Male Out-Migration and Empowerment of Women Left Behind in Indian Sunderbans

Sourodeep Bose, Shatabdi Saha, Rupak Goswami.

Farming in the Sundarbans region is typically rainfed, constrained by hostile and challenged ecosystems, and is characterized by low input use and poor crop productivity. The male farmers, due to fragmented land holding and frequent crop failure (as a result ofbiophysical constraints, and extreme climatic events), are compelled to migrate to different districts of West Bengal, to other states, or even to other countries to sustain their livelihoods. Their female counterparts are ‘left-behind’ in the villages and perform a wide array of works, both domestic and farm-related. Domination, deprivation and discrimination, along with lack of recognition and remuneration for tremendous workload are common for these left-behind women in a patriarchal society. But, this expansion of gender role may slowly and consistently lead to autonomy of marginal women in this marginal land. A conclusive assertion, however, asks for scholastic empirical engagement.

This short excerpt is taken from research conducted as part of a master’s dissertation work in the field of rural development. The study is placed within the context of ‘migration left behind nexus’ literature (Toyota et al. 2007), which focuses on the life experiences and well-being of the women living at the origin during their husband’s absence. The aim of the project is to understand the effect of male out-migration on the lives of left-behind women in selected areas of Indian Sunderbans.  The existing literature under the ‘migration-left-behind nexus’ is more engaged with transnational migration (Sarkar and Islam, 2014) and very few of them explicitly deal with circular and recursivemigration, a common feature in many developing nations, owing to the seasonal nature of their farming. Moreover, attempt to understand the impact of male outmigration within the framework of women empowerment has been largely absent (Sinha et al., 2012).

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