Journeys of the body: Labour networks and experiences of migration among Muslim craftsmen in North India
This paper explores the embodied migration experiences of Indian Muslim craftsmen from the city of Saharanpur (U.P.), as they seek work and opportunities across the country. Their lives are played out on the fringes of the state and provide challenges to common assumptions within both, Indian government and academic discourses on North Indian Muslims which tend towards narratives of marginalisation, confinement and ghettoisation. The paper also calls for additional work on the little developed category of ‘Muslim labour in India’.
In the early 1980s a combination of government policy and increased competition resulted in a decline in Saharanpur’s large wood carving industry which had, until then, seen rapid growth and drawn in large quantities of labour from the city and surrounding areas. Whilst the industry would recover, workers and craftsmen had already started to build up migration networks and a ‘culture of migration’ had developed which persists to this day. This experience has had a profound effect on the social and economic circumstances of those involved. The paper follows two craftsmen, Mustaqin Ansari and Mohammad Sajid, in an exploration of these networks, and describes the ways in which the craftsmen themselves relate to and embody migration experiences.
Whilst the paper utilises a variety of data, including surveys and interviews, the primary narrative is drawn from the researcher’s own participation in work and migration during journeys with these two friends and others from Saharanpur to various areas of the country.
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