Desperate moves

Published : Sep 21, 2012 00:00 IST

WHEN THE GUWAHATI-BANGALORE Express arrived in Bangalore on August 30. The train carried a large number of people returning to their workplace from the north-eastern States.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

WHEN THE GUWAHATI-BANGALORE Express arrived in Bangalore on August 30. The train carried a large number of people returning to their workplace from the north-eastern States.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

August turns out to be a month of terror for migrants from the north-eastern States in several parts of southern and western India.

FLIGHT IN FEAR Ravi Sharma in Bangalore

FOR three mad days from August 15, Bangalore witnessed the flight of over 30,000 people, chiefly hailing from the seven north-eastern States, most of them semi-skilled, not-so-well educated and mainly employed in the unorganised sector, with whatever little they could carry. The numbers constitute hardly 15 per cent of the more than 200,000 people from these States in Bangalore. But the way they left, leaving jobs and belongings behind, squeezing into bursting train compartments, unmindful of the tortuous 3,000-km, 72-hour journey, has questions for which there are hardly any answers. So grave was the situation that at the height of the exodus, the Karnataka government, not wishing to take any chances, deployed 600 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and six Rapid Action Force companies in areas with large migrant concentration.

Most of those who fled had been employed in low-end jobs in call centres and in the hospitality, health, housekeeping, grooming, and even IT sectors; as security guards in hospitals, building complexes, shopping malls and sports complexes; and also as shop floor assistants. A few were employed in the construction industry, while others pursued small businesses, selling sweaters or running eateries. With monthly earnings hardly totalling Rs.9,000 at best, most of them lived in downtown or far-flung areas of the city where rents are relatively cheap, sharing a room with a handful of fellow migrants. Some were students. Quite a few of them managed to fly out, avoiding the long train journey.

The Railways sold a record 29,363 unreserved tickets to Guwahati and beyond at Bangalore City station and operated eight special trains with 151 coaches, mostly general second class and luggage vans, to clear the rush. The coaches were provided at short notice by the South Western Railway, Southern Railway, South Central Railway and Central Railway. Two and even three special trains ran a day. All compartments were bursting at the seams.

Purportedly, the trigger for the sudden exodus was provided by a few sporadic cases of verbal intimidation, a handful of physical attacks, a whale of innuendos and rumours, and most damagingly, a series of SMSes and MMSes that were, according to the police, circulated randomly in Bangalore and not just to a particular ethnic group warning of violence against people from the north-eastern region (and others who had Mongoloid features) after the Eid celebrations on August 20 and asking them to get out of Bangalore. The rumours and the messages, coming in the wake of the continuing ethnic violence in Assam, the attacks in Pune on a few youth hailing from the north-eastern region, and the August 11 riots in Mumbai where Muslim youth clashed with the police, achieved their aim of creating panic in the targeted audience and arousing passions in another section of the population. The exercise was meant to paint a picture of how innocent Muslims were being massacred in Myanmar and Assam. While the MMSes contained gory pictures, unconnected with the violence in Assam but clumsily doctored and designed to look like Muslims being indiscriminately killed in Myanmar and Assam, the dark SMSes even spoke (untruly) of four youth from the north-eastern States and Nepal being killed in Bangalore.

Lhekshay Dorjee, a Tibetan born and brought up in Karnataka, received a message that simply read: Problems are happening in Assam, lots of Muslims killed by Assamese people and made homeless. So you leave Bangalore for a while otherwise you will be attacked after Id ul Fitr [sic]. Later, the messages got more threatening and spoke of violence against people from the north-eastern States, being thrown out of their rented dwellings, and even of the murder of people from the region. Dorjee was also abused, threatened and warned to leave Bangalore before August 20 by four men on motorcycles when he went out for dinner.

Many of these messages found their way to people living in the north-eastern States, who, concerned about the welfare of friends and relatives in Bangalore, added their own words as they forwarded them. Said one of the messages: Plz. Its a request to everyone to call their relatives, son and daughters FRM bangalore to call them back as soon as possible. Last night 4 north east guys were killed by muslims at Bangalore (2 manipuri, 2 nepali) and also the reports are after 20th i.e ramzan after 2 pm they are going to attack every north eastern people. the main reason that started all this riot was the situation at Kokrajar of Assam..b aware of dis n stay away frm the endanger do pass da msg 2 al the stds.

A young student from Nagaland who wanted to remain anonymous told this correspondent that on August 14 a group of people shouting Assamiya, Assamiya had menacingly run towards the autorickshaw he was travelling in. The driver sped off before the group could catch up, but it was a bad scare. Others had similar experiences, and some were actually assaulted. Some were asked to vacate rented homes as landlords feared damage to their property. Some were politely advised by shopkeepers, autorickshaw drivers and other well-wishers to leave.

All this had a chilling and cascading effect on a diaspora that may have always felt some unease and alienation. Golan Naulak, an assistant professor who teaches political science at St Josephs College of Arts and Science, said: We have constantly been reminded of our looks with the tendency being to paint everyone from the north-east, Tibet and even Nepal with the same brush and call us chinki or ching chong or even Chinese. It is very frustrating, but we are helpless. The media, which usually exhibit a condescending attitude towards us, are also to blame. Recently CNN-IBN had an hour-long programme titled India for the North East. The title itself defeated the purpose of the show. Do you even have a programme titled India for Tamil Nadu or India for Delhi? While the publics ignorance can be understandable, the media unwittingly alienating us is unpardonable. The idea of India has to be reconstructed with the north-east being made part of it. Naulak echoed the voice of many when he opined that people from the north-eastern States constantly faced problems at every level, were taken for a ride by shopkeepers and auto drivers, dont feel a sense of home in Bangalore, and that there was a ghettoisation of people from the region, most living in certain downmarket pockets of the city. Added Naulak: No doubt Bangalore is more cosmopolitan and welcoming than many other Indian cities, and even girls feel more safe. I still feel that I dwell here, but it is not my home. Once when I tried to take part in Deepavali festivities I heard some people shout, foreigner, go back to your country. Most of the comments are racial in nature.

Naulak is not prepared to accept the commonly held perception that the messages and threats were mostly, if not solely, the handiwork of misguided Muslim elements, either acting on their own or at the behest of their invisible, upcountry/pan-Indian masters. We dont know as yet. The mischief could also be the work of right-wing groups who, after initially creating a scare, would like to show that they are coming to the rescue of their Indian brothers. [Among those arrested for the assault are a Hindu and a Christian.] Or it could be local politicians or political/religious groups who are looking to spread rumours and incite communal hatred before the 2013 elections.

In a bid to avoid a possible repeat of the exodus, communities from the region are trying to organise themselves more effectively. The setting up of an organisation to be called the NEUK or North East Union, Karnataka, could be a first step.

One of those who decided to stay back was 23-year-old Bhaskar Nandi from Suklai village in Assams Udalguri district. Nandi works as a security guard at a sports goods complex, earns Rs.9,000 and pays Rs.500 for a room, 25 km from the city centre, which he shares with five others. He said that the days leading to the exodus were tense, and he did think of going back.

A number of his friends had already left and the warning through SMSes and acquaintances was that Muslims would attack people from the north-east after August 20 in reprisal for what was happening in Assam. But Nandi, himself a third generation Bengali settled in Assam, though mortally afraid for his life, was more fearful he might lose his job if he left Bangalore. And that was not something he could afford.

Nandis predicament was shared by many others who told Frontline that the money they earned was more important than the thought of any threat to their lives. Spending Rs.2,000 to go back and also possibly lose their jobs was unthinkable.

The police have arrested 22 persons for crimes ranging from spreading rumours through SMSes and MMSes by uploading videos through electronic means in a bid to incite hatred and emotional outrage against people of the North East, to assault. Preliminary investigations have indicated that a 26-year-old Bangalore resident and cellphone repairman, Anees Pasha (whose expertise has been ironically used by the police in past investigations), and two accomplices, Tahseen Nawaz, 32, and Shahid Salman Khan, 22, were responsible for forwarding morphed images and messages to 20,000 people using multiple SIM cards and cellphones.

Having seized all the phones and a computer hard disk from Pashas shop, the police have sought the help of the cyber forensics laboratory at the Cyber Crimes Cell to retrieve details like the log of all SMSes and MMSes sent and received on the phones by the trio. This could give the police a better understanding of the extent of the operations. For the investigating police team, the key to unravelling the mystery would be to find out where Pasha received the messages in the first place before he forwarded them. This, according to Karnataka Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) Gopal Hosur, could be difficult.

It is very difficult to track the SMSes since they have been forwarded by many and have passed through many mobile service providers. We have to examine the downward and upward links, going phone number by phone number.

Highly placed police sources told Frontline that investigations were still on to find out whether organisations like the Peoples Front of India and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity, or even known terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammed had any role in the spreading of SMSes and MMSes.

Inquiries by this correspondent revealed that while a few leading Muslim clergymen had during their Friday sermons sought donations for victims of the Assam violence, there had been no vitriolic speeches against any group. On the contrary, many Muslim religious leaders organised peace committee meetings to foster harmony and peace.

UNSAFE ENVIRONMENTS. Dorairaj in Chennai

IN the absence of official data, trade unions in Tamil Nadu put the population of migrant workers in the State anywhere between 10 lakh and 15 lakh. They come from States as diverse as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram. In recent times, Tamil Nadus image as a hospitable State has taken a beating. The worst shock came on February 13 when the police gunned down five suspects from Bihar and West Bengal at Velachery in Chennai, alleging their involvement in two bank robberies. Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa claimed the police had acted in self-defence. The police rubbed salt into the wound by launching an exercise across the State to enumerate migrant workers and students, linking their enormous influx in recent times with the sudden spurt in the crime rate. Some overzealous officers even argued that creating a database by collecting A-Z information about migrant workers would act as a deterrent. Police personnel were asked to visit industries, manufacturing units and other commercial establishments to collect details about migrant workers. Owners of houses were directed to submit details about their tenants.

The exercise appears to have been shelved in the wake of protests by trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil rights groups, which pointed out that it violated the freedom of movement guaranteed by the Constitution. But the move has pushed migrant workers, who are anyway left out of public schemes and are also discriminated against, in a state of perpetual fear and insecurity. Trade union leaders say that laws such as the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1996, and the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, are more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

The influx of migrant workers began in 2000. Now they are present almost everywhere in the infrastructure development and service sectors. A sizeable number of them are construction labourers. Several others work in textile and knitwear units, small-scale industrial units such as engineering industries and foundries, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and haircutting salons in all the major cities and towns. With the local farmhands migrating to other States such as Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, migrant workers from the northern and north-eastern States have started moving in to take their place.

The migrants, whether engaged in government projects or employed by private agencies, say that they have to toil for nine to 12 hours a day to earn Rs.135 to Rs.300 for different categories of work, mostly in unsafe environments. They live in makeshift tin-sheet shelters that usually do not have toilets. Men and women are forced to relieve themselves in the open. In many places, contractors arrange for open bathing areas. None of these migrant workers has been issued ration cards or voter ID cards, though many have been here for several years.

Enquiries reveal that the migrant workers were, by and large, landless farm workers in their home States. In some cases, the workers belonged to families of small or marginal farmers. Recurring monsoon failures forced them to seek their fortune elsewhere. Over 70 per cent of them leave their families behind as they are unsure of the new environment.

A. Krishnaveni of Vasudevapatnam in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh migrated to Chennai seven years ago. She has been working as a sithaal (helper) at construction sites on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. She lives with her husband and son in one of the shabbily built single-room line houses near the Siruseri SIPCOT industrial estate for a monthly rent of Rs.1,200. The family does not have ration cards and must buy provisions from the open market. She earns Rs.200 a day.

N. Meenalochani, also from Vasudevapatnam, is a mother of two. She came to Chennai five years ago. Like Krishnaveni, she was a farm worker in her village, earning hardly Rs.100 a day. She now works at a construction site in greater Chennai, but a good part of her wage is spent on hospital bills.

Gowriamma, who came from Palasa in Andhra Pradesh, has lived in greater Chennai for 20 years. She, too, does not have a ration card. Harishankar, 23, from Gajapati district in Odisha is an enterprising young man. He came to Chennai to join a special school run by an NGO for the children of migrant construction workers. Currently he is doing B.Com through distant education. Only a small percentage of children could be accommodated in such special schools, he says. He wants the local authorities to issue temporary ration cards for migrant workers.

Govindu is a young migrant worker from the industrially backward Malkangiri district in Odisha. He is employed in a construction project of the State government along Buckingham Canal near Thiruvanmiyur railway station in Chennai. He, along with 100-odd fellow workers from Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal, stays in tin-sheet tents. Sewage water flowing along the makeshift structures and mosquitos add to their woes.

According to A. Soundararajan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), steel rolling mills and the construction industry have a high concentration of migrant workers. With certain manpower agencies donning the role of the kanganis of the colonial era in recruiting migrants from their home States, many multinational corporations in the electronic and automobile sectors absorb them as unskilled labourers for meagre wages.

Soundararajan accuses the State government of being highly insensitive on the migrant labour issue. The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, clearly lays down the responsibilities of State governments, contractors and principal employers in the recruitment and registration of workers and has provisions to ensure minimum wages as well as displacement and journey allowances. Soundararajan criticises contractors and employers for not providing amenities such as canteens, crches, drinking water and latrines as specified in the Rules of the Act.

The Centre notified Rs.247 as the minimum wage for unskilled workers, Rs.273 for semi-skilled workers, Rs.301 for skilled and clerical categories and Rs.327 for highly skilled workers in the construction sector on April 6, 2011. However, even reputed infrastructure development agencies have not implemented the minimum wages. In Sriperumbudur, the CITU launched a protracted struggle to ensure that a private construction agency paid minimum wages, as the firm initially offered only around 50 per cent of the amount for 12-hour work, Soundararajan recalls. As the contractors as well as the principal employers do not want the entry of trade unions, the migrant workers are subjected to inhuman exploitation, Soundararajan says.

R. Geetha, additional secretary of Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam, who has long been working among construction labourers, spoke of the unsafe environments in which the families of migrant workers lived and recalled how the five-year-old daughter of a migrant construction worker was raped on the outskirts of Chennai in 2009. She called for immediate steps to ensure registration of migrant workers, get them enrolled as members of the welfare board and have their employment and wages regulated. She added that on an average 100 fatal accidents involving construction workers occurred annually in the State, but only some of them, such as the death of 10 migrant workers when a portion of the 40-foot wall collapsed on the premises of a private engineering college near Chennai on August 6, came to light. Neither the principal employer nor the contractors adhered to the norms with regard to compensation, she added.

State Labour Minister S.T. Chellapandian said on August 9 that steps would be taken to safeguard the lives of migrant workers.

HISTORY OF HOSTILITYAnupama Katakam in Mumbai

MUMBAI is Migrant City. Historians point out that it was, and continues to be, built by migrants. There are 124 lakh people living here, according to Census 2011, and only a tiny section are technically locals. The rest are all migrants, whether of the first generation or of the fourth, though of course it is a complex phenomenon.

Gujaratis, many of whom came in the early 1950s, were among the first migrants, mainly because of the proximity. Sayed Yusuf, a taxi driver, migrated from a village in Mehsana district in 1954 because years of drought had left his fields barren. His family followed. Statistics indicate that it is Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that now send more migrants. There are probably fewer reasons to migrate from an economically vibrant Gujarat.

Ravi Kishen Prasad, 30, also a taxi driver, said: I left my home in Sultanpur, U.P., five years ago because the rains failed, and besides it was a backward village. Since many people from my village were in Mumbai, I came here. I immediately got a job as a coolie, then after saving some money I learnt to drive. My hours are very long. I live with four other men in a small room in a slum. We have to wake up early to collect water and cook our food and we use public toilets. But I make more money in one month than I made in a year in the village.

Ranjita Ekka was 15 when she took a train to Mumbai from U.P. Her debt-strapped agricultural family had sent her on to earn money as she was the eldest child. She started working as a domestic worker, earning Rs.1,000 a month. Now, eight years on, she is a skilled cook earning close to Rs.10,000 a month. Half of this she sends home to educate her four siblings. For all the hardships she has faced in Mumbai, she would not go back, even if there were a good marriage proposal. She feels she is better off here.

Though Mumbais manufacturing industry has virtually collapsed, the service and real estate industries continue to draw migrants with the work they provide. The failure of agriculture in rural India, on the other hand, continues to fuel migration. Also, the female migrant population seems to have increased in recent years, according to a paper written by Professor D.P. Singh of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai: Over the five decades, a lot of improvement in sex ratio is observed among all types of migrants. The most noticeable improvement in sex ratio is observed among urban intra-State migrant, which was about 1,011 female per thousand males.

Yet, Mumbai is no longer as friendly to migrants as it once was, and politicians routinely try to get mileage out of migrant-bashing. (The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai recently decided, for instance, that all taxi drivers must have a domicile certificate to ply cabs in the city. There was also a suggestion that all of them must know Marathi; the decision is pending.)

The manufacturing and textile industries had drawn migrants from within the State before the 1960s. But migration became a politically sensitive issue when migrants started coming in during the 1960s. The Shiv Sena was formed in 1966 to fight for the rights of the Marathi people. Its supremo Bal Thackerays popularity stemmed from his scathing attacks on migrants and his party cadres bullying of south Indians who ran eateries or worked as clerks. The Sena claimed south Indians were taking away jobs from Maharashtrians. While the attacks on south Indian businesses and homes eventually subsided, the Sena still came out a winner, building a substantial vote base with its plank of Mumbai for Maharashtrians.

When the influx of workers from U.P. and Bihar began in the 1990s, the Sena took up the cudgels once again, organising sporadic attacks on northerners. Raj Thackerays Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), launched in 2006 after he quit the Shiv Sena, gained popularity because it aggressively pushed the Marathi manoos agenda. In October 2008, north Indian students who came to take a railway entrance exam were attacked by MNS workers. Reports of taxi drivers from U.P. being roughed up by MNS workers sparked enough apprehension to cause an exodus of people.

Yet Mumbai does not completely lose balance because the migrants are too important for the citys economy and services. Much of the sprawling citys daily services are provided by migrants taxi drivers, vegetable sellers, milkmen, newspaper vendors, delivery boys. As Sanjay Nirupam, Member of Parliament, remarked, the city would shut down if northerners were continually attacked. To this, the self-proclaimed protector of Marathi manoos, Raj Thackeray, said: North Indians are not invited to Mumbai. They come here to earn a livelihood and settle down. If people from U.P. and Bihar ply autos and sell milk and vegetables, they are also involved in illegal activities. If they feel that they can shut down Mumbai, they are free to take their cattle and tabelas [stables] back to their native places.

Yusufs response was: Raj Thackeray seems to forget that Indians do not have to be invited to live in their own country. Besides, the Marathi people are not prepared to do unskilled jobs in the way we are.

The other side to the debate has found a political voice in the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which is based in U.P. Abu Asim Azmi, an S.P. Member of the Legislative Assembly, used the issue of harassment of migrants to his advantage and proclaimed he would protect northerners in the city. When he took his oath in Hindi in the Assembly in 2009, MNS workers beat him up.

D.P. Singh said: Migration and Mumbai form a highly complex subject. To begin with, the largest number of migrants in the city are actually from within the State.

In a paper published in 2007 on Migration in Mumbai trends in fifty years (1961 to 2001), Singh points out that the Indian Census defined a migrant as a person who had a different place of birth. The most recent Census data on migration are not yet available, but trends indicate that migration from other States continues to dominate the numbers. According to Singhs paper, in the last 50 years, migration from U.P. has shown an increase from 12 per cent to 24 per cent and that from Bihar from 0.2 per cent to 3.5 per cent. Gujarat and Goa show a continuous decline in their share of migrants, down to 9.6 per cent from 16.9 per cent for Gujarat and 0.6 per cent from 3 per cent for Goa. The migration rates from the four southern States remain between 15 and 16 per cent.

The intra-district migration in Maharashtra shows a decline, from 41.6 per cent to 37.4 per cent. The paper says that in 2001, about 78 per cent of migrants from other districts of Maharashtra came from rural areas and 22 per cent from urban areas. In terms of the share of rural areas, Uttar Pradesh stood first, with 81.5 per cent of its migrants coming from villages, followed by Bihar (79.7 per cent), Rajasthan (66 per cent), Karnataka (63 per cent), Gujarat (59.5 per cent), Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (between 55 and 58 per cent). Punjab and West Bengal show a higher percentage of migrants from urban areas in comparison with rural areas.

* * *Himachal chain

JOGINDER SINGH is a Dalit construction worker from Katihar district, Bihar. Frontline met him at Jogbani railway station, situated on the India-Nepal border, in Bihar. He was with a group of 10 people who were going to Himachal Pradesh.

He said: Mostly Dalits migrate from Bihar. We are landless; there is nothing in Bihar that can earn us food. I am a construction worker, but there is not enough work to feed my family for a whole year. I have been going to Una in Himachal Pradesh for the last five years. Agricultural workers who used to migrate to Punjab learnt about pipeline work in H.P. They tried it out and it turned out to be better in terms of wages than agricultural labour. So I also started to go. When our group reaches there, the group that was working there for two months returns. When another group comes, we will go back home.

The H.P. government gives the pipeline work to contractors and they hire us. We get Rs.50 to Rs.100 for laying one foot of pipeline. In one day, we can lay around 10 to 15 feet of pipeline. The contractor gives us one meal a day and a place to stay. The other meal is cooked by one of us.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta* * *SEEN AS A PROBLEMSagnik Dutta in New Delhi and Noida

UNLIKE in Mumbai, Delhi and the National Capital Region have not witnessed any concerted attempt to mark out the migrant population as the ethnic other or made attempts to stop the influx. Still, the migrant population here has its own set of problems. Instead of being seen as stakeholders in the economy and contributing to it, they seem to be regarded by the authorities as a problem that should, ideally, be prevented. For instance, in an interaction with industry representatives on August 17, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said that about half a million people came to Delhi every year in search of jobs and remarked that the influx added to the pressure on infrastructure in the capital.

The migrant population is diverse in terms of class, region and ethnicity, with people coming here in large numbers from Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and the north-eastern region. A large section especially migrant workers employed in the unorganised sector lives in one-room accommodations in dingy, unhygienic localities while its cheap labour keeps the wheels of the economy running. Yet, a simplistic narrative of victimisation and distress migration does not tell the whole story.

Indeed, migration is sometimes experienced as liberation from old prejudices and cultural straitjackets, notwithstanding all its problems. Keshab Anand Pegu, 26, a member of the Mishing tribe in Assam, has been in Delhi for four years, as a postgraduate and then as a research student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Hailing from Harmoti, a village situated 400 km from Guwahati on the border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, he remembers growing up in a community where there was palpable friction between the upper-caste Assamese and members of the Mishing tribe. His parents were initially apprehensive of his decision to move to Delhi, fearing the evil influence of drugs and live-in relationships on their son. But the thought of their son landing a job in the civil services carried the day.

Keshab initially found the aggressive way of life in Delhi disconcerting, but hostel life helped to dispel prejudices and orthodoxies that he had grown up with. This included getting used to the dietary habits of his Bihari Muslim roommate and then of Assamese Muslim friends. Back home, sharing your food with a person from a different religious community is still taboo. Its alright to be friends with a Muslim, but he would not be allowed inside the kitchen, he explained.

The transformation, however, is not permanent: I will go back to the old ways once I am back in my village. And it is his dream to go back as a civil servant. I grew up in a village where the District Magistrate was perceived as God. The pomp and the glory associated with the office of a Collector still lures me.

Migration also comes with its own set of insecurities. Seikholen Haokip, 30, is a Kuki who owns a small shop, North-East Food Centre, at Munirka in South Delhi which stocks dried fish, vegetables and pickles. In his 10 years in Delhi, he has juggled many roles a steward in a restaurant, a salesman in a retail outlet, a senior salesman in a sports goods shop. Hailing from Lailampat village in Manipurs Churachandrapur district, he first came here in 2002 after completing his matriculation. His familys paddy fields did not yield enough to sustain the household and his parents approved of his decision to come to the land of opportunities.

He recalls the abysmal conditions in which he spent his first few years in the capital. He worked for a restaurant in Gurgaon where he slogged from 10 a.m. to midnight for Rs.4,500 a month. He remembers returning home to a particularly hostile neighbourhood in Sikandarpur where the landlords slept in the open with their huge dogs, which often tried to attack him when he retuned from work. He later joined a retail outlet in Sahara mall at Rs.5,500 a month.

When I wanted to take leave for the first time in two years to go home for Christmas, the employers refused. I needed to go home to meet my ailing, 70-year-old mother, so I had to quit the job. My mother passed away shortly afterwards, he said.

He enjoyed his next job as a sales executive at a sports goods shop in Connaught Place, where he met his sales targets month after month and was soon to become a favourite of his manager. Soon, however, a new manager took over and they did not get along. So Seikholen asked for a transfer to a different location. Here he got a hint of an attempt at money siphoning by his immediate senior, which made things worse for him and he eventually left the company in 2010.

Seikholen now shares a one-room flat with three cousins who help him run his shop. Does he make profits? We are somehow dragging along, he says with a wry smile. His clients are all from the north-eastern region. Others sometimes drop in out of curiosity, but they rarely buy anything. He regrets not being able to study further. Does he want to go back? He does not know.

For Bikram Bora, 22, a JNU student hailing from Jorhat in Assam, the move he made three and a half years ago was linked to a search for better education and greater opportunities. Bikram came here to study history.

Jorhat is a peaceful district. If there were more jobs available, I would probably have stayed back. Over the last 10 years there has been a trend of students from Assam coming to Delhi for higher studies. The media hype around institutions in Delhi is also partly responsible for this. There is a perception that if others go out we need to catch up with them, he explained.

The tiny one-room apartment in Vijaynagar which he initially shared with a friend was quite a contrast to the spacious houses with lawns in his hometown. Later, as the resident of a hostel in a Delhi University college, he made friends across cultural barriers. This was not merely curiosity about the exotic other; some people were genuinely interested in getting to know more about Assam and Assamese culture.

But distress migration is also very much a reality. In the dingy courtyard of the ground floor of a building in Nithari village close to Noida, about 12 migrant families live in small one-room flats. They are from Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. The ground floor has 12 rooms and two common toilets. Each room, rented at Rs.1,550 a month, packs in a family of four to five people.

Supresh Pradhan, 18, lives in one of them. His father works as a plumber. His mother and sister live in their native village, Baruni Palla in Kendrapara district of Odisha. He had to forgo his dream of studying engineering because of its prohibitive costs. After finishing his high school in Odisha, he moved to Delhi in the hope of finding employment.

He complained that the building received water supply only twice a day. His fathers work as a plumber does not guarantee a regular income and they often buy groceries on credit, paying the shopkeeper extra for the favour. With the responsibility of sending money back home for the education of his sister, Supresh has too much on his shoulders.

Ankit Gupta, also 18, is too overworked to devote a few hours to his studies. Ankit helps out his father in a tea shop in Sector 36 of Noida in the morning. After school, he helps out again for three hours at a small grocery run by his family in Nithari village. The small capital at the familys disposal means that the grocery is never quite well stocked, which in turn means it generates low profits. The family of four squeezes into a single room behind the shop, which also doubles as a kitchen. They pay Rs.2,500 a month as rent and an additional Rs.3,500 as rent for the grocery. Ankit wants to go back to his village in Bihars Madhepura district, where he wants to give computer lessons.

Sonali Mahato, 13, has a sketchy memory of her house in Kolkata, which she has visited only once. All that she can recall is that it was much more spacious than the dingy room in Nithari that she shares with her mother, grandmother, grandfather and five siblings. They pay a rent of Rs.1,500 a month. Her mother works as a household help from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Her grandmother works as a help, too, and her grandfather works as a supervisor in a construction company.

Preeti Kumari, 17, growing up in a small, crowded house, has memories of a spacious village home with three rooms and a courtyard in Bihars Aurangabad district. The family had for a while moved back, but the closest girls school was some five kilometres away. After the family moved back to Delhi, Preeti enrolled for a course in commerce at Delhi University. She is also doing a chartered accountancy course. Preeti uses her spare time to teach children of migrant families in a school run by Saksham, an independent trust that gives free lessons to underprivileged children in the locality. Not one to be beaten by circumstances, she aspires to a successful career as a chartered accountant.

Lalita Haldar from Murshidabad in West Bengal has lived in a shanty in Nithari for 15 years. She works as a domestic help and her husband is a rickshaw-puller, and together they support a family of five daughters with their meagre income. Lalita lamented the lack of job opportunities back home. On the other hand, she has been unable to apply for a ration card in Nithari despite having lived there for so many years.

Vimlesh Sharma, the newly elected pradhan of Nithari village, has made sincere efforts to address the concerns of the growing migrant population in the locality. Speaking to Frontline, Sharma said: Providing quality education for the children of the migrants is the key to ensuring a better life for them. I have written to the State government requesting upgradation of the existing government school up to the 10th standard. Most of these children are first-generation learners. We cannot exclude them from the benefits of a good education.

Sharma has also taken steps to ensure the availability of ration cards and the proper disbursal of ration items to the underprivileged families in the village. For the last 15 years, none of the three ration shops in the locality was giving any ration. I took up this issue with the District Collector after assuming the office of the sarpanch in 2010. Following this, one of the ration shop owners had to give up his licence.

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