Bihar holds Punjab up
As the flood waters force mass evacuation in Bihar, the railway stations of Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Jullander are flooded with the migrants who have come to back to their second home- Punjab.
Jeevan lal reached the Ludhiana station a week back with 8 others from his family on the Barauni-Amritsar Janseva Express. He considers himself to be lucky as he could catch the train and bring his family along, “we had no where else to go. I worked here for over eight years. now this city is our second home,” Trains which come from Bihar to Punjab, especially Amritsar-Saharsa (Bihar) Garib Rath which comes three times a week, come overloaded and return back more o less empty, said one of the railway booking officials at Ambala Railway Station.
Although there are some who don’t know where to go most have been to the cities before and are looking for old employers to find jobs. “We decided to come back because water has ruined everything there. We don’t know when the situation will improve,” said Kumar Mahesh, who works at the industrial area in Chandigarh. He brought most of his friends from Gopalganj along with him, most of who are hoping to find employment here.
In the last year workers, particularly those in the skilled category, left in large numbers, leading to a shortage of 25-30 per cent in most enterprises. The out migration from Punjab has been explained on the basis of NREGS and the anti- Bihar emotion but the arrival would provide a solution to the problem of acute labour shortage that industry and agriculture in the state.
Bihar is said to be the ‘muscle’ behind the food basket of India. The labour shortage badly affected wheat lifting operations in the just concluded Rabi season and the labour intensive rice production hit hard in the states like Punjab and Haryana.
Owner of a seven acre farm near Ludhiana, Surjeet Man said that the migrant labour is indispensable for Punjab, “No work can go on without them. Today there is hardly any Punjabi working in the farms or factories of Punjab. From rickshaw pullers to industrial workers all are from Bihar and U.P. Over 90 per cent of the agricultural labour comes from Bihar. Last year I was paying up to three times the wages to employ labour because Bihari men were leaving the state.”
According to Dayal Singh, a fifth generation Bihari residing in Mohali, “The labour from Bihar was brought by the British to lay the railway track and build the Kathunangal canal. Most of the labourers decided to settle in Punjab. Today we are as much Punjabis as anyone else.”
In a study by Punjab Agricultural University’s Department of Economics and Sociology (with a sample size of 240 migrants, 120 local labourers and 120 farmers) 81% of migrants reported a change in the language they speak, the food they eat and the clothes they wear. Pegged at more than 10 lakh in a city of about 50 lakh people, there is one migrant from UP or Bihar for every five Punjabi.
Interestingly, in similar studies in 1978-79 and 1983-84, only 33% and 40% of migrant labourers had reported a noticeable change in their language. In the last survey, however, the change in language went up to 76%. Also, 84% of respondents reported a change of preference from the traditional favourite rice to wheat. Similarly, 88% had switched from dhoti to pyjama-kameez.
The influx of Bihari population has affected not just the industry and agriculture but the entertainment also. In Ludhiana, which accounts for about 60% of Bhojpuri film’s entire collection in north India, some single screen cinema halls on the verge of closure, Bhojpuri films have acted like a life saver.