Even as he stood panting in an open field — opposite the swaying building in which his electrical goods shop was located — in Kathmandu on Saturday afternoon, Nandkishore Mishra knew all was not well at home.
“When I called home, someone else attended the call. Why would they do that unless something was wrong?” asked the 40-year-old, now back in his hamlet in Golapakariya panchayat within East Champaran district, about 10 km from the Nepal border. Nandkishore was not wrong: back in the village, his cousin Alok Mishra (20) dies after a perimeter wall fell over him as he tried to run to a nearby field. Neighbour Dipesh Kumar (12) suffered head injuries but survived even though he was closer to the wall.
Apart from could-have-beens, Bihar is also where tales of relief and rescue break down. Nandkishore is the only individual this newspaper met who was airlifted out of Kathmandu. After being taken to the Simara airport by a Nepali plane, he had to take a bus to Raxaul in Bihar. According to him, the officials at the Raxaul camp were uncooperative. “There were two buses, but they kept stalling by saying their staff were elsewhere. We were not given any food,” he said. At Raxaul, he met a taxi driver from his village; Nandkishore returned home by hitching a three-hour ride on the roof of the man’s Maruti Omni.
Stranded without information about evacuations, migrant labourers from East Champaran paid thrice for return tickets that would have normally cost them Rs. 450. “Policemen would ask us to get on board, telling drivers that we were to be taken home for free. The vehicle would stop on the outskirts of the city and the driver would threaten people with disembarkation,” said Raja Kumar (17) of Sarsaul in Motihari block, who sold vegetables in Kathmandu. Raja, who returned on the back of a truck after paying Rs. 1,200, first went to Nepal as a 13-year-old.
It’s not that they have come to a state eager to welcome them. In village after village, farmers say they have witnessed the worst crop damage they ever experienced. “I harvested 700 kg of wheat last year, I have managed barely 60 kg this time – that too, of poor quality,” said Atul Kumar Singh of Barwa village in Motihari block. His neighbour Ram Sagar Singh (70) passed away due to shock suffered from the earthquake while Ramlal Thakur (40) from across the street has returned from Kathmandu after working there for 25 years as a carpenter
It will also hurt returning migrant workers that they are landless. All this could push up seasonal outward migration from Bihar to unprecedented levels this time. The trend could have a knock-on effect on the upcoming elections to the state assembly and even polling percentages, as elections are due to take place in the coming migration cycle.