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.
Rajan says unskilled workers form the bulk of migrants from Bihar. The state, he says, recently overtook Kerala as the largest exporter of unskilled workers to the Middle East.
“What attracts these migrants is the higher wages outside Bihar. A daily worker in Bihar may at best get Rs 200 a day, but the same worker would get Rs 700 in Kerala,’’ he says.
However, Rajan says, migration from Bihar isn’t as well researched or documented as the migration from Kerala to the Middle East or from Punjab to Canada.