By:- Sunil Kumar Mishra
The easier way to spot a migrant labourer in Hatli is paan. You can talk to them only when they spit the paan or gutka. Hatli, an industrial village in Chamba district, bordering Kangra, in Himachal Pradesh, is a hub of migrant labourers from states like Punjab, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Often they understand and speak only Hindi and have little familiarity with the Pahadi or Punjabi languages used by the locals. Despite this, many of them work with the small–scale industries in the industrial area in Hatli.
“I have been working in the flour mill for past one year”, says Bhagola Yadav (60), a resident of Mehdawal Bazar, Sant Kabir Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh works as a flour mill foreman in Hatli village of Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh. After a bit of coaxing, Yadav reveals the truth, he simply doesn’t like the place despite coming here to work a year ago.
Bhagola’s life as a migrant labourer started when he moved out of his village as a 10th class drop-out. “My family neither had enough money nor a proper house to live; that’s why I left my village way back in 1984 and started looking for jobs in other places.” The search took Yadav to Jalandhar in Punjab where he got a small wage job. After that, he worked his way through different jobs, mostly in factories and sometimes in shops, ending up working as a foreman in the flour mill in Hatli. “For me, language was a major problem in the beginning, but later with the survival instinct, I learned to deal with that.”
Though he does not like the place and the job, he has no options left. His meagre wage is the major income source of his small family back in the village.”Gaaon mein logon ke beech rahne mein bada maza aata hai, unko bahut yaad karta hoon . Majboori mein yahan kam kar raha hoon, vahan kaam asani se nahi milta hai “(staying in this place, I really miss my family and the village folks back in home. But finding job there is difficult, so have to work here.), says Bhagola.
Bhagola’s inheritance of being a migrant labourer seems to be haunting his sons too. His elder son Surendra (19) is working in a mill in Gaziabad. Disappointment reflects in his face, as he talks about his children. Owing mainly to his absence, his other son Raghumendra (14) is now a school drop-out. “He does not want to go to school or study. He dropped out without completing matric level,” says Bhagola.
Resting with his colleagues during a break, smoking a beedi, Bhagola admits that the game is turning to be tougher for him. “I’m a 60 years old man. For me, it is difficult to work in this age.” Moreover, he has health issues as well. “I‘ve a problem in my stomach as well as sever back-ache. So I have to take medicines now and then,” says Yadav.
But retiring is a distant dream for him. “If you‘re running a family then you’ve to work”, says Yadav walking towards the truck which pulls over near the mill with the new load of wheat from Punjab, to unload the wheat sacs.
Labourers carrying heavy sacs of wheat from a truck. The flour mill at the industrial area in Hatli, Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, purchases wheat from wholesale markets in Punjab and use it for producing wheat flour.
At Hatli, life runs on a shoe-string budget for Bhagola, like other migrant labourers. Living in a small tin-shed where he cooks food, rest and sleep. He manages a tight monthly budget with the expenditure kept within 2000 Rupees. Out of the 10,000 Rupees he gets for a month for the work at the mill, he sends 8,000 Rupees to his family back in UP.
While talking about issues back home which vex him, Bhagola gets angry. He is angry that the local administration did not consider his request to include him in the avas yojna (Housing Scheme). “ koi government kuch nahi karti. sab ek jaise hote hai keval vote lene ke liye aate hai phir uske baad unke darshan nahi hote hai “(No government does anything for us. They come only in election time for votes, later they disappear). You have any other problem here? “From childhood, I had to face a lot of problems. So I make myself very strong to tackle any tight corner of life,” Yadav replies.
On the gate of the flour mill of Hatli, Monendar Mishra is trying to clean up the thick wheat flour on his hands after winding up the daily work in the mill. At 45, Monendar Mishra looks older than his 60 year colleague, Bhagola Yadav, with his hairs already turning grey. He has been working at the flour mill as a foreman for the last two years.
A resident of Maratha village in Campierganj of Gorakhpur district in Uttar Pradesh, debts back at home forced him into exile as a migrant labourer. “Bitiya ke shadi ke liye 3 laakh rupya liye the jisme se abhi 1 lakh chukta nahi kar paya hai ,mujhe tab tak kaam karna padega jabtak mai paise chukta nahi kar deta”.(I have taken 3 lakhs rupees loan to marry off my daughter, out of which 1 lakh is still pending to be paid. I have to keep working till I can repay that debt.), says Monender. Talking about his family, whom he visits only once a year during the festival of Diwali , Monender can’t control his emotions.
Here in Hatli, he stays in a tin shed, as the mill does not offer any accommodation. “I have to work from 8 am to 6 pm, from Monday to Sunday and I get 11000 rupees a month for that”, says Monender. It is a tight-rope walk for him when it comes to balancing between how much he can spend for himself and how much to send back to his family. Any additional expenditure from his part, no matter how small it is, will affect the money he sends back home. The mill offers him Kerosine oil for cooking food, which is part of his essential budget planner. “We cook food ourselves. Eating out is expensive and we can’t afford it”, he says.
Limiting his monthly expenses to 3000 rupees, Monender saves 8000 rupees to send back home for his wife, son and two daughters. “Kishore (his 19 year old son) has given matric in March, from UP Board. I will make sure that he attends higher studies at any cost”, Monender explains his future plans. His other daughter is in 4th standard. He is very proud to say that he has admitted her to a private school though he has to pay a heavy fee.
Issues back home haunt him every day, despite being kilometers away. “I have no pucca house. I did not get the benefit of Avas Yojna (Housing Scheme) because the head of the village did not want me to get the benefit of it. Even the old house we have, the roof gets really leaky during the rainy season.”
The story of migrant labourers in the area does not have much difference. Only the names or the places they come from change. Many of them are here trying to find job opportunities which are difficult to find in their home state or looking for better payments to repay heavy debts and are the sole breadwinners of their family. Ankit Sahi (19) was carrying a can of water from the nearest public hand pump near the industrial area. A resident of Muzzafar Nagar of Western UP, he works in a cement factory near the flour mill in the industrial area for 5500 Rupees for a month. Being an unskilled labour, his payment is not as good as Monender or Bhagola, but he is lucky to get accommodation and food provided by the factory management.
“I was unable to qualify the matriculation examination as I had no money to pay for the tuition”, said Ankit explaining why he decided to come over to Himachal Pradesh looking for a job. He has two elder sisters, who, according to him, are under his responsibility to get married off. “javan ladki ko jyada din tak ghar nahni rakh sakte na ‘(Young women should be married off in time, can’t keep them at home for long)”. That’s why I left my studies and started working, says Ankit.
He too misses home so much. “I will go home for Diwali. It may not be possible before that”, said Sahi.
It is not only Sahi , Morendar , and Bhagola but the story of many people who have to migrate to faraway places to earn a livelihood are strikingly similar, even across continents or time.
“ In the midst of trouble and sorrow
We left our children at home
Children full of tears
Crying tears “ Father gone is gone “
God, help father to return,
Happiness is returning with Spears,”.
(A song by the Sotho Tribe in South Africa, about the people, forced to leave their families to work in the gold mines.)
[Sunil K Mishra is a Second Semester Student at the Department of Journalism & Creative Writing in Central University of Hiamchal Pradesh. ]