Its dark here and there is no electricity in my room and I am writing to you in the candle light. I miss you a lot but cannot afford to come home and see you as I have to earn lots of money so that I can marry you and we can have a life together. I am safe and fine here and have joined my job as a security guard of this company. It is a very big building with big big machines and a very large garden. The manager told me that it is a pharmaceutical company and it manufactures medicines, tonics and tablets. He told me that these medicines save lives of people. I felt proud about that. Ramen is also with me and he comes in the night for his duty when I leave for home.
Savings are meagre but still I am trying my best to save a lot. Sometimes my boss gives me food and in those days I can skip the meal and save more.
Hope the roads in the village are better now. Manoranjankai was telling me that the floods have come again and have devastated the crops like always. I work ten hours a day and by the time I come back home I get very exhausted. Three of them come back after me and two other leave for their night duty as soon as we come back.
I am fine and you also take care. The thought of our future gives me hope and keeps me going. I love you……
I could see drops of tears rolling out of the eyes of Dhaneswari as I was reading out the letter to her. She was holding on to the letter for about half an hour without saying a single word but every minute of her silence spoke a thousand words to me. I could feel a deep sense of pain in her eyes which she has hold on to silently and hidden it from the world, for many months by now. I could feel the same love and pain even in Lakheswar’s eyes when he handed over the letter to me. The way he held on to the rugged passport size picture of Dhaneswari which always found a place in his wallet.
It has been only two months I have known Lakheswar. He is a young man in his early twenties who has left his village in lookout of work so that he could earn enough money to support his family. It was a co-incidental meeting as I met him when I had gone to meet my friend who is doing his MBA from Pune. Lakheswar had come to borrow money from him so that he could send money back home. It was a few days ago when I had again gone to attend one of my friends birthday party that I met him and had a long chat with him. He had volunteered to cook for the party in return of rupees two hundred for the night.
Lakheswar is not alone in the city. There are many like him who has come to the city with dreams of earning money and usually look out for odd jobs in the city. They work as security guards, cooks, salesman and many of them also engage in daily wage labour. I was shocked to see the number of Mising migrants in the city and Pune is not the only city where they have migrated to. We can also find many of them in considerable number in Delhi, Bangalore, Trivandrum, Mumbai and other cities of India.
Migration as a phenomenon; though relatively new has considerably emerged among the Misings. The Misings; who have till yet had a self sustaining life have been forced to migrate to other places to earn their livelihood. Migration is an important phenomenon and has many dimensions to it. Migration on one hand helps people from underdeveloped areas to come to the developed areas and earn their livelihood while on the other it also brings in extreme exploitation which shall be discussed later. People migrate primarily to earn a livelihood. The movement of the upper class is to improve their standard of living and earn more. On the other hand poverty also forces people to migrate, albeit for survival opines Gopalakrishnan (2009). Migration is usually observed as movement from rural to urban centres. Agriculture, which depends largely on monsoon, does not provide for the cash requirements. Thus more often than not the men in the household migrate – either seasonally or permanently. In the former case, they return at the time of harvesting, carrying with them the money earned. In the latter case, the men return home in a light of any emergency or a festive occasion. For the rest of the year they keep sending the little money they manage to save back home, on which the family in the village sustains. Migration has today become a way of life for many people who travel from place to place in search of better wages.
There can be various classification of migration. If classified under choice; there are two types of migration-voluntary when the migrant migrates to another place at his/her own wish and is generally done to fulfill educational and job commitments. The other type of migration is the forced migration; when the means of sustaining oneself exhausts in a certain place then an individual is forced to migrate to another place to earn a livelihood. In this case, the sudden upsurge of migration that has emerged among the Misings can be identified as forced. Constant floods have ravaged the areas where the Misings reside and Agriculture has been destroyed and thus the Misings have been forced to migrate to other places in look out for work.
It is argued that if the process of migration stops then the development of the country shall also cease. Then what is it that makes migration as a phenomenon to be scared of? Why should migration not be encouraged? There might be various theories and answers to the above question. Many might argue for it and many against. But without doubt, it can be agreed that the migrant labourers are the most exploited lot.
Migrant labourers have always been a marginalised section- owing to the antagonism of the people of the state they migrate to. This has been very apparent in states like Maharashtra where a migrant labour (especially migrants from UP and Bihar) is looked at with hatred and equated as a person depriving the ‘sons of the soil’ with jobs in their own state. We have also witnessed the same in Assam in 2003 when various Bihari migrants were attacked because they were seen as a threat to the jobs of the Assamese people. What follows is that a migrant labour is generally treated with disrespect. Ethnic clashes and fight for survival soon follows where a lot of them also lose their lives.
If seen superficially; the migration among the Misings may seem as a one-dimensional process wherein a group of disorganised people leave for the city; considerably well than the place they reside, to look out for jobs. But in reality it is not so. The migration among the Misings (or for that matter any type of migration) is a multi-dimensional phenomenon with various socio-political implications. The migration is often driven by an intention to survive and thus there are various factors that influence the migratory process. The contractors (Thakedaar) play a major role in the migration process as he is the one who recruits the migrant worker or get him/her employment. He goes to the village or get in touch with one of the member of the village and influence them to come to the city to perform jobs. He assures
them employment and place to stay in the city. People also migrate if he/she has a kin who is already working in the city as it eases the process of the migration and also the migrant feels safe and secured in an unknown city. Sometimes the contractors also contact workers who have previously worked under him and directly hires from the village.
The migrant labourers are always preferred over the local workers and it makes it very easy to get jobs for the migrant labourers. But the preference is done with an agenda. The migrant workers provide for cheap labour and also can be easily exploited. In fact such is the extent of the exploitation that the labourers who usually come in look out to better their standard of living is often pushed towards extreme poverty and deterioration. The exploitation takes various forms and shapes. The migrant workers are paid very low wages which again are paid in lump sum amount after months of work. Thus it becomes extremely difficult for the workers to sustain themselves in the city. Lakheswar informed me that he had not yet received his wages for two months. The migrants are also completely dependent on the contractor for their shelter and residence in the city. Most of the times the shelter provided by the contractors are in slums where existence becomes a nightmare. Infact when I visited Lakheswar, I was shocked and deeply pained to see six of them stuck to a room which would even be smaller than a kitchen of a middle class family in a city. There was not enough space to sleep or for the basic minimum needs. Dirty surroundings and a filthy smell filled my nose as soon as I entered the room. It also formed the kitchen during the day and after the cooking is done the utensils are cleaned and stocked up in a corner of the room and it forms the sleeping space. It left me wondering; how a mising youth who have, his entire life slept in open spaces forced to adjust such a surrounding.
The story of exploitation does not end here. Migrant labourers generally wait at Nakas for prospective employers/contractors to come and hire them for work. The traffic police harass them by beating them without any reason, shooing them away and at times even extort money from the poor labourers. They are treated with indignity at the work place- by the contractor as well as the employer. And the migrant workers are not protected under the law especially the seasonal migrants. Thus the Misings who are essentially seasonal migrants are in extreme stage of vulnerability. In fact there have been a few cases in my village where quite a few of them returned empty-handed where they have been cheated by the contractor.
In such a situation what can be done? Should there be efforts to stop migration? But it shall demand developing more livelihood options in the villages. How will we generate more livelihood options in the villages? These are questions which needs a lot of introspection.
Lakheswar mother’s asked me about his well being and his return. She said that it has been a year that she has not seen him and she was dying to see him again. I just thought to myself that there are many more mothers like her who are waiting for their sons to come back home…………..
(This article has been published by radical notes and can be accessed here)