Thapa, Binayak Krishna (2017). 'Capabilities in Tension: Mobility and Citizenship of Temporary Migrants in Nepal, An Ethnographic Case Study' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


In Nepal distribution of access to basic health, education and better standard of living is extremely unequal. Migration from rural village to towns and urban centers is a reaction to this persistent structural disequilibria and spatial access and opportunity differentials. Free mobility within homeland has been practiced by people of Nepal since the historic times. People here have been allowed to exercise ‘right to movement’ as fundamental right conferred on to them as citizens of the state. Moving freely across administrative boundaries within the state has made urban accessibility possible for aspirant mobile people driving them towards town and cities. Migrants are allowed to work, live, temporarily reside or permanently reside in town and cities according to their capacity and resources they possess. Better living standard, more opportunities, and access to better quality of social services like health and education has pulled much rural population to near by town and cities. This volume of internal migration is on the rise and is exponentially increasing.

For those people from the bottom rug of well-being ladder, the choice of free movement to actualize the imagined aspiration for better being is a journey with many sacrifices and uncertainties. Nevertheless, people are willing to incur the risk associated with their choice to move. Based on an ethnographic case study among the temporary migrants in Eastern Hills of Nepal, this paper conceptualizes mobility and citizenship as capabilities of which associated functionings are migration and socio-political participation respectively. In doing so, the paper considers domestic migration through the lens of capability approach, and its implication for the exercise of citizenship for the migrants. The act of migration as primary functioning of the migrants is considered as means to actualize their aspirations, but, the exercise of their citizenship at the choice of their destination is evaluated to understand the ends. In doing so, the paper examines the tensions between the functioning associated with capabilities namely human mobility and citizenship.  The paper further deals with questions such as how migration driven by aspiration for better wellbeing is enhancing or endangering the exercise of citizenship of temporary migrants at individual and household level during migration.  

The capability approach finds freedom to movement as one of the essential freedoms that an individual can pursuit for exploring better life chances. However, freedom to movement may not always expand other freedoms namely political freedom of which citizenship is an integral part. This paper discusses this tension between capabilities and associated functionings to the realization that temporary migration status of the migrants endangers their daily lived citizenship experiences in multidimensional ways namely, social and political participation, which further is a barrier to expansion of their human development. . 

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