3.90.146 Women, Mobility and Migration


  • Mi , 30.11.2016 16:00 - 20:00


This workshop is organised in the context of the study programme EMMIR - for readings and further information please contact

workshop by Prof. Dr. Samita Sen

In recent years, many activists working to prevent trafficking of women and children have recognized the thin line between protecting women against trafficking and contributing further to their immobilization, especially in societies where regulation of women’s mobility is a key element of patriarchal control. This paper will address the ways in which migration and trafficking get entangled, especially in relation to women and children. It will be argued that in this story, a crucial role is played by the nature/degree of intermediation. The paper will address the problem of trafficking of women with reference to the history of their work and migration with a focus on (colonial) Bengal.
The nineteenth century was a period of major streams of migration within and out of India. It will be argued that patterns and modes of recruitment established at that time have had consequences for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. From that time on, women’s migration has been understood primarily in relation to marriage. This has tended to obscure two important questions we need to ask about women’s migration. First is the question of inter-linkages between marriage migration and laboring arrangements then and now. In recent years this particular issue has come to the forefront with demonstrated links between bride trafficking and deployment of household labour in states such as Haryana. This has important consequences for how we consider the issue of trafficking; many scholars and activists have tended to focus indeed, some argue vociferously in favour of such a focus on ‘immoral trafficking’, i.e., trafficking for sex work as the most exploitative, as a social ‘evil’ and deserving most attention. Such arguments also date back to the late nineteenth century in India and they received considerable attention in the inter-war period and in the aftermath of partition in the 1940s and 50s. Given the long and phased history of these inter-relationships, I propose a framework, which includes issues of women’s work (including sex work), marriage, migration and trafficking, to explore some key questions regarding women’s mobility.
In addition to the obvious, there are also other issues which have eluded research for instance, the elision of marriage migration with family migration, and the distinction between migration for marriage and migration after marriage The second is perhaps of even more importance the way in which the overwhelming evidence of marriage migration in rural India (given traditions of village exogamy) has overshadowed other forms of women’s migration, especially that for work. This is acquiring increasing importance in the light of mounting evidence of increasing women’s migration within the country. Despite all this women continue to be perceived as particularly immobile, with marriage as an ideologically weighted anchor and the feminine as coeval with a timeless rural past, and by that very reason, women’s migration as either exceptional or illegitimate (or trafficking). These stereotypes, which fly in the face of evidence, have often directed scholarship as well as misdirected official policy.


Samita Sen teaches at the Department of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. Earlier she was the vice-chancellor of the Diamond Harbour Women’s University. She holds expertise in the field of gender and labour. Her book „Women and Labour in Late Colonial India: The Bengal Jute Industry” is highly acclaimed.



  • mir130 Theorizing Historical and Contemporary Migration Processes & Intercultural Relations
  • mir320 Theory and Methods in Migration Studies


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