Whose Life is It Anyway ???

New Delhi, May 6: They are a familiar sight at railway junctions of large cities: Ill kempt, shabbily dressed rustic folks, their worldly belongings packed in cloth bundles, disembark from tightly packed, unreserved train compartments. Some arrive perched atop the train bogies, blissfully oblivious of the threat to their lives.

These children of the soil, hailing from backward states e.g. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have left behind their hearths and homes. It’s the same story in all Indian metros. However Delhi, the national capital with manifold facilities and advantages, becomes the most favoured destination for our rural brethren.
What is the genesis of migration, now a rampant phenomenon? After 1947, India witnessed a boom in population in both rural as well as urban areas. This widening abyss between development, education and means of livelihood in rural vis a vis urban areas has boosted migration. Moreover, income from agriculture is meagre and insufficient for an average rural household. Many a times, heads of families divide their property among their children.

Indian migratory workers

Consequently, such land holdings become small economically non-viable. And even if there is land enough to till, the profits after selling agricultural produce are low as compared to the returns that workers get from industry.
Don’t forget the vicious circle which has existed for centuries: Small farmers tend to borrow money from mahajans (moneylenders) to meet their basic agricultural requirements. Unfortunately when it’s time for repaying, more often than not, the crafty mahajans dupe them, claiming a shortfall.

So year after, the unschooled gullible farmers work hard towards repaying the loan, until one day they are broke. Their land is usurped by the avaricious men. And they are forced to work as a bonded labour on the land which was once theirs. If a farmer dies with dues outstanding, his next of kin is sucked into this vortex! A prime factor behind migration to cities is a bid to escape this malaise.

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So, it is to the National Capital, that the bulk of the migrants head. Once here they take up a medley of jobs –rickshaw pullers, loaders, push cart vendors, milkmen and presswallahs (who iron clothes). The young boys are suitably absorbed into eateries and dhabas , invariably ending up with the ubiquitous nickname chhotu.
There is a popular saying doing the rounds, in Delhi. “Should the Biharis and Bhaiyaas of U.P strike work for a day, the city will come to a standstill.” Like it or not, such is our dependence on the migrants.
Outside the East Delhi apartments (where I reside), Sukhdev and Sandeep (both from Bihar) happily ply their rickshaws. “My family’s land was limited; there were so many mouths to feed, so I decided to try my luck in Delhi,” says Sandeep who doubles up as a plumber –a skill which he learnt a few years ago. On his part, Sukhdev, who ran away from home after a quarrel, is satisfied with whatever he earns here. In fact he has enough savings to send home each month.
Migrants also come from under developed states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and remote interiors of West Bengal. Most of them are female school dropouts who wish to earn a decent living. The lucky ones find employment as domestic workers, baby sitters and ayaahs while the hapless ones are sold into flesh trade -from where only stray ones do escape.

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Construction sector in Delhi/NCR employs a vast chunk of migrants. None can miss the skimpily dressed men and women climbing up and down via scaffoldings carrying bricks on their heads, or doing other masonry chores. All day long, their kids play on roadsides or pavements—their scrawny limbs, bloated abdomens, their tiny faces caked with dust, phlegm and occasional tears are unmistakable! A few potter about nude; while others are clad in filthy napkins. With hunger, malnutrition and disease dogging them at every step, their life hangs by a tenuous thread! Existence is tough for the migrants. But, back home life’s no better either.
The influx of migrants has lead to mushrooming of slums, and multiple problems- pollution, lack of hygiene, and sewerage. Possibly the only way out is to usher in grass root level changes in all our villages Is anybody listening?

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