The recent backlash in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra and directed against the people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh was depressing. And I was sorry not for the biharis and bhaiyas who were beaten and molested; neither for Amitabh Bacchan and other celebrities who were regularly referred to in news as belonging to the eastern states.
I felt sorry for Bihar though. Was it the same Bihar from where great people like Ashoka, Buddha and Mahavira taught the entire world new lessons on civilisation? Sher Shah Suri was from northern Bihar and accomplished the massive task of building the now gigantic GT Road. Chanakya, whose contribution to political sciences cannot be forgotten, chose Bihar as his laboratory. Rajendra Prasad, the country’s first president, too belonged to Bihar.
The erstwhile Bihar was the seat of wisdom. Nalanda University was one of the greatest centres of Buddhist learning in ancient times and scholars came from far and wide. So was Vikramshila University, located near the now dying city of Bhagalpur, now only in news for riots and other criminal activities.
The recent incidents in Maharashtra targeting daily wagers and taxi drivers from Bihar and UP are not new. There have been similar incidents in almost every city or town where poor people from this eastern state chose to find a livelihood. In Delhi, poor rickshaw pullers have to beg the delhites of their rightful fare. Faced everyday with such disrespectful situations, the poor biharis have learnt the tricks of earning livelihood here; put up with all discomfort with a smile on your face. In the fields of Punjab, biharis are forced to work from morning till evening for a wage lesser than that charged by a local. The case of biharis beaten and molested was reported also in Assam, a state that is no better than Bihar in terms of development.
So much has changed in the new Bihar. And the changes are not for good. Bihar began to be counted as one of the BIMARU states. While the others in this group- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh- are making attempts to lose this tag, the situation in Bihar is worsening. And biharis, in search of bread, have travelled to almost every corners of India.
Before means of transport and communication were well developed, Calcutta or Kolkata was the preferred destination of poor people from this state, willing to do all kinds of menial tasks that the bhadra bengalis wouldn’t want to do, and for which the locals would charge more. This included pulling rickshaws, working on the fields and in factories, as servants, and other such lowly tasks.
Soon this became the very model of operation of biharis; offer cheaper labour and win grounds. Quickly, biharis were the preferred labour source from all over India. Starting off with the Hindi land, they soon ventured into places where there was only the thekedar who they could understand.
The thekedar or the agent plays a pivotal role in migration to cities and towns. The agent plays the mediator between the employer and the labour source. He gets orders from employers far and wide, and his duty is to speak to gullible villagers and herd them to the cities or towns in train or trucks. In exchange for this service, the thekedar or agent gets to keep the major chunk of the compensation to be paid to the labourers.
With the advent of the thekedar or agent, also started a more organised migration of labour. The poor and ignorant bihari labour has to depend on the agent for more lucrative offers. Also the labour is more constructively employed all the year round. However, they still draw much lesser than the standard wages.
The angst of locals against bihari labourers has roots in such organised migration. With people from Bihar willing to work for less, the locals were rendered unemployed. So if Maharashtra is burning now at biharis not respecting Maharashtra or the marathi culture, the reality is only that the marathi manus has been rendered unemployed through constant migration of biharis. In Assam as well, the case was very similar.
In many ways, the present situation of Bihar can be likened to that of India. What Bihar invented back in the sixties, was practiced by India and the IT folks in the latter half of eighties and nineties. Cheaper labour (although skilled) became the forte of India. Talented individuals from Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi and almost every part of India contributed to this outward rush to America, Europe, Australia and other lucrative destinations; although many of these states complain about the migration in their own lands.
Migration from Bihar has been scattered evenly among all groups. Students and professionals, skilled and semi-skilled, rich and poor, migration is rampant in all strata of the society. The state produces more IAS officers than any other state; students throng almost every university in India; almost every organisation employs talent from Bihar and Jharkhand; still the poor people doing the menial tasks are the face of Bihar.
Are the biharis happy to leave their homes and families to places thousands of miles away? Are the biharis happy to live in a place that has a culture distinct from their own? Are the biharis happy to be tormented and exploited in such manner? The answer is NO. Every year thousands of natives return to their villages to a family that is unhappy by their absence but happy for the small amount of money that they send regularly. About the recent disturbances in Maharashtra, they hope that things will soon get back to normalcy. About fighting back the locals, they would rather go to work and earn a few more rupees.