‘Lives on the move’ invites you to reflect on the ambivalences and ambiguities that attend to contemporary processes of modernity, growth and democracy. Join us as we embark on our fascinating journeys with circular labour migrants, their families and communities over the next one year. 

We accompany individuals with homes in India’s villages and small towns as they make their way through different locations in the country in search of dignified livelihoods. Side by side, we stay with their family members in their -places of birth, offering glimpses into the ways in which they lead their lives. But most importantly, ‘Lives on the Move’ presents the active exchanges of ideas and thoughts, identities and imaginations, and practices and activities that mark the lives of India’s labour migrants, their family and neighbours, friends and rivals, co-workers and employers, and the numerous other people with whom they interact on their journeys.

A growing number of people move to and from different locations through their lifetimes. They live, love and labour on fields, factories, hovels, streets, middle-class homes, shops and construction sites across the world. Such circulations complicate our understanding of ongoing processes of political, socio-cultural and economic change. They question simplistic narratives on agrarian change, industrial employment, modernisation and cosmopolitanism. Moreover, even as circular migrants contribute to the growing numbers of people who reside in the world’s urban areas, their circulations between town and country urges us to think about cities as flexible entities.

What does it mean to be a migrant?

Dr Indrajit Roy studies the lives of circular and internal migrants, people who move around their own countries usually in search of work. Such internal migrants do not move permanently, but instead are coming and going constantly. So their patterns of movement change what we think about the nature of the city as an entity. In places where citizenship rights like the right to vote or social entitlements are tied to place of birth, they are often denied such rights. The aim of this project is to understand the lives of internal migrants and to encourage governments to think about local service provisioning for people who are mobile.



Lives on the Move draws on the research, activism and advocacy of several organisations with whom the study project has established collaborations. These organisations are listed below.


Center for Equity Studies

Centre for Equity Studies (CES) researches and advocates on a range of social and economic justice issues in India. The organisation examines the nature and causes of social injustice and inequality to find ways to move towards a more equitable, humane and peaceful society. Based in New Delhi, it seeks to influence and shape public policy and law in favour of the most disadvantaged communities in India. Its current major areas of research and activity include hunger and social exclusion as well as mass violence and impunity, and direct initiatives with urban homeless people.

CES hosts the three researchers, the CES Fellows, who collect the ethnographic data that is the centrepiece of the study project. By following the lives of selected labour migrants and their neighbours, friends and co-workers through their localities of origin and destination, CES Fellows are able to develop an intimate portrait of the vulnerabilities and insecurities that lie at the heart of India’s current economic boom.

The CES fellows are:

Atul Anand: Atul taught undergraduate students at Don Bosco College, Goa before he obtained the CES Fellowship. He holds a master’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies from the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.  His master’s degree dissertation explored the issue of news and its relations with representation of different social groups in Hindi newspapers in Bihar and Jharkhand. Atul has also worked with video and images, through which he seeks to understand and act upon issues pertaining to caste equality, gender justice and democratic communication. He loves photography.

Zaheeb Ajmal: Zaheeb was born and brought up in an urban setting and had never lived or experienced rural life till he secured the CES Fellowship. Prior to joining CES, he was involved in research on political and social themes for Pennysylvania University, Columbia University, the University of Oxford and the United Nations Human Commission of Rights. Zaheeb has also worked in different media houses since being a journalist has been his passion since childhood. He helped found a youth organisation named SAMAR which basically focuses on education and social awareness among young people in northern India.

Ankur Jayaswal: Ankur was born in a small town in eastern Uttar Pradesh. He graduated from Banaras Hindu University in 2010, after which he secured a degree in advertising from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi (2011). Soon thereafter, Ankur and his friends initiated Patrakar Praxis (Journalists’ Praxis) to ensure a greater public outreach for the Hindi language print media. He obtained an MA in Social Entrepreneurship from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He took up the CES Fellowship a year later. Ankur is interested in philosophy and cinema and wants to make documentaries after completing his stint at CES.


Asian Development and Research Institute

The Asian Development Research Insitute (ADRI) is a Patna-based organisation dedicated to the study of socio-economic and political change in the States of Bihar and Jharkhand. It is affiliated with The Indian Council of Social Science Research, the network body for national research in the social sciences. As part of its commitment to foster interdisciplinary research in the social sciences, ADRI conducts research that draws on economics, history and political science while being relevant to the development needs of the States of Bihar and Jharkhand. Among ADRI’s many achievements has been to lead the preparation of the annual Economic Surveys that provide an overview of socio-economic developments in the State. Additionally, the organisation is involved in research pertaining to improving human development, reducing social exclusion and reforming public finance.

For this study project, ADRI is conducting a State-wide survey of the continuities and changes in migrants’ lives through a longitudinal study in Bihar. Through sample surveys of nearly 5,000 labour migrants in origin and destination localities across nine districts within the State, researchers at ADRI provide large-scale data which complements the ethnographic findings of the project in the context of the socio-economic changes that Bihar is currently witnessing.


Praxis is a knowledge-based organisation that plays a role in influencing equity- and governance-related policies through participation and ensuring the right of every individual to a life of dignity and choice. It aims to facilitate participation towards the democratisation of development processes and results that will pave the way for an equitable society without poverty. Praxis views the seams of social inequity in India as most exposed in the urban context and in post-disaster situations. To that end, PRAXIS has conducted studies on the lives and struggles of sanitation workers, child-friendly urban spaces, and community mobilisation in the context of the growing incidence of HIV in the context of urban India. 

As part of this study project, PRAXIS convened focus group discussions with labour migrants and their families, neighbours and co-workers in over 20 localities of origin and destination in Bihar and Delhi. These discussions helped PRAXIS researchers to develop detailed accounts of the lives of migrants and their families in a transforming India.

Koshish Charitable Trust

Koshish Charitable Trust is an advocacy organisation which campaigns alongside other actors in civil society for pro-poor governance, equitable development and social justice. Among their most important campaigns has been the Right to Food campaign, under the aegis of which, Koshish rallied with other like-minded organisations to demand the universalisation of food security in India. The secretary of the organisation was appointed Advisor to the Right-to-Food Commissioner appointed by India’s Supreme Court.  

For the present project, Koshish implemented a census survey of approximately 6000 households in twenty-five-odd adjacent rural localities which send, like millions of other villages in Bihar, large numbers of labour migrants into other parts of the State and the rest of India. The survey provided fine-grained data that helped Koshish researchers situate labour migrants within the overall context of the sending localities. The census provided the basis for the ethnographic component of the research.

Aajeevika Bureau

Aajeevika Bureau combines direct service delivery, advocacy, research and technical support in advancement of its work on issues relating to Indian migrant workers. It provides a range of services to migrants and their households, which include registration and photo ID, skill training and placement, legal aid, collectivisation, social security, financial services and family support. The Bureau runs field centres both at source (South Rajasthan) and at major destinations (in Gujarat and Rajasthan). The source and destination presence is an important feature of the organisation's work and outreach with migrant workers. Aajeevika Bureau has undertaken a wide range of field-based research into aspects of seasonal migration, labour and employment. A special unit, the ‘Centre for Migration and Labour Solutions’ provides technical support and capacity building to a large number of organisations.

We work with Ajeevika Bureau to facilitate the exchange of knowledge among different stakeholders about the ways in which the lives of labour migrants could be made more secure and less vulnerable. To that end, a series of knowledge exchange workshops will be organised in different parts of India with stakeholders throughout late 2016 and early 2017.



The research on which this website draws would not have been possible without the support of the following organisations

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Economic and Social Research Council

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and civil society. It is a non-departmental public body established by Royal Charter in 1965 and receives most of its funding through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).


International Growth Centre

The International Growth Centre (IGC) aims to promote sustainable growth in developing countries by providing demand-led policy advice based on frontier research. It works closely with partner governments to generate high quality research and policy advice on key growth challenges. Based at the London School of Economics (LSE) and in partnership with the University of Oxford, the IGC is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).