyone in the vicinity. Out of hunger and exhaustion they were found semi-conscious by one of JWP’s community workers. Emergency first aid was given and they were taken to hospital. It was ensured that they were given food every day until the end of the lockdown. Later the JWP volunteers met the contractor to redeem a major part of their wage dues and the family was sent home as per their own wishes. 

There are many such stories in Nithari, like the ones shared above. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic fallout of it in India has elevated the ordinary marginalisation of migrant women in Indian cities to widespread destitution. This is a silent crisis that has not received the kind of attention from the government and the media that it needs.

In Nithari, migrant women are in danger of losing what little they had before the pandemic; and yet they remain the fragile pillars, on which their children and others depend. Without sustained intervention by the state, these women will become one of the long-term casualties of the pandemic, without even the formal acknowledgment accorded to other victims. Gendered violence takes many forms; Nithari’s women experience it not only directly, but also in its most insidious form through the uncaring patriarchal state.  

Author’s Bio

Sunalini Kumar is Associate Professor at the School of Global Affairs, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. She was educated at Delhi University, JNU and Cambridge University. She has previously been Visiting Fellow at CSDS, Delhi and Fulbright Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow at MESAAS, Columbia University.

Sunalini’s research interests centre around urban and regional politics; gender and political theory; and the global south. Her publications are included in Critical Studies in Politics: Sites, Selves, Power (Delhi, Orient Blackswan 2013) and Urbanising Citizenship (Delhi, London and Thousand Oaks, Sage 2013). She is a contributing member of the widely read blog