Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Migration : you can't stop it!

The Gitanjali Express pulls into Howrah station an hour behind schedule. The four hour journey from Jamshedpur has taken five. I tumble out of the air conditioning onto the platform which - I kid you not - smells of fish.

Blinking in the mid-afternoon sunshine, a dozen cabbies descend on me. "Madam.. airport?" I know there is a prepaid counter but my plan is non-linear. It involves killing about 3 hours of time. Even as I am wondering which cabbie to take, a young man in a t-shirt and a shock of peroxide blonde hair butts in.

"Madam, Indica car.. with a/c". I haven't said 'yes', but he picks up my bag and starts crossing the road. Khaki-clad drivers of fat yellow Ambassador taxis silently watch him steal their prey.

It is an Indica. The a/c spews out air nearly as hot as what is circulating outside the tinted windows. But, hey.

The driver is from - where else - Bihar. Are all taxi drivers in Kolkata Biharis? He grins. "Buddhababu ne sara government jobs to Bengalis ke liye reserve kiya hai... What other option do we have?"

So what's the attraction of a government job? 10-5 working (and not much work). Rs 8-10,000 salary. "Hum subah paanch baje se raat barah baje tak kaam karte hain tab koi teen, saade teen hazaar bante hain."

Only an outsider, on a hungry stomach, will work so hard. This is a universal human truth.

In the UK, a poll of small and medium-sized businesses conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce found that "more than three quarters of employers believe migration is beneficial to the economy and want the government to help them take on more foreign workers".

Almost half said they had turned to migrant labour because they could not find British employees with the right experience and skills, while another 40% said they took on workers from overseas because they believed they were more productive and worked harder.

... One managing director, Phil Inness of Axis Electronics which employs 20% Polish workers, told the BCC: "In three years of employing from eastern Europe, we haven't had one negative experience. The only concern I have is that at some point they might want to go home."

Biharis come to Kolkata as taxi drivers. Kolkata ke pade likhe bachche come to Mumbai for apne standard ke jobs. Ambitious young men and women from Mumbai go to the US to study and hope to stay on. And of course, several permutations and combinations possible in the above story.

The kid who never filled a glass of water for himself in India will work at an all-night gas station in Pennsylvania for some extra pocket money. Idhar koi keh de, beta, you must work at Cafe Coffee Day after college... Kiski majaal!

The 'sons of the soil' - they are called. Because they have roots. Social networks and mental comfort zones. And, property as well. They have the option of selling their one-bedroom flats in crumbling old buildings and move to modern apartment complexes in distant suburbs - like those who made their homes more recently.
But they would rather cling on the old way of life.

All this, in light of the recent Shiv Sena agitation against Big Bazaar for dismissing 120 probationary workers. The party claimed the company has been discriminating against 'locals' and has asked for '80% of jobs in malls to be reserved for Maharashtrians."

The company has clarified that 86% of its workforce comprises of Maharashtrians - several of whom have gone on to become managers. However, the management has reinstated the workers and will try to find some role for them.

Meanwhile, migration is inevitable. New energy, new hopes and new dudes will continue to flow into our city of potholes and dreams. They will outrun the next guy to pick up a weary traveller's suitcase. They will keep their shops open an hour longer than the 'locals'. They will take less holidays because they have no one to spend them with.

And they will create wealth. Which creates the jobs that ultimately employ us all.


  1. migration is natural and obvious. if a marathi from a small village in maharashtra is not migrant in Mumbai then why is an Indian from one less opportunistic state like Bihar or Orisa is a migrant in maharashtra.
    Country to country there are many problems so obviously it is obviously not a similar case but state to state with in India if migration is treated as wrong then it is only so political.

  2. Migration problem is costing locals a lot. Though every corner of india is facing this problem - politicians are trying their best to cash on this.

    Biharis are hard-working and are esily satified with low payments - This is main cause of anger in Maharashtra.

    I am presently in Nagpur running my own company named VinayRas Infotech, and i am facing this problem. I like to hire a migrant rather than local - since he works harder and gives more result.

    Giving preference to local and denying jobs to migrant is only going to divide the country.

    Its high time People learn this.

  3. well written, Rashmi

  4. well written :)
    can relate more to that student thing as have seen frnds here who forget about working in india,but even those who had never gone outside their city alone ,or evenin railways working night out's in motels and gas stations here .

  5. Migration surely can't be stopped. I feel the worst hit is Bangalore. Every year more than a lakh fresh grads just dump into the city. They have high income and the economy of the whole city is disturbed.
    On my visit to India this time, as very natural, everybody asked me about the prices of things in US. I told them, its just here ka cost multipled by 4.
    But that logic bombed n bangalore. Its almost Rs converted to dollars.
    This is another different effect of migration which also needs to be looked at.

  6. Hi,

    Seeing your readership, probably it doesn't make sense but I strongly feel the readability of your current blog template is very low.

    I get feeds for your blog through google reader but soon as i jump to put in some comment to your home blog, it turns me off every time.

    Today I thought let me just share this view as well.

  7. Good work Rashmi. Just to answer your question: no, not all cabbies are Bihari. It just depends on where you choose to look. :>

  8. I think AnkurG has put it perfectly. This whole crap of migrant labour, when used to describe workers mainly from Bihar/MP/Orissa etc has to stop.

    Having said that, I daresay even Indian businesses are finding the difference in locals vs migrants hitting home. Be it Delhi, or Bengal, or even the hill states now, 'locals' typically will not do the smaller jobs, or ask for a lot, something Biharis et al do at lower rates and with a better attitude.
    Personally, I have this strange situation in our own office where being a non-IT company which depends a lot on IT, it is tough to attract the ideal profile for IT work. We have ended up 'compromising', fortunately in retrospect, with slightly underqualified guys from Bihar, who have done a far more stand out performance than our experts from other places, who, after a year into the job, reserved their biggest priorities to ensuring they had used up their quota of leaves, or demanded overtime or make good for the overnighters which they had to do, for reasons they would not explain because it was 'technical'. Suffice to say, we have endeavoured to pay the new comers better salaries than we ever planned to, as these people are well worth retaining.

  9. Sandipan Mitra, even I feel for Bangalore. In there, your are either in the IT industry or out of everything. The resentment came out a bit during film star Raj Kumar's death, but even perfectly prestigious companies like ABB, HAL etc get overshadowed by the IT effect there...

  10. I got your point, but just as an aside, I never ever saw a desi in a Pennsylvania gas station. So, am curious to know where do these kids work, and what do they work as? Attendants? Mechanics?
    Mechanics bill handsomely though (80 dollars an hour - comparable to any top job) :)

  11. this whole migrant/locals debate is crap....

    basic fact of life is that is if opportunities are much better at some other place compared to where you are, people are going to move... same is true with biharis who migrate to punjab and mumbai, same is true with punjabis who migrate to canedda, and same is true with marathis/gujjus who would any day love to migrate to US....

    the same people, when they are at their place would like to have special privileges because they are 'local'... why? because it gives you crutches... to get ahead of people who may be more qualified for the same job... and that's what we indians love, don't we... be it this locals-migrants thing or be it the reservations-quota mess

    I have met people who profess their support for 'locals', but never hesitate to justify outsourcing and indians migrating to US...

  12. hi Rashmi,

    landed up in your blog during a random google search (it was bhook lagi or maggi).

    Would definitely hang around. Do visit my blog,

    I am a writer of sorts (if I can say that without being too immodest!)



  13. migration is natural and ought to be there. We cant expect people to stagnate and get denigrated day by day and not try to do anything abt it. The locals understandably get fidgety wen the more hardworking and skilled people start invading and taking their jobs ..

  14. Completely agree on this. With the world getting flatter day by day, intra-country and inter-country migration is only going to increase.

  15. yes, inequalities in standard of living are the driving force for migration. You rightly pointed out that working at a Cafe at your local place is not socially acceptable, while nights at an overseas gas-station are. There is some hypocrisy in this attitude, which I think comes from an ingrained inferiority complex and insecurity within many of us...

  16. Points well made, but ultimately futile. My guess is, the parties do realize that migration is going to contine, but as long as it can be used to score brownie points and votes, why not?


  17. When people migrate there is a lot more at stake...They'll usually have sold some property or their families might be in trouble with the usual Sister's/daughter's wedding.
    Given that, people tend to work a lot harder as they have invested a lot more to get that particular job.
    I feel it holds true even with students. When doing my Bachelors, most of my friends (including me) were the kind that studied only at the time of the exams. But now, when they have to study abroad, the amount invested is huge, there is a loan to pay off back home and the job they'd get needs to pay back soon and the effort put in says so.
    Am not sure if the analogy was that apt :), but when away from home, there is always the pang of separation and that urge to keep dependents comfortable.
    Also, another factor might be that migrants do not have much of a social life after work while the locals have their families to go to. This is observed especially in s/w companies in Bangalore. Migrants with families away from Bangalore, tend to work longer as they don't have anything else to do on going home and they'll usually be staying closer to the workplace, while the locals typically leave for home early as they'd also need to travel longer distances and they have a family and a proper home to go to.

  18. Hi Rashmi, since i'm the 19th person to respond to your post, don't know if you will get down to reading this.

    Nonetheless, migration as a social phenomenon, as far as i understand, cannot be categorised as right or wrong. But considering the huge sociall/economic/political ramifications of individual decisions to move bag and baggage, it could be seen as the failure of the government to provide its people what they are looking for. Why would anyone contemplate moving if they are getting the kind of jobs, amenities, living standards that they aspire to in their hometown? If migration becomes a rule for upward mobility in society, it reflects on how poorly the development of a country has been managed. Why should there be one Bangalore/Delhi/Mumbai/Kolkata in India? Why can't "chote shehar", to use your phrase, be self sufficient?

    Also, as for youngsters working at gas stations abroad and not in a cafe in india, i guess that's largely because of how we indians look at these jobs. The respect accorded to work of any kind in western countries is still missing back home.

  19. nice article, i live in kharagpur (bengal) and i know how hard the migrants work when compared to local bengalis. There is no work culture in bengal, all they care about is strikes and rallies, and will make any excuse to stay off work. In contrast, the migrants (ofcourse, mostly from bihar and up) really work hard and they deserve the praise. Withoy migrant workers, this state cannot function at all.

  20. I am a Bihari too. No, I'm not a taxi driver.

    Migration has helped us in many ways. We are braver than the complacent locals. We take on challenges with much more equanimity. Anywhere in India you go, you'll find Biharis. And not just as taxi drivers or labours but at the highest level too. Infact 90% of my childhood neighbours(siblings included are in Developed countries like US/UK.

    Migration hurts. But it is an opportunity too.

  21. What Rashmi has written is truly a global phenomenon. And unless one witnesses personally to be on both the sides of the coin, one might just not get the feel and inevitability of the problem.

    This is so global that just yesterday there was a debate on American television about Hispanics doing work at rates cheaper than local Blacks and getting preference over Blacks.
    Of course the problem here in US is about illegal immigrants but it all comes down to 'who charges what' more than 'who is legal'.

    In fact, the reason that Hitler went agaisnt Jews, because they came from nowhere and were soon flourishing and growing in Germany while Germans were not.

    I think it all boils down to the level of maturity that a society shows.

    It is hypocritical for some of Mumbai's Maharashtrians to say Biharis must go back while sending their own sons and daughters to US where they are seen as nothing less than the 'biharis'. (Let me put it on record that I am a Maharashtrian from Mumbai and am in US for work for a couple of months, and I just see how it is to be on the other side.)

  22. I too agree with the free movement of skilled labour and am an IT professional from Maharashtra working in Bangalore.

    But I sometimes wonder whether locals should be preferred for unskilled or semiskilled jobs. basic difference being in professional jobs, education & experience & other capabilities are judged and only then the job offered while in unskilled jobs it is not so.

    Jobs which require no specialized education such as security guards, sweepers, water supply or electricity board jobs in non-technical roles and whole lot of supporting professions are filled just on whimses, luck and contacts. So for example, shouldn't the poor and economically deprived unskilled people from Bangalore be given jobs at the Malls and IT companies rather than Biharis or anybody else taking that up ?

    Just a thought, somebody may throw some light.

  23. Biharis need to go back to their home state. These people aren't the "poor souls" every has been having pity on. These guys are now actively trying to take our white collar jobs. Whats more is that they behave like they know everything and everyone else is just stupid. They have absolutely no respect for the culture and the people of wherever they go to. This particular group has been gaining the most economically over the past decade and they have been pampered for far too long with reservations and all. This is the reason why the native inhabitants of Delhi feel so cramped. Many of us are leaving India because of these kinds of frustrations. There is an unlimited supply of Bihari migrants, the government will continue to settle them in the Cities, for how long? Why should someone be getting a free lunch off my tax money. We city dwellers couldn't even get a Government job even if we tried, but for these guys its almost a guarantee that they will find employment sooner or later. I just wish all this tirade of "ohh poor bihari.. we must help them" crap would end now.

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