25 Oct 2008

Where The Migrants Live

In the centre of migrant country on the way back from Muzzafarpur to Patna last evening we stopped at the Ganga Setu. Its official name is the Mahatma Gandhi Setu and this used to be the longest bridge in the world some when (remember the question in your school quiz days). Twenty five years on it is on its way out. The driver told us that for almost a year one side of the bridge has not been functional.

This meant the traffic has to alternate and often the wait is long. As we sat waiting on the bridge we felt a gentle sway each time a truck passed us. This is not the vibration one feels standing on a flyover. The concrete bridge was swaying and had been doing so for many years. Elsewhere mobs were kidnapping train engines and burning down railway property in protest against the attacks on Biharis in Maharashtra.

The wait on the bridge took an hour. It was the right place to discuss and analyze why Bihar was in the shape that it was. Politicians, middlemen, upper castes, lower caste, Maoists, you, me - everyone was blamed. When we finally crossed the bridge we were tired. Happily we rushed towards our dinner, the discussion a distant memory.

At the simplest level migration depends on both lack of opportunities back home and also availability of jobs at the destination city. Ten years ago we would argue about rural to urban migration and often experts would point out that if people found jobs near their home they would not need to migrate. When you migrate are exploited since you may not have the skills for new jobs and you live in abysmal conditions hoping to send enough for your family back home.

In practical terms this means that if I were to get a job where I am paid a 100 rupees everyday near my home, I would not travel to Delhi or Mumbai for a job that pays me 200 rupees a day. Only recently because of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act we have seen some reduction in migration. A popular case this year was that of Bihari farm labour that was refusing to travel to Punjab because they were getting jobs back home.

But this is only a small number. A vast majority still travel out for jobs. In this sense, in the last ten years Bihar has become the Village for our Cities. And at the first opportunity people will land up in Mumbai.

Whatever Raj Thackeray says...

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