Issues and Living Strategies of Reverse Naga Migrant Workers during the Pandemic

Reimeingam Marchang

Nagas, like other Northeast, reverse migrants had faced livelihood uncertainty and encountered variety of issues and challenges while attempting to secure economic needs for living at the place of last residence (POLR) are evident from the field study in 2021 on the Reverse Northeast Migrant Workers during COVID-19 Pandemic. Slightly over 100 reverse migrant workers were the Nagas of Nagaland among the total sample population. They include both then workers at POLR outside Nagaland and current workers from home (online job) and in the new job in Nagaland. Also, reverse Nagas migrants adopted various strategies to overcome such uncertainty and challenges both at the POLR and in their native state of Nagaland. The average monthly earnings of reverse migrant workers have significantly reduced by Rs.6000/- to around Rs.19000/- in Nagaland when compared to their then earnings at POLR. This signifies the prevalence of lower wage in Nagaland than outside of it that is detrimental to secure decent livelihood during the pandemic. Nagas reverse to their State primarily due to loss of job, quit from job, non-receipt of salary, salary reduction, uncertainty of getting back employment, and fear psychosis from a life threatening COVID-19 that threatens both live and livelihood.

Only few Naga reverse migrant workers working in the corporate sector did not lose job and were working from home using internet during the pandemic. Most Naga migrant workers have lost or quitted job almost instantly within a month because of non-payment of salary or salary cut mainly during the first wave of the pandemic. Their livelihood uncertainty was rescued by their social security especially the provident fund. At POLR, most reverse Naga migrants have faced payment of house rent and paying guest hostel fees issues because of sudden joblessness which have incapacitated to pay rent. Most Nagas, like other Northeast, reverse migrants had received various sorts of help from various agencies such as state and central governments, parents, NGOs, own community, church, friends and relatives among others for basic economic security. The assistance, during the joblessness and pandemic crises, from the government and other social organisations were well received and applauded. As expected, during the pandemic, the Naga reverse migrants were mostly helped by their parents in securing their children’s social and economic well-being, suggesting the persistence of a strong family bonding. Most of them also received free aid for about three weeks from various agencies for human security pertaining to food, water, shelter, health and travel during the pandemic induced lockdown primarily due to joblessness and money exhaustion. At POLR, the most prominent challenges faced by them were the pressure to maintain financial stability owing to joblessness. 

In Nagaland, most reverse Naga migrants remained jobless that has adversely affected their livelihood security. Only a quarter of the reverse Naga migrants managed to engage in employment largely in non-agricultural or self employment. It indicates a severe unemployment issues in the State. About one-fifth of the employed were continuing in the same job of POLR; and the rest four-fifth was on their new jobs. About one-third of the current workers have adopted a strategy to secure livelihood by establishing business (self employment) such as farming, restaurant, retail, salon and others. 

About two-third of the workers felt that their income was sufficient to meet their expenditure and the rest one-third felt that it was insufficient to meet their monthly expenditure. Irrespective of it, the reverse Naga migrants did not remain idle but created their own job opportunity to secure their livelihood means for self reliance and sustenance. 

Most Nagas particularly the jobless have used their previous savings and social security to secure basic living security. The economic need, financial need and livelihood support of the jobless reverse migrants were predominantly supported by their parents and siblings thereby fulfilling the familial obligation. Meanwhile, the spending pattern has undergone a change during the pandemic as most of the Naga reverse migrants have curtailed their expenditure on luxury good and travel, and spent essentially on basic commodities like groceries. 

Evidently, all reverse Naga migrants did not depend on others to secure live and livelihood. Such economic dependence is temporary phenomenon as close to half of Nagas reverse migrants have intention to out-migrant again for work as a strategy to overcome from joblessness and lower earnings, and to secure better livelihood; but mostly intent to return after the COVID-19 pandemic problem is over. Presently, as the pandemic situation has drastically subsided, it is expected that the outmigration momentum of pre-pandemic has picked up again for better jobs in the cities outside Nagaland.