Along the way of Eastern Jatha

Train Tickets in Rafiq’s Pocket

Angaar Ghaat: Howrah-Samastipur 150 Rupees, Diamond Harbour-Sealdah 10 Rupees. Mohammed Rafiq showed both the train tickets, taking them out from his pocket.

‘Buri Gandak’ lies alongside. The word ‘buri’ implies aged, yet the river here embodies anything but feminine allure. With spring on her both flanks; she is dazzling with the gleam of the setting sun. We are standing by the makkai (maize) cum tobacco cum wheat field of Rafiq which is 200 meters from the road that reaches Samastipur. Now its makkai time. The piece of field is small but land here in this region of Mithila is fertile enough, ‘kafee upzau’. The question is, for one who has a piece of such fertile land, why is he carrying train tickets in his pocket?

Rafiq has just returned with about four thousand rupees, the sum he managed to save from his income of last two and a half months, after lavishing himself just with daily bread and butter. Mohammed Rafiq of Angaar Ghat, Zilla Samastipur, had gone to Diamond Harbor of West Bengal to work as a bed mattress maker. Like every year, this year too, the contractor took him with others to reach Bengal with certain requisitions, destinations may vary from Domjur to Diamond Harbor, but the contract and the job is permanently temporary. Three thousand rupees a month. The amount of dust and split ends of cotton that have entered in his lungs is still not accounted by anyone, just as even Rafiq does not know how many mattress he had made in these three months. From makkai to mattress, from farmer to contractual labour; these blends, define the lives of Rafiq and his like.

Rafiq is into tobacco too. These tobaccos are of three types. The finest lot would be used in making khaini or chewing tobacco, the second grade would end up being zarda and bidis would be made from the ‘ghatia’ (worst) leaf. The mystery of khaini is not simple. First there would be buds of tobacco, which needs to be opened with mild hands of the ladies or of children, and then a portion has to be dragged out from the tip of the bud. It is yellow, after drying it out, it would be blackish yellow. Then various types of spices, even the red chili powder, all have to be sprayed all over them. The mixture is called the ‘saresa’ khaini, the most fascinating of all khainis. Sold out in bundles, if calculated in quintals, a farmer manages to earn five and a half thousands at its best. When sold in markets of Kolkata, a quintal of the same prices up to 38 thousand rupees. The farmer is clearly not getting enough to suffice his daily means. So Rafiq has no escape from buying those train tickets.

Waves of migrant labour from Bihar are nothing new. Nitish Kumar is claiming that he has been able to reduce these waves. The state labour ministry has claimed in a survey that labour migration from Bihar has decreased almost by 40 percent. And another account is saying that there are 52 lakhs of Rafiqs and others. Their collective revenue amounts to a robust 7,500 crore rupees per annum, which is 5 percent of the GDP of Bihar.

Mohammed Hanif asked in a distorted Bengali that if whatever the government is saying was true then, where the ‘Nau jawans’ (youth) of his village are? Why there is so much hue and cry in Mumbai?

Before elastic chords became fashion, the pants of the kids were knotted with ropes. From that time onwards, Hanif used to come to the colony of the new central jute mill situated at Budge Budge, Kolkata. Hanif’s father was a labourer of the jute mill and he used to tie Hanif’s pant with the jute ropes, which is why the account of time is calculated in accordance with the process of tying the pant. His mother used to stay at the Narhan village of Bibhutipur. Later Hanif was a labourer of the same jute mill along with 14,000 other labourers. That defines another time frame, when labourers had to make a mad dash through the mill entrance.
Let us take the example of Bibhutipur itself. There is no resourceful work for a labourer on land; no industries exist in the proximity. So, what is the use of staying in such a village? The available work would be done by the female labourers only; as with them the work would conveniently be done for a daily wage of 35 rupees. A male labourer is not that cheap. So he has to leave his village and his family to search for a nominal livelihood. The son of Mithilesh Devi and Ram Ratan Paswan is working at some anonymous brick field near Delhi. Just as, Jiboch Paswan’s husband is sometimes at Karnataka and sometimes at the village. Paswans live in adjacent rooms. The room which is equipped with glossy utensils and has a clean outlook must have its ‘aadmi’ (male) working as a migrant. And the ones with over used utensils or bartans has its male living in the village.

Idris Ansari shared his view: that earlier it was Bengal, and then it was Punjab, Ludhiana, Patiala, Ferozepur. Green revolution had created scope for many labourers. Who else, other than Bihar, that could have provided with such a vast pool? The new way of New India. Now it is Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Karnataka and Gujarat. Migration from village to village is outmoded now, the trend is, of being hooked to the trash can of the contractors.

The male population of Narhan were previously in the migrant agri-yards, now they are in ship-yards of Gujarat. Money reaches home from those places now, sometimes through courier and sometimes the postman delivers direct to home charging only 5 rupees for the service. Everyone has a savings account in the banks. To them, that is safe. The State Bank Bibhutipur branch at Narhan market has most of its accounts related to those migrants.

There is a hard-up tea shop with tea and a fly boiling in the burner. On the other side, the father of one of the migrants is making sweet cakes of various sizes and dimensions with date syrup. Discussions are generally like this: there is sad news of some ‘migrant’ returning home due to some ‘unspecified’ disease; about some who are awaiting a few who have not returned since long. Yet in the courtyard of the school, some gathering would resemble more or less like a mandi or haat of bicycles. That means the money to buy those, have reached home.

Because it is Samastipur, so there is no other way but to discuss on a different note. There would rather remain a gap if it is not discussed. This place had witnessed hard fought land struggles; many of Bibhutipur had given away their lives in the struggle. Those lands are still in the custody of the farmers, but day by day farming is becoming unprofitable. Agricultural workers are not getting enough work. The question has come up: what would be the future manifestations of land struggle? The ‘buzurgs’ (elders) and the fresh carriers of the red flag are seriously thinking these questions.
Darkness gradually spreads out in Angaar Ghat. The village ladies are off for home after completing their day of work: of filtering mustard.
Rafiq says good bye to me, ‘Khuda Hafeez’