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Circular Migration and Localized
Urbanization in Rural India
Internal migration is a major driving force for urbanization all over the world and is of concern in Asia
due to its rising magnitude. Most studies on internal migration focus on the migrant in the process of
migration and a large majority of studies are interested in understanding the conditions of the migrant
at the destination for policy concerns. This article makes a case for studying the source of migration and
the role that circular migration plays in processes of urbanization at the source of migration. This is par-
ticularly important in the context of the growing urbanization away from cities in India. Using the case
of a dryland village in northeastern Karnataka, this article attempts to understand the role that circular
migration for construction work to cities has in the process of localized urbanization in the village.
Circular migration, urbanization, dryland, Karnataka, India
Internal migration is known to be one of the main driving forces for urbanization globally; out of nearly
1 billion migrants in the world, 740 million are those who move within the boundaries of the nation from
the rural to the urban (Beall, Guha-Khasnobis, & Kanbur, 2012). Most studies on internal migration, be
it temporary, seasonal or circular migration have tended to focus on the migrant in the process of migra-
tion or the migrant at the destination of migration. Much less attention has been paid to the impact of
Environment and Urbanization ASIA
© 2017 National Institute
of Urban Affairs (NIUA)
1 RBI Programme on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Economic Issues, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of
Science Campus, Bangalore, India.
Soundarya Iyer, RBI Programme on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Economic Issues, National Institute of Advanced Studies,
Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore 560012, India.
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106 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
migration on the places of their origin. This is a significant gap in our understanding, particularly in the
case of short-term migration, where migrants go to cities to work for part of the year and spend the rest
of their time at their place of origin. This article uses the case of village in northeastern Karnataka to
capture the effects of circular migration on the place of origin, with an emphasis on the spatial effects. It
traces the trajectory through which processes of circular internal migration leads to incipient urbaniza-
tion along the highway creating a new habitation.
The first section of the article outlines the change a large dryland village, Mahagaon in northeastern
Karnataka from 1961 to 2014.1 The next section places Mahagaon’s experience with circular migration
in the larger context of existing studies of circular migration. The third section examines the process
through which circular migration leads to localized urbanization in the form of a new settlement, the
Mahagaon Cross. The final section comments on the nature of urbanization outside cities in India.
Mahagaon2 is a dryland village in Kalaburagi district of Hyderabad Karnataka in the northeastern part of
the state. As its name suggests, Mahagaon is a large village with a population of 8,731 in 2011 and is the
second largest village in a radius of about 10 km. Figure 1 shows the location of Mahagaon village in
The backwardness of this region is reflected in several recent studies, such as those looking at low
literacy rates (Aziz & Krishna, 1996), worsening sex ratio (Vivekananda, 1996), hunger (Bakshi, Chawla, &
Shah, 2015) and low productivity (Rao & Gopalappa, 2004). The harsh environmental conditions
contributed to the famines of the late 1800s in this region, which in turn had two important consequences
for the peasantry. The first was an increase in landlessness among the poorer sections of the society
as the moneylenders foreclosed cultivable land when the loans could not be repaid by small landowners.
The second consequence was the rise of dominant class tenancy as moneylenders who were not native
to the region could not independently cultivate dryland agriculture. Dominant class tenancy as a signifi-
cant form of cultivation continued even after independence in this region and the 1971 Census of
Agricultural Holdings in Karnataka showed higher number of tenants in the higher size classes
(Pani, 1983). Furthermore, tenancy was present in all tenures but it was found to be more acute on
non-ryotwari lands, such as Jagirs or Inams (Balasubramanyam, 1961).
The environmental constraint to productivity in dryland agriculture of the village had varied impacts
on different members of society. There were large landlords who leased land out as they could not culti-
vate them, small landowners who also leased out land but because they lacked the capital to cultivate the
land and dominant class tenants, who consolidated their own ownership holdings via tenancy. The nature
of interest in land is summarized in Table 1.
The Brahmins were part of a small but powerful number of extremely large landlords (2.7 per cent of
the landed households in Mahagaon in 1961) who were unable to cultivate all their holdings themselves.
The Brahmins held 325 acres on average which was nearly nine times the land held by Lingayats, who
were the next biggest group in this category. Most of the Brahmin households were involved in leasing
out at least a part of their land, if not their entire landholdings. The general rhetoric in the village in 2014
was that the Naganath temple, the main Brahmin math, lost several hundred acres of land in the land
reforms. The conversion of temple land to private property motivated the Brahmins to move out to vari-
ous cities and towns, such as Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Bidar and Gulbarga as doctors,
engineers, professors and other professional occupations, while a section of the family continued to stay
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Figure 1. Mahagaon Village in Gulbarga District
Source: Census of India 2011, District Census Handbook, Gulbarga.
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108 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
in the village to look after the functioning of the temple and math. The Brahmins were not as numerous
in the village as they had been in 1961. While there were 29 Brahmin households in Mahagaon in 1961,
their numbers were roughly halved in 2014.
The Lingayats were the dominant caste of the village as well as the region, in the way that M. N.
Srinivas defined dominant castes (Srinivas, 2002). They were the most numerous caste in Mahagaon
village in 1961 with about a third of all households in the village. The Lingayats were economically
superior to most of the other castes, except perhaps the Brahmins, who were too few in number to
constitute Srinivas’ dominance. The Lingayats held nearly two-thirds of the land in the village. They
were also managing various religious institutions in the village, each of which had a substantial amount
of land. Not only were the Lingayats numerically and economically dominant, they were also politically
dominant in the village in 1961. The Statutory Panchayat which was constituted in 1960 as per the
Mysore Panchayat and Local Bodies Act 1959 had 10 Lingayats out of a total of 14 members.
There were several other castes in the village in 1961, such as the Kurubas, Kabbaligarus, Marathas and
Vishwakarmas. These castes owned smaller landholdings and landlessness was widespread. Within these
castes, the landed households were predominantly leasing out all their land to other larger landowners from
the same castes or to dominant caste Lingayats. These households constituted 38.37 per cent of the landed
households that were leasing out their entire land holdings which were 12.1 acres on average.
There was a substantial population of Muslims in the village with over a fifth of the population being
Muslim in 1961. The Muslims in the area have traditionally been engaged in agriculture with some being
involved in weaving which was a declining occupation. Besides this, several Muslims were engaged in
self-employment such as grocers, vegetable vendors, hotel employment, meat sellers, tailors and carpenters.
In 2014, there was a similar diversity among Muslim households as well; however, the majority of
Muslims were owner cultivators or were purely leasing out all their land. On average owner cultivator
Muslim households held 3.6 acres of land. There were two Muslim households that were dominant class
tenants and one Muslim household had too much land to cultivate on their own so was involved in leas-
ing out a part of the holding.
The landless households in the village outnumbered the cultivators; nearly 46 per cent of the house-
holds were landless in 1961. Majority of these households were belonging to the Scheduled Castes
(SCs) and Muslims. The contracts that landless households entered into were mainly of two kinds.
Table 1. Nature of Interest in Land
Nature of Interest in Land
Households in 1961
Land in 1961
Households in 2014
Land in 2014
Owner cultivation 18.42 34.9 20.92 22.90
Pure leasing out 20.49 19.82 22.38 31.87
Pure leasing in 3.18 5.41 1.7 5.05
Owner cultivation and leasing out 1.24 15.73 1.45 10.97
Owner cultivation and leasing in 10.38 23.09 5.83 29.19
Owner cultivation, leasing out and
0.13 1.03 0 0
Landless 46.12 0 47.68 0
Total 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Source: Calculated by author from Village Survey Monograph, Mahagaon village 1961 and author’s sample survey in 2014.
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Male labourers were found working as attached labour on an annual basis. They were typically paid
once a year and some contracts were inclusive of food. Attached labourers not only worked in the farms
but also in the residences of their employers. The other main form of labour was contract labour,
women and men were paid daily wages for sowing, weeding, ploughing and harrowing. For harvesting,
however, the payments were made in kind (Balasubramanyam, 1961). The sub-castes within the SCs in
Mahagaon are the Holeyas, Madigas and the Waddars. The Waddars were stone cutters from Andhra
Pradesh who had come to do stone cutting work on the Shahbad stone in Gulbarga and were given a
place to settle in Mahagaon in a hamlet called the Chandar Nagar by an influential Lingayat member of
the village, Chandrashekhar Patil. Thus, Chandar Nagar got its name. The Chandar Nagar Waddar
colony was an exclusive settlement for Waddars with 47 households, nearly all of who were landless.
There were other institutions for the SCs such as the SCs hostel which had the financial support of the
Social Welfare Board.
In 2014, the SC households were predominantly leasing out all their land. The SCs were involved in
agricultural labour and in the summer months several families were migrating to the urban areas to work
in the construction sector. They invested their savings from the city into house repairs and construction
in the village thus bringing about development in the village.
There was little change in the modes of cultivation in Mahagaon3 over a period of 50 years. Dominant
class tenancy continued to be the mainstay of agriculture in the village with 11 per cent of the households
involved in cultivating about 30 per cent of the land in the village. Even as the number of households that
were dominant class tenants reduced, the area of land under dominant class tenancy increased as a pro-
portion of the cultivated land. The Lingayats, Kurubas and Kabbaligarus were consolidating their owner-
ship holdings via tenancy.
A larger proportion of the households in the village were involved in purely leasing out land, in fact
42.8 per cent of the landed households leased out their entire holdings. These were mainly small land
owners with 5.9 acres on average. People of all castes, from Lingayats, Brahmins, Kurubas, Kabbaligarus
to SCs, Muslims and Scheduled Tribes were engaged in leasing out their entire holdings to other land-
owners who then consolidated their holdings via dominant class tenancy.
Of the households leasing out all their land, the people living in Mahagaon and Mahagaon Wadi
were found to be leasing out land which they owned within the village. Recent migrants into the
village who lived in Dhammur Resettlement Colony (RC) and Mahagaon Cross were found to be leasing
out land that they owned outside Mahagaon revenue village, probably in their previous village of resi-
dence. Thus, there is a high level of mobility in the village and between neighbouring villages which
allows the smaller farmers to diversify occupations by moving around while leasing out their lands to
large landowning dominant class tenants. At the same time, smaller farmers within the village who are
unable to eke out a substantial living out of dryland agriculture due to lack of capital, also follow suit
by leasing out their land. Many SC farmers were performing agricultural labour and other wage labour
for this reason.
Circular Migration in Mahagaon
Theories on labour migration have focused on the migration of labour from rural to urban or from
national to international settings. There is a one-time and one-way character to migration and perma-
nent settlement at the destination is seen as the goal of all migration. Even in the dependency approach,
the flow of resources is considered to be unidirectional, from the periphery to the core, leading to
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110 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
impoverishment of the periphery. In this schema, circular migration, temporary migration or return
migration (in the context of international migrants) is generally seen as a failed migration. The New
Economics of Labour Migration (Stark, 1991) departs from neoclassical theories by rationalizing return
migration and circular migration and looking at circular migrants as inhabiting a two-period, two-
location world. In the NELM approach, migration is not viewed as individual independent behaviour
as in neoclassical models, but as mutual interdependent behaviour. Agency of the migrant remains at
the centre of this approach.
As an offshoot of the New Economics of Labour Migration, Deshingkar proposed an analytical
framework for circular migration where the broad approach diverges from neoclassical and Marxist
frameworks by adopting a livelihoods perspective. Two forms of circular migration are identified––(1)
Coping migration is defined as ‘circular migration by the poor and the least educated which is mainly
for survival and usually does not result in accumulation of assets even if it allows the household to
smooth consumption and manage risk’ (Priya Deshingkar & Farrington, 2009, p. 18). (2) Accumulative
migration on the other hand is carried out by better off households for the purpose of diversification of
work and leads to accumulation of assets as a result of migration. This typology is focused on the
migrant and the process of migration alone rather than the role that circular migration plays for the
Studies on circular migration address the two-way nature of migration. Most of these studies have
focused solely on the migrants as they navigate between their homes and the destination of migra-
tion, their conditions of work and access to basic amenities at the destination (Kumar & Ajay, 2014;
Pattenden, 2012; Picherit, 2012; Rogaly et al., 2002). While there are studies which have looked at
the migrant in their local contexts, these have been from the perspective of production relations
(Breman, 1996; Datta et al., 2014). In these studies, when the non-migrant in the source village is
studied, it is usually in the context of the role that migration has to play in mitigating unequal rela-
tionships between the landed and the landless. The nature of change in the village, particularly spatial
change is a relatively unexplored area. The bulk of studies on circular migration have focused on the
conditions of work at the destination (Bose & Rai, 2014; Premchander et al., 2014; Priya Deshingkar &
With constraints posed from the harsh environment and a growing population, the carrying capacity
of the land in Mahagaon was limited. Over the years, the landholdings were further divided, such that the
average land holding in the village came down to 2.99 acres in 2014 from 12.55 acres in 1961, making
cultivation even further strained. As a result, the scope to improve productivity in northern Karnataka has
been limited. It has been noted that the output of coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds fell during the 1990s
and the rate of growth of yield plateaued (Vijay Shankar, 2006). Figure 2 shows that Kalaburagi district,
the tur (red gram) bowl of Karnataka, which produces nearly 56 per cent of the crop in the state has a
yield that is substantially lower than the yield for red gram all over the country over the period from 1998
to 2009 in every year.
Environmental constraints to the development in agriculture were acute. At most, individuals have
been investing in minor irrigation (groundwater). The water table is much lower in northern Karnataka
and in order to be successful in groundwater tapping a farmer would typically have to dig over 100 feet
deep. Over the years, the level of groundwater has further lowered, leading to several instances of failure
of bore-wells which have left farmers in debt. In the face of these constraints to productivity, the possibil-
ity of accumulation from agriculture is necessarily limited. As a result of this, further investments in
technology improvements for increasing agricultural productivity are also low and it is only amongst the
rich farmers that there is an initiative to move to newer technologies such as drip irrigation for sugarcane
cultivation. The irrigated area went up from 60.7 to 127 hectares in Mahagaon from 2001 to 2011, which
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is a very small percentage of the net sown area as even in the Census of India, 2011, the un-irrigated area
to net sown area accounted for 96 per cent of the land in Mahagaon.
At the farthest end of the spectrum, 47 per cent of the households were landless in 2014 and providing
labour in a stagnant agriculture was not enough for their own reproduction. The proportion of landless
households in the population rose from 46 to 47 per cent in a period of 53 years. The proportion of main
workers in agriculture, however, has declined from 69 per cent in 1971 to 58 per cent in 2011 as per the
Census where the decline is mainly as a result of decreasing main workers as agricultural labourers.
Twenty-five per cent of the total agricultural labourers were marginal agricultural labourers who are
perhaps part of the labour in circulation.
Pulses were grown as mixed crops along with jowar in 1961 and wheat with safflower. Ploughing was
often done using the kunte. There was a gendered division of labour where men performed the operations
of ploughing, sowing and harrowing, and women performed harvesting of crops, and dropping the seeds
through seed drills. Children were entrusted the work of tending to cattle. Male labourers were also found
as attached labourers––coolie aalu—on an annual payment where the work involved not only agricultural
labour but also running errands for their employers at their homes. Depending on the operations performed,
wages were paid in cash or kind. Specially for harvesting operations, payments were made in kind to female
labourers. The wages were unequal with men receiving greater wages than women who received greater
wages than children. Thus, there were broadly two forms of hired labour which both involved combinations
of cash and kind payments. The first form was attached labour which was paid an annual wage and the
second form was contractual labour for specific agricultural operations.
In 2014, the survey revealed the existence of both forms of labour, the former was locally called the
coolie aalu. The payment of `70,000 (annual) was typically made in advance to the labourer in two
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Ye a r -wise yield of Arhar
Figure 2. Year-wise Yeild of Arhar (Red Gram)
Source: Graph plotted using data on district-wise, season-wise crop production statistics from 1998–2009 obtained from
https://data.gov.in/catalog/district-wise-season-wise-crop-production-statistics (accessed on November 10, 2016).
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112 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
installments, once every 6 months. There was technically no compulsion to renew the contract with the
landlord and continue working year after year, but the only other choice people had was to perform con-
tractual labour in agriculture along with other wage labour in the village, Gulbarga town or in cities such as
Mumbai or Pune. In order to meet their household needs, landless labourers, predominantly SC, Muslim
and Scheduled Tribe Lambani labourers performed other wage labour as circular migrants, primarily in
the construction sector in the cities of Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, as well as agricultural labour in the
harvesting season. Nearly 9 per cent of the workers in Mahagaon revenue village spent anywhere from
1 to 10 months in one of the above-mentioned cities in 2013 performing other wage labour.
Circular migrants brought back savings from the city, as they minimized expenditure in the city by
various strategies––children stayed back in the village pursuing education there, jowar from the ration
was taken to the city for food, they managed stay in accommodation that was below the standard of their
life in the village. This enabled them to save money to build a cement house back in the village. Apart
from bringing back their savings, the migrants also returned with skills in construction. There were sev-
eral Lambani houses in Lambani Thanda and SC houses in Dhammur RC which had been built by the
migrants themselves as they had learnt centring work in Mumbai. Thus, they were able to improve their
living conditions back in the village by moving ahead from sheet roof houses to reinforced cement con-
Savings and skills were not the only things that were brought back to Mahagaon. In one instance, a
dalit migrant had a photo of Babasaheb Ambedkar along with photos of other deceased family members
on the wall of the house that he built by himself. This photo of Babasaheb was bought by the migrant in
Chaitya Bhoomi in Dadar, Mumbai, during the gathering on the occasion of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s
death anniversary. At the time of the study in February 2014, the male member of the household and his
wife were in Mumbai for work while his mother and child were in the house. This was a way of asserting
dalit identity for the labourers back in the village. Other instances of dalit assertion were evident in that
dalits not only had entry into the Akkamahadevi temple in 2014 which was controlled solely by the
Lingayats in 1961, but also access to the marriage hall of the Akkamahadevi temple for weddings in the
dalit community. A respondent said, ‘we were not allowed (inside Akkamahadevi temple), now our
people conduct marriages in the hall upstairs in the temple premises’. Circular migration has historically
been used by dalits and tribals to counter deprivation in dryland India and they have been known to tra-
verse long distances in order to eventually go back home and build a better life (Gidwani &
Sivaramakrishnan, 2003). In Mahagaon, dalits and tribes take back skills in construction, savings as well
as cultural icons from the metropolis to Mahagaon.
On the whole, Gulbarga district saw a greater increase in road length than Karnataka as a whole when
1970 was taken as the base year in the last decade. The phenomenon of increasing investments in national
highways, state highways as well as major district roads increased in Gulbarga from 2005 to 2015 at a
rate greater than for the state as shown in Figure 3.
The Mahagaon–Humnabad road was declared a national highway (NH 218) by the National Highway
Authority of India in 2006. The development of this road was meant to connect existing national high-
ways between Pune–Bangalore (NH 4), Bijapur–Hubli (NH 218) and Hospet–Bangalore (NH 13) with
Hyderabad–Mumbai National Highway 9 to provide better connectivity to people in Jewargi, Sindgi and
Gulbarga cities and the villages along the route.4
Due to a backward dryland agriculture, the proportion of credit borrowed for cultivation was low in
2014. Cultivation accounted for 11.5 per cent of the total credit in 1961, and while it marginally came up
to 15.5 per cent of the total credit obtained in 2014, it continued to remain low. The acute environmental
vulnerability posed by dryland agriculture kept the credit obtained for cultivation very low. A troubling
finding from 1961 was that nearly a fourth of all loans were obtained in order to clear outstanding debts,
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1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
Figure 3. Growth Rate of Road Length
Source: The graph was plotted using data from Statistical abstracts for Karnataka from 1970 to 2015 downloaded from http://
des.kar.nic.in/ptc_stat_reports.asp and http://dli.ernet.in (accessed on November 10, 2016).
which meant that households were in a vicious cycle of indebtedness where loans had to be obtained to
clear previous loans. Debt from moneylenders was eight times more than from any other source in 1961.
A heartening change in 2014 was that even as households continued to be indebted for one reason or
another, there was a drastic reduction of loans being obtained to clear outstanding debt to only 1.7 per
cent of all loans. Fewer loans were obtained to obtain livestock. Marriage was the main reason for which
loans were obtained in 1961 with over a fourth of the loan amount being obtained for marriage. This was
not the case in 2014. The biggest reason for obtaining loans was business in 2014 with 29 per cent of all
loans in Mahagaon being for the sole purpose of setting up or perpetuating a business. Moneylenders
continued to be the most important source of loans in 2014 with nearly 40 per cent of the amount of
credit in the village being obtained from moneylenders. Formal sources such as banks and co-operative
societies were just about approaching this monopoly by moneylenders at 37 per cent. Obtaining credit
for house repairs and construction also saw an increase in 2014, which are consistent with the resettling
of Dhammur RC along the highway from Mahagaon to Humnabad, as well as intensification of housing
on the Mahagaon Cross. Summary statistics are found in Table 2.
The lack of improvements in productivity in dryland crops in Mahagaon resulted in different strate-
gies among the populace of Mahagaon. The landowners with capital to invest began to invest in various
businesses, transport emerging as the most profitable due to a high demand. Some landowners moved to
Gulbarga, and would look after their land remotely, with the help of attached labourers or tenants. They
purchased cruisers which could carry nearly 14 people in one trip on a shared basis from Gulbarga to
Humnabad, with informal stops at every village along the highway, a service that government buses had
not provided. A driver and a conductor were hired for the functioning of each cruiser from Mahagaon or
nearby villages. Those who could not afford a large scale business such as this, bought their own autos
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114 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
and either hired a driver for the auto or drove themselves. While cruisers catered to ferrying people
along the highway between villages, the autos filled in the gap of providing mobility between hamlets of
the villages. The village directory for Census of India 2011 also shows the existence of nearly every
mode of transport, namely, public buses, private buses, autos, vans and taxis in Mahagaon, indicative of
the investment in transport in the village. The frequency of the cruisers was phenomenally better than
the public transport and they were also relatively cheaper. During the period of my field work, I often
used the services provided by the cruisers due to the lack of enough buses serving on the highway.
Majority of loans were accessed to invest in businesses in 2014 which is strikingly different from 1961,
when the most credit was being accessed for conducting marriages.
Localized Urbanization in Mahagaon
Mahagaon had a new settlement along the highway, called Mahagaon Cross, which grew along the inter-
section of the Mahagaon–Humnabad and the Mahagaon–Chincholi roads. The village survey monograph
of Census of India 1961 describes Mahagaon as having four hamlets in 1961, namely Mahagaon,
Mahagaon Wadi, Mahagaon Thanda and Chandar Nagar Waddar Colony. By 2014, Mahagaon Cross was
substantial and Dhammur RC had been created along the NH 218. The Mahagaon–Humnabad road was
a national highway and the Mahagaon–Chincholi road was a state highway in 2014. Figure 4 is a map of
Mahagaon revenue village with its hamlets in 2014.
This phenomenon of spontaneous growth of a new hamlet with an urban character in a rural con-
text is what I call ‘localized urbanization’. Localized urbanization is prompted by developments in
the metropolis but occurs locally, away from the metropolis, often at a considerable distance.
Urbanization is a process of movement from the rural to the urban (Harris & Todaro, 1970; Lewis,
1954); localized urbanization is the further stage when workers return back to the rural and contrib-
ute to urbanization in and around the village. This last stage of urbanization near the village is local-
ized urbanization. This growth is not only a result of the circular migration of workers, but is driven
by an agglomeration economy. Agglomeration is essentially ‘a chain of activities in which each
Table 2. Causes of Indebtedness in Mahagaon in 1961 and 2014
Percentage of Debt by Cause to the
Total Amount of Debt in 1961
Percentage of Debt by Cause to the
Total Amount of Debt in 2014
Marriage 26.20 16.20
To clear outstanding debts 25.72 1.71
Domestic expenses 13.36 19.95
Purchase of livestock 7.42 1.68
Cultivation expenses 11.53 15.47
Purchase of land 5.22 3.18
House repairs and construction 3.76 9.74
Business 2.68 28.87
Other 4.11 3.21
Total 100.00 100.00
Source: Village Survey Monograph No. 28, Census of India 1961 and author’s sample survey 2014.
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additional link in the chain heightens the prospects for a fresh link to be forged’ (Ray, 1998). The
fundamental difference is that agglomeration economies are understood as occurring when there is a
concentration of production, whereas in Mahagaon, a provision of services has predominantly led to
the agglomeration on the cross.
Localized urbanization would qualify as a subset of subaltern urbanization (Denis, Mukhopadhyay,
& Zerah, 2012), as it is defined in opposition to metropolitan urbanization. If one were to use the
typology suggested by the authors, Mahagaon would be a non-peripheral settlement whose adminis-
trative status is contested.5 This is merely a descriptor of Mahagaon’s current spatial and administra-
tive status. Subaltern urbanization is defined as being ‘autonomous, economically vital and independent
of the metropolis’ but the process of development of Mahagaon Cross does not neatly fit into this
description. Autonomous urbanization is where ‘the demographic capacity exists for urbanization to
be self sustaining, independent of rural to urban migration, and very rapid’ (Vries, 1990, p. 58). The
authors of subaltern urbanization use the term autonomous as a bottom-up and non-state led urbaniza-
tion which may be influenced by local and global connections, but is fundamentally independent of
the metropolis. This implies that subaltern urbanization is independent of migration of people to the
metropolis. The growth of Mahagaon Cross, however, has been a result of circular migration of labour
to the metropolis.
Figure 4. Mahagaon Revenue Village in 2014
Source: Author’s own.
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116 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
The burgeoning literature on subaltern urbanization has also discussed migration, circular migration
and return migration and their role in spatial restructuring of small towns (Prasad-Aleyamma, 2011;
Priya Deshingkar et al., 2009; Sharma et al., 2009). However, even these studies tend to look at the
growth of the town that is the destination of seasonal migrants. This article shifts the focus to understanding
what circular migration spatially does to the source of such migration, which is still classified as a
village. Thus, a large village like Mahagaon with a population of 8,731 individuals in 2011 grew due to
the processes kick started by repeated circular migration over decades and resulted in localized urbanization
at Mahagaon Cross.
The earliest settlement on the Mahagaon Cross was in connection to the ‘sterilization plots’ (Tarlo,
2001) that were given to women by the government to encourage them to get sterilized in the late 1970s.
At that time, the government was granting plots of land to those who agreed to be sterilized. There was
a preference by the poor to accept the sterilization measures and move to Mahagaon Cross which led to
the formation of two colonies on Mahagaon Cross. These two colonies are populated largely by Muslims
and SCs, but are not restricted to them alone. Several respondents reminisced that when they were given
the plots on Mahagaon Cross, there was absolutely no habitation and also an overgrowth of thorny
shrubs which are invasive species characteristic of semi-arid regions in south India. Mahagaon Cross had
grown beyond the two sterilization colonies by 2014.
The consequence of the stagnation in the nature of cultivation and the dynamism in the nature of
mobility in the village led to localized urbanization in Mahagaon. Over a period of time, investments by
landowners also took place on the cross, in the form of a petrol bunk, several Lingayat hotels, private
English medium schools and banks. A large part of the construction of buildings on Mahagaon Cross was
carried out by labourers from Mahagaon itself. The police station had moved from Mahagaon village to
Mahagaon Cross, and the Panchayat was also in the process of moving to the cross during the period of
the survey in 2014. There is a Dairy Science college on Mahagaon Cross today.
Several respondents in Mahagaon claimed that there was nothing in Mahagaon village anymore,
and everyone aspired to move to Mahagaon Cross. This was evident in the survey in 2014 as one-
fourth of the households of Mahagaon were on the Mahagaon Cross. During the course of field-work,
panchayat members and members of youth sanghas were often only available in Mahagaon Cross,
even though several of them resided in Mahagaon village. Thus, Mahagaon Cross was an important
space for local village politics. Mahagaon Cross had an urban character, the streets were not as strictly
segregated by caste as in Mahagaon. There was a higher proportion of cement roof houses on Mahagaon
Cross than in any other part of the village. While open defecation was widespread in Mahagaon,
Mahagaon Cross had a higher proportion of pit latrines than the rest of the village as well as a higher
incidence of the use of LPG for cooking as opposed to firewood. Mahagaon Cross was also home for
several local migrants, such as school teachers and government officials. Thus, there was a rental
housing market in Mahagaon Cross which was unheard of in the rest of the village. As a whole, agri-
cultural land holding in Mahagaon Cross was the lowest. The Mahagaon Cross had higher than average
SC households due to the sterilization colonies. A fourth of migrating workers were residing on
Mahagaon Cross. Summary statistics are provided in Table 3.
Localized urbanization was in turn able to support the process of circular migration of labour by
providing connectivity in the form of shared transport to the city. Several people from Gulbarga city,
Mahagaon and other villages had invested in cruisers, autos, jeeps and buses which drastically
increased the frequency of vehicles between villages as well as between hamlets of a large village
like Mahagaon. Mahagaon, a dryland village with a stagnant agriculture and a large majority of land-
less population, thus transitioned into a mobile population with its own local urban area, the Mahagaon
NOT FOR COMMERCIAL USE
Localized urbanization in Mahagaon is part of a more widespread process of urbanization that is occurring
away from cities. Even though India’s urbanization is slow at 32.7 per cent as compared to the rest of the
world where over half of the world’s population lives in cities today, the striking feature of Indian urbaniza-
tion is the fact that 30 per cent of the urban growth in the last decade came from what is known as ‘Census
towns’6 (Pradhan, 2013). These processes of urbanization outside cities are less understood, and this article
is a contribution in that direction. Although Mahagaon is still a village due to the fact that 49 per cent of the
male workforce is still engaged in agriculture according to Census 2011, it is in the process of demanding
taluk status which would lead to an increase in built up area with the construction of taluk offices. The
development of village crosses is also not a stray phenomenon in Gulbarga, every large village along the
highway had a cross, where there were markets, colleges, schools, banks and petrol bunks.
The process of urbanization is traditionally understood as a one-way migration of labour from agriculture
into industry, rural to urban, from the traditional to modern. This article shows that urbanization can also be
driven by labour that moves from the rural to the urban and back, bringing economic resources, cultural
resources as well as skills, in this case in construction to contribute to urbanization in the village. Localized
urbanization is a phenomenon that is driven by circular migration between the village and the metropolis.
I am grateful for the insights and comments given by Professor Narendar Pani which enabled this work to take shape.
I thank an anonymous reviewer, Shoibal Chakravarty, Ankita Rathi, Anamika Ajay and N. S. Nalini for discussions
on various aspects of this article. Needless to say, I am solely responsible for any errors that remain.
Table 3. Summary Statistics of Mahagaon Cross and Other Hamlets of Mahagaon
Sample Survey Assets
Using LPG for
Living on Rent
Mahagaon 180 241.41 26.1 7.8 17.2 10.0
101 107.26 60.4 24.8 36.6 38.6
Dhammur RC 44 210.43 61.4 11.4 36.4 15.9
Mahagaon Wadi 41 273.47 14.6 0 4.9 0
Chandar Nagar 27 16.12 18.5 0 7.4 7.4
18 215.40 22.2 0 5.6 0
Total 411 192.38 36.5 10.7 21.7 16.1
Source: Author’s sample survey, 2014.
Notes: Assets were significantly different across the hamlets (p < 0.01). Data on assets owned by each household were
collected in the sample survey. The asset indicator was computed by assigning weights to each asset based on the
local market value of the asset, calculating their relative values on a scale of 100 and then summing the weights up for
each household (Pani & Iyer, 2012). The weights given were as follows; an acre of irrigated land–100, an acre of un-
irrigated land–50; car–50; power tiller–50; tractor–50; motorcycle/scooter–15; bullock cart–12.5; cow–12.5; bull–12.5;
sheep–1.75; plough–1.5; colour TV–1.25; cycle–1.25; black & white TV–0.375; mobile phone–0.375; radio–0.125.
NOT FOR COMMERCIAL USE
118 Environment and Urbanization ASIA 8(1)
1. This article compares data from field work on Mahagaon in 2014 with those in 1961 from the Census of
India Village Survey Monograph for changes in land ownership, tenancy, household size, credit, labour etc. A
systematic sample survey of 411 out of 1,634 households accompanied by semi-structured interviews with key
informants was conducted in Mahagaon in 2014.
2. Mahagaon revenue village consisted of the main village Mahagaon, Mahagaon Wadi, Mahagaon Thanda, Chandar
Nagar, Dhammur RC and Mahagaon Cross in 2014. Of these, Dhammur RC was a village that was relocated
along the highway from Gulbarga to Humnabad, close to Mahagaon due to construction of a medium irrigation
project at Bennethorai river, a tributary of Bhima river. Mahagaon Cross is a spontaneous urban outgrowth which
consists of one-fourth of all households in Mahagaon revenue village today.
3. A primary survey was carried out in Mahagaon village in 2014 in a systematic sample of 411 households (one in
every four households). Mahagaon in the Census of India, 2011 consisted of 1,634 households and a population
of 8,731 individuals. Data on basic household amenities, caste, religion, agricultural and non-agricultural assets,
individuals in the household, land ownership, tenancy, crop, irrigation, labour and details of standing loans were
collected from the household.
national-highway/article3032274.ece (accessed on 2 September 2016).
5. Mahagaon has been demanding taluk status for over 10 years and the protests were ongoing at the time of
this fieldwork in 2014. The grounds for this demand were that it had enjoyed Taluk status until 1901 and that
Mahagaon had grown into a large settlement with a population of 8,731 individuals in Census 2011. Kamalapur, a
village 10 km ahead of Mahagaon, was a competing candidate for taluk as it was a larger village than Mahagaon.
For news reporting on the issue see http://www.thehindu.com/2004/01/20/stories/2004012003500300.htm
6. Census towns are defined on the basis of the following criteria: (a) a minimum population of 5,000; (b) at least
75 per cent of the male main workers engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and (c) a density of population of at
least 400 per sq. km.
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