Feeding the cows, cleaning the cowshed, clearing off cow dung, brooming the floor, Bhansram (43) is busy in winding up the last task of the day. Milking the cows for the domestic needs after trotting through the hard work of the day, is what Bhansram calls “the leisure time” of the day. “I migrated to Dharamshala 17 years ago in quest of earning two meals a day.” Living in a dimly lit small room with no proper sanitation facilities, electricity or water facility, Bhansram, who is popular as Bharu among his neighbours in the Chattisgarh colony, says that he enjoys his leisure time very much.
Bhansram, a migrant labourer from Chhattisgarh lives in one of the small quarters of a series of shanty rooms in the less affluent part of Dharamshala, which is known as Chhattisgarh Colony. The Colony is home to unskilled workers like Bhansram and their families who migrated from Chattishgarh to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh looking for jobs. Many of them work as daily wage labourers in construction sites in and around Dharamshala.
Despite not being an industrial hub, Dharamshala also attracts migrant labourers from Central India and other parts of the country. According to the latest Economic Survey 2016-2017, internal migration in India is accelerating with a 4.5 per cent growth per annum with people from less affluent states migrating out to more affluent states looking for job opportunities and better pay.
Residents of Chattisgarh colony are part of this trend.Some of them are skilled workers mainly contributing to the labour force for construction projects like houses, roads, malls, and various buildings. According to Bhojram, who hails from Chattisgarh, lack of employment opportunities forces people from his home state to move to different states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh looking for jobs. For many, getting a better pay is important. “We are paid double amount for the same work here compared to what we get in our own village in Chattisgarh. It’s like a foreign land to us”, says Smareen, wife of Bhansram.
Migrant life in Chattisgarh Colony is vivid both in terms of the colours and worries of life. Unlike many other migrants who migrate to far away places, leaving their families back in their home village, people like Bhansram has brought his family along with him. “Sitting aimlessly at home does not suit me. I came with my husband to accompany him in work”, says Smareen, wife of Bhansram. Since 2000s, female migration for work increased at nearly twice the rate of male migration in India, growing from 0.4% in 1991 to 7.5% in 2016.
But for some, bringing along their whole family was not a viable option. For instance, Bhojram had to leave his daughters back in his home village. “I have two daughters, whom I have left in our permanent residence in Chattisgarh. Living in an alien state without family is a real vexation. I, my wife and our son live here while our daughters live in Chattisgarh with their grandparents”, tells Bhojram with a heavy heart.
Staying away from the home village has some unexpected advantages too, especially from an economic point of view – read avoiding unnecessary social functions in the village which can shoot a hole in the tight family budget for a month. “We even get to save money while living away from our homeland for our future whereas it would be difficult in my village as all the money is spent in performing the social responsibilities”, says Rajkumar, one of the residents of Chattisgarh Colony.
While working all day under the scorching sun in summers and extreme cold in the winters, ailments are not a new story for the residents of the Colony. While lighting fire in a Brazier, due to drop in temperature after heavy rain, Bhojram complaints about his back ache, which is often triggered when the temperature dips. “I have severe backache because I started working at a very young age of 8”, he says. “Mehnat nahin karenge to jiyenge kaise ? (how to survive every day without doing hard work ?)”, exclaims Bhojram.
However, being in Dharamshala, one of the popular hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, has its own benefits, even when you are a daily wage, migrant labourer. “The weather is pleasing and is often good for working.”, says Bhansram. Moreover, when both husband and wife are working, equal pay for work is also comparatively attractive compared to other places. “Here we get somewhat equal pay for the same work. What else is required to live a happy life ?”, he asks. One more advantage is being in the second most literate state in the country, which gives a lot fo emphasis to education. “Our kids get free and quality education, as government schools in Dharamshala are good,” says he.
However, migrant lives here are not an all-rosy-picture. Chattisgarh Colony, being the migrant hub, has its own issues. When asked about the problems, Bhojram reluctantly tells that their problems are not considered as real issues here. For residents of the colony, sanitation facilities are a major cause of worry. “We don’t have proper sanitation facilities, so often we have to resort to defecating in the open”, he said. Despite Himachal Pradesh recently declaring its all 12 districts, 78 development blocks, 3226 Panchayats and 18465 villages as Open Defecation Free (ODF) to be the first ODF State amongst the Big States Category in the country, the ground reality in Dharamshala, for one, is something different, especially for the population of migrant labourers here. This also points to how the migrant populations are on the margins and are invisible, making their issues, as Bhansram calls them, not ‘real ones’.
Despite Himachal Pradesh recently declaring all of its 12 districts, 78 development blocks, 3226 Panchayats and 18465 villages as Open Defecation Free (ODF), to become the first ODF State amongst the Big States Category in the country, the ground reality in Dharamshala, for one, is something different, especially for the population of migrant labourers here. This also points to how the migrant populations are on the margins and are invisible, making their issues, as Bhansram calls them – not ‘real ones’.
Due to poor water facilities, the residents of the colony depend upon water bodies and public hand-pumps which are often far away. ” Going to ponds for taking bath and walking miles for fetching water even after working for hours really feels tough on many days”, says Bhansram. However, he has just added this on to his list of leisure time activities.
Despite living a hard day, Chattisgarh colony does not forget to enjoy the remaining hours of the day as a celebration of life. Fetching water from nearby hand pumps, milking the cows for the family and neighbours, going to market for buying daily grocery items, and spending time together is how they turn the Colony into a home away from home.