Migrating Biharis: The Human Capital Flight

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A nine-foot bronze statue of Late Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who originally hailed from Bihar and was the Prime Minister of Mauritius from 1961 to 1982, was unveiled near Gandhi Maidan in Patna on February 18, 2008. On the personal wish of the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar things get done. The then Mauritian Prime Minister N. C. Ramgoolam, who happens to be his son also, was given the opportunity to inaugurate the statue. It was an emotional moment for the family and friends of Mauritius, full with gratitude towards the CM for extending such great honor way back home to a person who had to uproot from his home turf to earn a livelihood. 

Time passed, 6 years on; every time I pass-by this statue at the southern end of the Gandhi Maidan, a multitude of thoughts sparks. My neurons feel a bit strained thinking what exactly this statue gives message to the society. Is this not an irony that our state is feeling proud of the story of a migrant to whom we failed to provide even a livelihood? 

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s success was his personal effort and the system there that helped him reach the top of the island nation of Mauritius. Given this fact, the Government of Bihar need not cash in the credit.

Anyway, the Hindi-speaking state of Bihar, UP and others are under the grip of Holi fever this week. Trains witness unprecedented (every year the crowds break its own past record) crowd. Every important railway station is witnessing sea of humans. The Black marketing of railway tickets runs as every year it holds. Any Delhi-Patna route SL class berth in any express train is being sold anywhere between Rs. 1600 to 2000 against the official fare of just Rs. 435 and 550 for tatkals. The capital city of Patna having two bus terminals at Mithapur and Bankipore (Gandhi Maidan) bear the maximum passenger load for interstate services. Even government-run buses (BSTRC) runs with passengers on the roof. 

migration2In this age of low-cost airlines, the non-refundable economy class airfare from Delhi crossed Rs. 20,000 barrier this time against the normal fare of around just Rs. 5000. Airfare from the other important cities like Kolkata, Pune, Mumbai, and Bangalore met similar fate. 

Undoubtedly, these visitors to Bihar give great financial boost every festive week. But who these visiting people are who borne a fatigue journey, travel insecurity and a lot of mental and physical stress? They are visitors for a week, on a visit to their left-behind family, relation and home. It is their annual journey of sentiments. These are the real tourist to Bihar! 

Nope, they are not tourist. They are migrants instead. The ongoing trend appears every festive season is the crystal clear representation of the enormity of the problem of unemployment in Bihar. This angle of migration story is enough to embarrass any government running into its 9th year. And in 'sushasan' (good governance), people expects more than that. 

The government records might have a completely different version claiming swelling job opportunities in Bihar. But, in all practical senses the enormity of the problem of migration has never been the priority of any government till date. Even most of the plans of this 'sushasan' government never surfaced on the ground. And as a Chief Minister reluctant to share responsibilities of one and a half dozen ministries for about a year, Nitish Kumar seems to be on cloud nine having nothing to do with the ground.

Debraj Bhattacharya, a social scholar who puts his paper in 2013 with the government of Bihar researched the migration phenomenon in Bihar with a quite trustworthy methodology. His research revealed the incidence of out-migration from rural Bihar which is probably greater than anywhere else in India. A combination of circumstances, both natural and societal, has created a situation in the state where sending a family member out to earn was the only way of staying alive. There was a marked increase in migration after 1990 and even more during 2000. After 2005, all hopes lies on the new government and a paradigm shift was expected. But the rural economy ground to a virtual standstill. 

While the government records unprecedented growth and historic gain, the migration from flood, drought, closure of industries as well as law and order problems continues to force the outflow of people. Banks are very reluctant to extend loans to poor, farmers and businessmen. More than 90 per cent of the households are dependent on moneylenders and other resources for small to average size loans. 

In many researches, beside Debraj’s, it comes flat that the inadequate fulfillment of livelihood and inadequate employment opportunity is the main cause of migration. In randomly selected chunks across various districts in Bihar, it comes to a shocking 81 percent case where at least one person from the household migrates. The dominant trend is for one person per household to migrate to urban areas in search of work. It is very rare to migrate with family in poor societal groups. 

The migration symptom among urban Biharis who are highly educated techies and are instrumental in the running of world’s best enterprises from IBM to Microsoft, Reliance, Accenture etc. seems to be a different case of brain-drain but not actually so. This self-made elite class has never been the part of concern for the earlier governments in Bihar. Ignored perpetually, they settled abroad out of this poor state but still hold high-valued ancestral properties and real estate here. From Diaspora to NRBs and some world class summits, a lot of experiments have been done to hit the headline but the ground reality remains as it was in the Lalu-Rabri era.

 


amit sinhaAmit K. Sinha is a bilingual investigative journalist who works independently. For the last couple of years he is in Patna writing for many prints and portals.

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