Dukha At Home and Abroad: Nepali Transnational Labor Migration
Why are stories worth telling about Nepali experiences of labor migration necessarily focus on suffering (dukha)? Studying the XXth century Nepalese diasporic literature, Michael Hutt (1998) has demonstrated the pervasiveness of dukha in many novels or short stories about the flight and settlement of poor Nepalese in India. Recent research, documenting diverse experiences of Nepalese migration to India, the Persian region, and the West, increasingly centers on discourses about pain, dilemma, and hardship abroad. These migration narratives of dukha are widely spread in the form of poems, popular songs, amateur films by Nepali migrants and their families at home and abroad. The cultural production and circulation of these migration narratives in the Nepalese society and in popular media, however, has not been fully understood. Migrants themselves, on Youtube for example, are amateur films producers who stage their own lives as migrant workers, depicting the daily difficulties they face and the pain of being abroad (bidesh). If, on social media, Gulf migrants mainly post flattering pictures of themselves (in a brand new shopping mall, having fun at the beach, etc.), they usually speak about their daily life as painful and boring. How do we explain the apparent contradiction between both types of representation? How are migration narratives transmitted to song-writers and producers? Is there any expected discourse by music producers (i.e. why life abroad equals only pain?)? In this panel, we are interested in the making and the propagation of Nepali migration narratives, which seem to be homogeneous in the way they depict dukha abroad despite drastically different socio-cultural and political contexts where migrants live and work. How is pain heuristically productive in understanding labor migration? Why are such discourses so prevalent? What migration narratives about suffering can tell us about contemporary Nepali society? What, after all, is at stake in identifying suffering in labor migration? The papers explore the specific ways in which dukha is depicted through the circulation of dohori songs among Nepalis in the UK, US, and Bahrain; how dukha is conceptualized as a site for the production of asylum testimonials among Nepalis in the US; where tracing dukha sheds light into structural inequalities within which Nepali labor migration to India rests.