All 10 entries tagged Coronavirus Pandemic

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July 27, 2021

Labour in the time of Covid–19: the intersecting struggles of India’s return migrants

Labour in time of Covid

Photo Credit: Sunil Kumar Aledia

Written by Avinash Kumar

Due to the global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, almost every country in the world placed restrictions on economic activities and curbed the movement of people through the imposition of lockdowns. Migrant workers in the informal economy have faced immense challenges during this period of economic uncertainty and restricted mobility. What impact do job losses in the city have on their household incomes? What struggles do migrants face if they decide to return home? How do their households cope under these circumstances? This piece attempts to explore some of these questions drawing on interviews with return migrants across different states of India.

Perilous journeys to uncertain futures: migrant narratives

In India, a tragic situation arose during the first lockdown announced in March 2020. For internal migrant workers, many of whom are employed in the informal economy with no social security, lockdown implied immediate loss of jobs and shelter. Without access to proper transportation and resources, these workers were left with no choice but to return home on foot. The physical strain of these long journeys caused a huge loss of life among migrants and their families, including pregnant women, infants, and elderly people.

Recently, I conducted telephone interviews with ten returnee migrants based in different states in India with the aim of understanding how migrants manage their livelihoods after coming home from cities.[i] Many of the research participants discussed their treacherous journeys from cities to their homes. A resident of Uttar Pradesh described how he still feels the physical consequences of the journey. He said:

“Even after one year passed, I am still not well and there is a swelling in my leg because of the long journey on foot. I didn’t get food properly for 22 days while I was traveling. How do I work and feed my child and other members of my family? (March 28, 2021).

Others I spoke to mentioned that they have resumed agricultural work but are unable to make ends meet with such jobs. One said:

“The situation is getting worse because of unavailability of work. Sometimes I work as an agricultural laborer on someone else’s land and in return get Rs.60 a day which is not enough for survival with three children along with mother and wife” (May 17, 2021).

Many migrants informally employed in cities belong to Schedule Castes (SC), Schedule Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC)—groups with the least landed assets in the country. None of the return migrants I interviewed owned more than one acre of land, which is insufficient to produce the amount of grain needed to feed the family. A migrant, from Bihar said:

“I don’t have agricultural land so I work as a construction worker but work is not regularly available. It’s very difficult to manage the everyday household expenditure by working alone. Therefore, my wife also works on someone else’s land and in return gets some amount of grains” (March 15, 2021).

These narratives corroborate the fact that India faces a deep crisis in rural employment. Evidently, this crisis worsened during the pandemic in 2020. According to monthly Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy data, the rural unemployment rate in India shot up 7.69 percent in June 2019 to 21.11 percent in May 2020. This explains why most people I spoke to confirmed that they do not have any choice but to return to work in the cities.

Gendered impacts of reverse migration

The impact of reverse migration has notably affected the women of the household, their burden of housework and domestic violence has increased. The women I spoke with didn’t disclose their experiences of domestic violence[ii], but many spoke of an increased burden of housework. A woman resident of West Bengal explained,

I am the only person who does all the household and agricultural work. I also have to take care of animals in the house. We have three children and mother in law to be taken care of” (May 17, 2021).

Another woman from Bihar working as a primary teacher in a government school explained that even though she is currently the sole-breadwinner in her family, providing unpaid reproductive labour is still expected of her.

“I am a school teacher but along with it, I also have to do all the household work. I have one child to be taken care of. My husband was working outside but he quit his job because of the covid crisis, no I am only earning member in my family. We cut our expenditure on food, traveling and clothes to manage the day-to-day household expenditure” (April 3, 2021).

Some women reflected upon the patriarchal norms that ensure that the burdens of day-to-day household work are not divided equally between women and men. A woman resident of Jharkhand argued:

What does a man have to do? He only has to earn money. We have to do all the housework and look after the needs of the house. We also have taken care of our children” (May 18, 2021).

Concluding thoughts

The difficulties faced by migrants and their households during the Covid-19 pandemic provide an opportunity for policymakers to refocus their attention towards the wellbeing of migrants. For socially disadvantaged communities, staying at home renders them more vulnerable due to the unavailability of employment and being landless. Most SCs, STS and OBCs suffer due to their economic and social conditions despite various affirmative action programs. The government needs to prioritise the provision of special protection to them through caste-based social security support within existing labour laws in India. Similarly, women in the household are also victims of patriarchal discrimination; they are considered as free labourers at home and paid less in the workplace. Special emphasis on social, economic, and legal protection for women through various social security measures are needed to curb domestic violence and economic dependency on male members of the family.

Author Bio

Avinash Kumar completed his master’s degree in Development Studies at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi in July 2020. His master’s dissertation titled “Migration, informality, and conditions of existence: A focus on Delhi”, examines the participation of socially disadvantaged groups (SCs, STs and OBCs) in informal migrant work and to examine their housing and living conditions. Currently, he is applying for PhD programmes.





[i] This research was conducted as part of a pilot study for a planned research project involving WICID researchers and collaborators. I worked under the supervision of Saba Joshi. All research participants gave their consent for interviews to be digitally recorded and to be quoted in research outputs developed from the pilot study.

[ii] Being a male interviewer, I found that women respondents were hesitant to openly talk to me about issues such as domestic violence. Conducting interviews over the phone also hindered discussions on these topics because I could sense on many occasions that women’s’ husbands were also present when they spoke to me, making it harder for them to speak openly about conflicts within the family and gender-based violence.


June 30, 2021

Studying international development during the Covid–19 pandemic

Written by: Dana Unzicker and Fabian Tigges

Term 1 group photo

Term One: International Development Group Photo (Source: authors)

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 radically changed the setting and conditions in which we study and think about international development. In this article, we want to reflect on how these extraordinary circumstances impacted our postgraduate studies in international development that took place at the University of Warwick. Despite the limitations on teaching that came with government guidance and national lockdowns, we made incredible progress as students of international development in an ambivalent study setting, where, on the one hand, we were virtually connected to students and scholars across the globe, but, on the other, were physically bound to our desks at home.

It is evident that the research object of development studies has been deeply impacted by the effects of the pandemic. Besides the obvious and disastrous impact on global health, the pandemic pushed more people into poverty, increased the global shortfall of employment, and reinforced and exacerbated existing inequalities. Furthermore, the interruption of global value chains challenged processes of ever-increasing global economic integration.

It was in this setting that we studied and discussed current issues and actors in international development, covering topics like globalisation, gender, poverty, inequality, trade, structural adjustment policies, food security, the everyday political economy of microfinance, and many more. All these issues were affected in one way or another by the pandemic. Some have experienced the acceleration of existing trends such as a shift in power relations in the globalisation debate, in others, the pandemicincreased awareness of already existing human crises as in the case of food security. Yet, the study of international development post-2020 goes far beyond the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, despite its unprecedented nature and omnipresence in public and academic debates. A key lesson learned from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been its effect of drawing our attention to the invisible. For instance, the pandemic has shed light on critical issues along the lines of race and gender inequality as well as economic inequality and (inter-)dependence in the construction of global value chains. Our wonderful professor taught us the importance of visibility in the study of international development; how paying attention to the numerous invisible actors and their relations to a visible decision-making elite is essential when reflecting upon power relations in the global political economy. Beyond that, in impacting the ways in which we study and research, the pandemic not only drew attention to visibility but also, and crucially, to who is heard in the discourse of international development.

While visibility of issues and actors in international development was the key take-away from this year of study during the pandemic, it also closely relates to the overarching concept of space that accompanied us throughout the year. While we started our programme in international development in face-to-face classes on campus in Coventry, the winter lockdown sent us back to online teaching for the whole of spring term, where different living rooms became visible – or not, when cameras remained switched off. Many student homes became a place of both rest and study, as our classroom transformed into a virtual space.

International Development Symposium

International Development Symposium (Source: authors)

Throughout the year, we engaged with scholars from across the globe, making our classroom virtual and also global. The year culminated in the Warwick Symposium for International Development in the last week of spring term at the University of Warwick, where we discussed the study of international development in times of Covid-19, listening to inspiring presentations and talks by students and scholars, and findings from the WICID everyday in lockdown project. The pandemic thus created a somewhat ambivalent offsetting for our seminars. On one hand, we remained connected to our coursemates (some in the UK, some overseas) as well as with scholars from different parts of Europe, Hawaii, Canada, and India. On the other hand, the national lockdown bound us to our desks at home, making it our place of study and living. Hence, we were in a position, in which we communicated with the world, discussing international development and the global economy, while we were unable to freely leave the house and explore our local cities.

This was and is, of course, a challenging situation. However, it also serves to emphasise that our perspectives are limited in certain ways, framed through agenda-setting of powerful actors, and focused on particular regions and actors in the world. It highlights that we tend to view the world through particular lenses and angles that facilitate and allow us to see and hear certain actors and challenges, while at the same time preventing us from seeing and hearing other voices that are marginalised by different means. In a sense, this draws attention to the importance of space: To reflect on where we stand in different spaces but also to re-think space in order to render visible or hide challenges and connections between them, and to amplify or exclude different voices.

From scholars in the field, we learnt that the pandemic required a reconsideration of the role of the researcher and different research methods. This allowed us as students and our teachers to reconsider how we study development. Shifting the classroom to the virtual space made it possible to connect with scholars across the world to exchange ideas and research findings. This experience gave us new ideas for how to overcome some barriers to the global conversation on development, connecting people from different cultural and geographical backgrounds, but also, and crucially, made us aware of the barriers that remain. For instance, we speak different languages, live in varying time zones, and not all of us are privileged enough to have access to the technology required to connect to the world or to the funds necessary to pay university tuition fees.Thus, some barriers – shaped by (postcolonial and gendered) power relations – remain, and we need to be aware ofthem, when studying and thinking about development.

In a nutshell, the past year of studying international development during a pandemic has stressed the importance of reflecting on our own positionality as well as on what is visible and whose voice is heard when thinking about and doing research in the field of development studies. It is a challenging time to study international development as the pandemic put numerous constraints on research and exacerbated pre-pandemic problematics. Nevertheless, the pandemic also opened spaces to render visible the invisible, to challenge power relations, and to provide a momentum for change. Finally, we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from our classmates, scholars from around the world and the opportunity to make the best out of a tough year!

Authors’ Bios:

Dana Unzicker is a Postgraduate student of International Political Economy at Warwick. Her research interests are centred around globalisation and inequality. She studied “Theories and Issues in International Development” as an optional module and is a member of the Warwick Global Development Society exec board. In October, she will continue her studies at the University of Konstanz to obtain a Double Degree in Politics and Public Administration from Konstanz and Warwick.

Fabian Tigges is a Postgraduate student of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick and of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz. He is currently working on his MA dissertation with the title “From Austerity to Recovery Spending: Contemporary Economic Thought in Times of Crisis”. Since October 2020, he is an executive board member of the Warwick Global Development Society. He is also a student research assistant at the chair of political science and international politics of the University of Konstanz.


Studying international development during the Covid–19 pandemic

Studying international development during the Covid-19 pandemic

Written by: Dana Unzicker and Fabian Tigges

Term 1 group photo

Term One: International Development Group Photo (Source: authors)

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 radically changed the setting and conditions in which we study and think about international development. In this article, we want to reflect on how these extraordinary circumstances impacted our postgraduate studies in international development that took place at the University of Warwick. Despite the limitations on teaching that came with government guidance and national lockdowns, we made incredible progress as students of international development in an ambivalent study setting, where, on the one hand, we were virtually connected to students and scholars across the globe, but, on the other, were physically bound to our desks at home.

International Development Symposium

International Development Symposium (Source: authors)

It is evident that the research object of development studies has been deeply impacted by the effects of the pandemic. Besides the obvious and disastrous impact on global health, the pandemic pushed more people into poverty, increased the global shortfall of employment, and reinforced and exacerbated existing inequalities. Furthermore, the interruption of global value chains challenged processes of ever-increasing global economic integration.


It was in this setting that we studied and discussed current issues and actors in international development, covering topics like globalisation, gender, poverty, inequality, trade, structural adjustment policies, food security, the everyday political economy of microfinance, and many more. All these issues were affected in one way or another by the pandemic. Some have experienced the acceleration of existing trends such as a shift in power relationsin the globalisation debate, in others, the pandemicincreased awareness of already existing human crises as in the case of food security. Yet, the study of international development post-2020 goes far beyond the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, despite its unprecedented nature and omnipresence in public and academic debates. A key lesson learned from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been its effect of drawing our attention to the invisible. For instance, the pandemic has shed light on critical issues along the lines of raceand gender inequality as well as economic inequalityand (inter-)dependence in the construction of global value chains. Our wonderful professor taught us the importance of visibility in the study of international development; how paying attention to the numerous invisible actors and their relations to a visible decision-making elite is essential when reflecting upon power relations in the global political economy. Beyond that, in impacting the ways in which we study and research, the pandemic not only drew attention to visibility but also, and crucially, to who is heard in the discourse of international development.


While visibility of issues and actors in international development was the key take-away from this year of study during the pandemic, it also closely relates to the overarching concept of space that accompanied us throughout the year. While we started our programme in international development in face-to-face classes on campus in Coventry, the winter lockdown sent us back to online teaching for the whole of spring term, where different living rooms became visible – or not, when cameras remained switched off. Many student homes became a place of both rest and study, as our classroom transformed into a virtual space.


Throughout the year, we engaged with scholars from across the globe, making our classroom virtual and also global. The year culminated in the Warwick Symposium for International Development in the last week of spring term at the University of Warwick, where we discussed the study of international development in times of Covid-19, listening to inspiring presentations and talks by students and scholars, and findings from the WICID everyday in lockdownproject. The pandemic thus created a somewhat ambivalent offsetting for our seminars. On one hand, we remained connected to our coursemates (some in the UK, some overseas) as well as with scholars from different parts of Europe, Hawaii, Canada, and India. On the other hand, the national lockdown bound us to our desks at home, making it our place of study and living. Hence, we were in a position, in which we communicated with the world, discussing international development and the global economy, while we were unable to freely leave the house and explore our local cities.


This was and is, of course, a challenging situation. However, it also serves to emphasise that our perspectives are limited in certain ways, framed through agenda-setting of powerful actors, and focused on particular regions and actors in the world. It highlights that we tend to view the world through particular lenses and angles that facilitate and allow us to see and hear certain actors and challenges, while at the same time preventing us from seeing and hearing other voices that are marginalised by different means. In a sense, this draws attention to the importance of space: To reflect on where we stand in different spaces but also to re-think space in order to render visible or hide challenges and connections between them, and to amplify or exclude different voices.


From scholars in the field, we learnt that the pandemic required a reconsideration of the role of the researcher and different research methods. This allowed us as students and our teachers to reconsider how we study development. Shifting the classroom to the virtual space made it possible to connect with scholars across the world to exchange ideas and research findings. This experience gave us new ideas for how to overcome some barriers to the global conversation on development, connecting people from different cultural and geographical backgrounds, but also, and crucially, made us aware of the barriers that remain. For instance, we speak different languages, live in varying time zones, and not all of us are privileged enough to have access to the technology required to connect to the world or to the funds necessary to pay university tuition fees.Thus, some barriers – shaped by (postcolonial and gendered) power relations – remain, and we need to be aware ofthem, when studying and thinking about development.


In a nutshell, the past year of studying international development during a pandemic has stressed the importance of reflecting on our own positionality as well as on what is visible and whose voice is heard when thinking about and doing research in the field of development studies. It is a challenging time to study international development as the pandemic put numerous constraints on research and exacerbated pre-pandemic problematics. Nevertheless, the pandemic also opened spaces to render visible the invisible, to challenge power relations, and to provide a momentum for change. Finally, we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from our classmates, scholars from around the world and the opportunity to make the best out of a tough year!

Authors’ Bios:

Dana Unzicker is a Postgraduate student of International Political Economy at Warwick. Her research interests are centred around globalisation and inequality. She studied “Theories and Issues in International Development” as an optional module and is a member of the Warwick Global Development Society exec board. In October, she will continue her studies at the University of Konstanz to obtain a Double Degree in Politics and Public Administration from Konstanz and Warwick.

Fabian Tiggesis a Postgraduate student of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick and of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz. He is currently working on his MA dissertation with the title “From Austerity to Recovery Spending: Contemporary Economic Thought in Times of Crisis”. Since October 2020, he is an executive board member of the Warwick Global Development Society. He is also a student research assistant at the chair of political science and international politics of the University of Konstanz.


About WICID

The Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development addresses urgent problems of inequality and social, political and economic change on a global level.

WICID Website

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