Logo en Global Donate now

Online Database: Working for the abolition of legalized migrant servitude through information sharing


Document Details


Print and save

Conference paper

Open borders, closed citizenships: Nepali labor migrants in Delhi




Nepal and India share an 'open' border as per the agreements of a bilateral treaty signed in 1950. According to the treaty, Nepalis and Indians can travel and work across the border and are to be treated at par with the native citizens. Rural Nepalis, who have for long been suffering poverty, unemployment and more recently a civil war, have been migrating to India in thousands every year.
In this paper, I discuss the findings of a qualitative study conducted between 2003 to 2006 among two categories of Nepali migrants living in four clusters of Delhi: those who have and have not settled in India after prolonged period of work. The study entailed in-depth interviews with 100 labor migrants, and field observations. The interviews focused on day to day interaction between the Nepali labor migrants and the Indian state as it is embodied in the policemen and lower level administrators with whom the labor migrants mostly interact. The paper discusses the modes and processes of incorporation and subjugation of the Nepali labor migrants by the Indian market in close collaboration with the state apparatus. It also discusses the modes and processes of day-to-day resistance by the labor migrants.
Based on the analysis of the data, I argue that despite the legal rhetoric, the Indian state treats the Nepalis laborers as rights-less, non-citizens. Their precarious economic and political position means that they do not risk themselves further by demanding citizenship and labor rights from the supposedly liberal Indian state, but help grease its increasingly liberalizing economy as docile and cheap laborers. Are these the types of 'open borders' that the neo-liberal proponents of globalization trying to promote across the world? This issue is discussed at the end.

Conference name

International migration, multi-local livelihoods and human security:Perspectives from Europe, Asia and Africa

Conference location

83 DDA Janta Flats, GTB Enclave, Delhi - 93, IndiaSouth Asia Study Centre,

Number of pages



Institute of Social studies

File Attachments



India, Nepal, Labour Migration;, Nepali Watchmen

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, Sales and service occupations - general, Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations - general, and Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Geographical focuses

India and Nepal