The Bahari Bihari: Story of five Bihar migrants and why they count

4.42 million people migrate out of Bihar every year, according to a 2009-10 report by the Indian Institute of Public Administration

Published on:November 8, 2015 12:10 am

‘Like Lalu steals fodder, people think, the poor Bihari will steal petty cash’

Bihar, Biihar elections, Bihar election results, Bihar results, Bihar voting, Bihar voting turnout, Bihar migrants, migrants from bihar, bihari migrants, Bihar news, India news Kunal has unsuccessfully taken the UPSC exam four times. (Express Photo by Oinam Anand)

Ambuj Kumar Kunal, 32
From Daraunda, Siwan
Now an IAS aspirant in Delhi

Ambuj Kumar Kunal has a clear goal: earn “respect” in his village in Bihar. Even if it means living 900 km away, in a tiny room, up an unlit tunnel-like staircase in a run-down building in Nehru Vihar, north Delhi. With a flimsy mattress, dust-covered books and an ’80s box-shaped TV for company, Kunal has been preparing for civil services for the last 11 years.

In August 2004, Kunal left Sahrara, his village in Daraunda, Siwan district of Bihar, for Delhi with Rs 10,000 in hand. He enrolled in two IAS coaching institutes — one for Hindi literature and the other for English — in Mukherjee Nagar, north Delhi, for six months, after which he studied by himself as “it was less expensive”. Over the next decade, he attempted the UPSC exam four times, stumbling at the Mains each time. Kunal has now exhausted all attempts available to a general category candidate like him, but has still not given up his pursuit of earning “respect” back home in Sahrara.

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‘Back home, no Rajput would do this job… In Mumbai, all are the same’

Bihar, Biihar elections, Bihar election results, Bihar results, Bihar voting, Bihar voting turnout, Bihar migrants, migrants from bihar, bihari migrants, Bihar news, India news Mumbai, where he learnt his “kaam chalau” Marathi, has been good to him, says Singh

Amod Kumar
Singh, 48
From Manhar, Vaishali
Now works as a caretaker at a public toilet in Mumbai

“Back in my village, no Rajput would do this job,” says Amod Kumar Singh, 48, caretaker of a Sulabh Shauchalaya at Nariman Point, South Mumbai.

Around noon, as he sits on the floor eating his dal chawal in his room adjoining the public toilet, he says Mumbai took him in without asking him too many questions and he has now “lived half my life here”.

As caretaker, his day starts early, around 5 am, and ends only at midnight. Often, people insist on using the toilet at odd hours “par mana kaise kar sakta hoon (how can I turn them away)”, he says. At times, Singh has to clean the toilets himself. “When the cleaner is absent, I have to do the job. If I don’t, the toilets get clogged,” says Singh. “My wife hates my job but I have to work for my children. If I had done this job in my village in Vaishali, we would have faced social boycott for sure.”

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‘Bihar has not changed much since my childhood’

Bihar, Biihar elections, Bihar election results, Bihar results, Bihar voting, Bihar voting turnout, Bihar migrants, migrants from bihar, bihari migrants, Bihar news, India news Kumar says Bihar is where his heart is. (Express Photo by Johnson TA)

Samir Kumar, 31
From Patna
Now a software engineer and entrepreneur

Samir Kumar is convinced that if his family is well-off today, it is because they chose to look for opportunities outside Bihar. While his father made the journey from Naraipur village in Bihar’s West Champaran district to Patna decades ago looking for opportunities, Kumar moved first from Patna to Rajasthan for “good school education” and later from Patna to Bangalore for a better life.

The 31-year-old software engineer and entrepreneur, who left Bihar in 2003 to pursue an engineering degree in Bengaluru, later found jobs in the city and has now made it his home. However, Bihar is where his heart is. He did not vote this election because his voter card has lapsed over the years, but has been following the elections through both social and traditional media. A Facebook page for migrant Biharis has came in handy too, he says.

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‘You have to do what you get to fill stomach’

Bihar, Biihar elections, Bihar election results, Bihar results, Bihar voting, Bihar voting turnout, Bihar migrants, migrants from bihar, bihari migrants, Bihar news, India news Like all rickshaw-pullers in the city, Yadav does not have a home or even a rented room. Most nights, he simply sleeps on the street, next to his hand-drawn rickshaw. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Dhanraj Yadav, 40
From Bishanpura, Gaya
Now a rickshaw-puller in Kolkata

Dhanraj Yadav does not look 40. His short cropped hair is nearly entirely grey and his weather-beaten leathery face belongs to a much older man. He is one of the thousands of rickshaw-pullers from Bihar who have made Kolkata their home since decades. From a small village called Bishanpura in Gaya district of Bihar, Yadav came to Kolkata when he was barely 15, looking for a job to support his family.

“I didn’t know I would be pulling rickshaws. Of course, this is not a job that anybody willingly wants to do. But you have to do whatever you get to fill your stomach,’’he says. Yadav has been pulling his rickshaw for the past 25 years and sends whatever he can back home every month to support his wife and his three sons who now go to school. “Sometimes I make Rs 200 a day, sometimes Rs 300, sometimes nothing… it all depends.’’

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‘I can’t go back until I’ve made money’

Bihar, Biihar elections, Bihar election results, Bihar results, Bihar voting, Bihar voting turnout, Bihar migrants, migrants from bihar, bihari migrants, Bihar news, India news 2,700 km from Nalanda, Yadav regrets he was not even able to follow the polls in news as he can’t read English. (Express Photo by Shaju Philip)

Pappu Yadav, 33
From Doda Chak village, Nalanda
Now paan stall owner in
Aluva, Kerala

MOHANLAL watches over him from a torn poster. But Pappu Yadav, a paanwallah sitting under a Metro pillar on the busy NH-47 that runs through Aluva town in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, doesn’t recognise the Malayalam superstar, so he has never been curious, he says. What he has been thinking about a lot these days, he admits, is the election back home in Bihar. “But I can’t read English. So I don’t know what’s happening there,” says Yadav, spreading out the betel leaf on his palm, deftly dipping into each of the steel containers that hold the recipe for his paan, rolling it and handing it out to his customers.

Yadav is 2,700 km from his home in Doda Chak village of Nalanda district in Bihar. He doesn’t get Hindi newspapers here and can’t watch the Bihari TV channels that he used to watch back home. Occasionally, when his younger brother Sanjay, a farm labourer, calls on his cellphone and they run out of things to say after chatting about his family, he talks about the election.

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The outward journey

Every election season in Bihar, thousands of people who have migrated to distant cities in search of work and better wages make the journey back to their homes. Overcrowded trains arrive in cities and towns across the state as polling dates near.

S Irudaya Rajan, chair professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, says migration out of Bihar began in the late 19th century when colonialism broke its traditional industries. “Those days, people from Bihar went to Surinam, Mauritius and Fiji as unskillled workers,’’ says Rajan. The domestic migration out of Bihar was mostly to West Bengal. Some moved to the tea gardens of Assam and plantations abroad.

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