The Other Side of Migration


Migrants keep the world going. Without the migrants, the human civilisation may not have taken off at all. There are many sweet candies given to the potential migrants before agreement. Once the migrants reach the shore of karma bhumi things take the worst turn. They were made to work like donkeys and ill treated without giving the basic human necessities. If these were carried out in the 16th and 17th centuries, we can understand the lack of civilisational traits. Despite the bang bang hi-tech modern growth, human migrants are treated below the levels of animals even today. Whatever negative circles going around migrants there is no stopping of migration around the world.

Badri Narayan writes in The Hindu on 29 June 2013

The descendants of indentured labourers, who migrated from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to erstwhile colonies, recently met at The Hague in the Netherlands to commemorate 140 years of migration — perpetuated through a system popularly known as ‘Girmit.’ They gathered from all corners of the world to pay homage to their ancestors and celebrate the end of slavery in the Dutch colonies. Persons of Indian origin in Suriname, a sizeable portion of the country’s population, are also marking the occasion this month.

Contractual system

Suriname, previously a Dutch colony, abolished slavery in 1863. To meet the demand for cheap labour, however, the Dutch conceived a contractual system, different from its predecessor only in name. Dutch and British officials came to an ‘understanding’ — made in writing — to ‘borrow’ labourers from certain parts of Haryana, west and east Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh for a period of five years. Thus came to be born the ‘Girmit’ system in Suriname. The word ‘agreement’ was transliterated as ‘Girmit’ and ‘Girmitya’ by migrant labourers themselves.

The Girmityas were sent not just to Suriname, but also Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, and Guyana. Of these, the Bhojpuri speaking population from east U.P. and west Bihar constituted the largest number. About 1.2 million people from this region were sent as migrant labourers to former colonies. They held festivities annually to celebrate and rejoice the days of their leaving India and settling down in foreign lands. Their descendants have continued this tradition, eulogising their Indian roots, while using the occasion to decry the colonial practice of indentured labour. They also remember India’s abject poverty that forced their ancestors to look for greener pastures.

Migrant Indian labourers worked on sugarcane, rice and coffee farms, shouldering the burden of the economy in the colonies they worked. When Suriname was freed from the Dutch rule in 1970, many Girmitiyas settled in the Netherlands. They identified themselves not as Bharatiyas but as Suriname-Hindustanis. Most wealthy people in Suriname made their money by trading in agricultural products such as spices, tea, coffee, and the like. The biggest bank in Suriname, ABN (Amro) started out by trading in sugarcane. Its branches have been set up today in New Delhi and other metropolitan cities of India. Most Indians are unaware of the bond of toil that ties their ancestors to this bank.

Whether they were successful financially or not, the Girmityas bore the pangs of separation from their families and clans. Their yearly ‘celebrations’ stood testament to their desire to belong home. Ironically, those in India seem to have forgotten all about the Girmityas.

Attuned to modern times

Colonialism across the world was founded on the bonded labour and inhuman toil of the enslaved. The upsurge and revolt by slaves against the ruling class brought about the abolition of this barbaric practice, albeit progressively. A closer examination, however, suggests indentured labour still persists — only this time, it has been attuned to modern day interests and sensitivities.

Even today, people from Purvanchal, Bundelkhand and Bihar of the Hindi heartland are migrating to earn a better livelihood. Why is it that even after 150 or 200 years, people from this region are forced to leave their home and hearth? If their earlier destinations were Mauritius, Suriname, Fiji and Trinidad, they now head for Ghaziabad, Noida, Faridabad, Punjab, Mumbai and Surat. Earlier, they served colonial masters but now they serve the masters of this country.

‘Bhaiya Express’ is a contemporary term of reference for trains that displace people. It does not indicate one train but several trains that carry workers, often perched on roofs, to India’s cities. In colonial times, these trains carried them to coastal depots from where they were shipped overseas. Today, the trains carry migrants from villages like Semra, Barwaripur and Majhauwa to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Surat, or to Assam and Punjab, where they either work as labourers or from where they are transported further by airplane.

The lion’s share of migrant labourers comes from Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Basti, Banda, Gorakhpur, Sultanpur, Gonda, and Faizabad in the eastern part of U.P. and Raxaul, Narkatiaganj, Betia, Sugauli, Motihari, Chakia, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Jaynagar, Nirmali, Farbisganj, Munger, Purnea, Saharsa, Begusarai, Araria, Sitamarhi, Vaishali, Chhapara, Gopalganj , Bhojpur and Buxar in Bihar. Every day, at least a hundred people or more gather at the railway station or a bus depot in these places to travel to the nearest railway stations like Allahabad, Banaras, Katihar, Barauni, Samastipur, Mokama, Patna, Buxar, Ara, Sasaram, Muzaffarpur, Chhapra and Siwan which fall on the route of long distance trains.

Most of them are unaware of the direction in which their destination lies. Migrant labourers are under the complete custody and ‘protection’ of labour contractors who beg, cajole, lure and threaten them to go to work in factories in big cities. These contractors are the present day equivalents of recruiters or ‘arkatiyas’ of the colonial times, who used to travel from village to village luring hapless people into sub-depots and depots, taking them to work as Girmityas in overseas plantations in the Dutch colonies.

Agony of separation

Today’s migrant labourers, like their colonial-era counterparts, have learnt to live with the sorrow and agony of separation. It is often inevitable. Migration is fuelled by economic necessity and aspiration for a better life. There are payoffs and heartbreaks. Labourers at home and abroad, from then to now, have developed a rich cultural repertoire around migration: folk songs, folk dramas, stories and legends about deities — often goddesses — and folk beliefs.

Earlier, in the Girmitiya phase, the songs dealt with Calcutta and foreign lands, where the labourers migrated. Now, these destinations are inland cities like Ghaziabad, Punjab, Surat and Mumbai. Contemporary songs are woven around a lovelorn woman, who pines for her lover (often husband). These songs — Birhas, Kajri, Jatsaar, Bidesia — are not gender-specific and are sung by both men and women.

New rituals, deities

Such cultural forms have led to a shift in belief systems as a natural historical process. New rituals and deities have been created. Two such deities are Murkatti Devi in Barwaripur village in Sultanpur district and Sankata Devi in Varanasi. Women pray to these goddesses for the well-being and safety of their migrant husbands. It has a unified sensibility and includes birds and spiders, like Shuklain Pakshi, crows and parrots — different calls of these birds convey different meanings, from good, not-so-good, to evil. Certain calls of animals like dogs and cats too form a part of this belief ‘eco-system.’

Families still yearn for the return of their separated members. Earlier, it would take anywhere between six months to a year for letters and money orders to reach homes but today we have the facilities of PCOs and mobile phones for quicker communication. Online transfers of funds happen in a jiffy. Though there are connectivity problems, mobile service providers are expanding their networks in these rural areas.

Every year, during the month of January, our government organises ‘Prawasi Diwas’ in honour of India’s migrants. A separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs too has been formed for this purpose but such celebrations neither offer any critique of the self nor any glimpse of the future. Decades after independence, the Planning Commission is yet to formulate concrete plans for the welfare of migrant labourers, headed overseas or to different parts of India.

Taking off from the Prawasiya Bharatiya festivities in Suriname and the Netherlands, we need to review and critique our economic systems, development and social failures in the context of migration and forced labour. This would help stem and stop the social displacement and exodus of labour which still occur from particular regions.

Migration is at once a source of happiness and heartbreak, expectation and disappointment. Every night will always be a dark one for migrant workers. But if the government can find ways to mitigate the physical discomfort that comes with dislocation — poor wages and housing, no healthcare or rations — the migrant will manage to deal a little better with the emotional pain that comes with separation.


Opium of Cricket

                                         Image  Cricket is the opium of the Indian masses. From grandma to grand child, everyone talks about cricket. Sachin Tendulkar is more familiar to South Indian housewife than sambhar recipe. Rahul Dravid is more known than rasam. Naturally there is a heavy competition to capitalise on the mass interests. Politicians, business people, underworld operators —- every one wants their share and slice in cricket. In this circumstance, the Government must understand its prime position as the guardian of public interests. Alas! it failed to protect the public welfare, cricket welfare and national security. By allowing politicians to manipulate the game administration it allowed them to bend it to their self-interests. Unfortunately the coalition stitched by the cricket administration mafia cutting across the political spectrum has compounded the cricket administration. The choice is now or never. Let us wait and watch whether the union government steps in to rein in the ruining game of cricket administration.

A.G.Noorani writes in The Hindu on 10 June 2013,
One wishes there was more cricket in India’s politics and no politics in India’s cricket. But the reality of an insufferably scandalous state in both spheres stares us in the face. The charade in Chennai on June 2 aroused wide public revulsion because of the events in the preceding fortnight, especially against the background of the sordid power struggles by politicians in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Rules on conflict of interests were violated. Charges of corruption involving crores of rupees were not investigated thoroughly enough. One hopes that revulsion at the BCCI’s working prompts an effective cure for what is plainly a diseased system which stinks to high heaven.
Involved are three distinct issues, namely the resignation of the BCCI president and co-owner of Chennai Super Kings IPL team, N. Srinivasan, after the arrest of his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan who faces charges of betting and match fixing; conflicts of interests; and the rotten structure of the BCCI.
Crisis of confidence
The test Mr. Srinivasan prescribes is wrong. It is not whether charges of similar wrong-doing are made against him personally. It is whether, in the totality of circumstances including his open and close proximity to his son-in-law, there is not a crisis of confidence which requires him to step down from office, as distinct from stepping aside.
A precedent directly on point suggests the correct test. Britain’s Home Secretary Reginald Maudling resigned on July 18, 1972, the day the Prime Minister announced that the Director of Public Prosecutions had instructed the police to investigate into the affairs of John Poulson, a wealthy architect with whom Maudling had a close business relationship in the mid-1960s. He was neither accused nor suspected of any crime, either in connection with Poulson, or anyone else. However, the investigation was to be held by the Metropolitan Police, over whom the Home Secretary had authority. By this test, besides the crisis of confidence, Mr. Srinivasan has not a leg to stand on.
On conflict of interests, the locus classicus is a statement made in Parliament on behalf of the British Prime Minister by Sir John Simon, a distinguished lawyer, in 1937. “No man should allow himself to occupy any portion of the time which he is bound to devote to his public duties in a disregard of his public duties, and pursuing any private interest whatever, whether it is in playing golf or in the nature of business.” The spectacle of Union Ministers Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, Praful Patel, C.P. Joshi and the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, on the Board is an unedifying one. Neither these politicians nor the equally distinguished businessmen like N. Srinivasan, Jagmohan Dalmiya and Lalit Modi are known to have elevated the standards of the BCCI. The only qualification they flaunt is “love of cricket,” a test which opens the doors to millions of aspirants.
Two things are clear beyond doubt. The BCCI needs drastic reform if it is to function properly and in the public interest and the reform will not, cannot, come from within. Sadly, former Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken’s National Sports Development Bill, 2011 fell by the wayside.
Split judgments
The Supreme Court has ruled on the BCCI’s status thrice in split judgments. Unfortunately, one fundamental was overlooked. It is the doctrine of a private utility so affected by the public interest as to legitimate legislation in the public interest. It was propounded as far back as in 1877 in the haven of private enterprise, the U.S. Its Supreme Court ruled that when “one devotes his property to a use in the public interest in which the public has an interest, he, in effect, grants to the public an interest in that use and must submit to be controlled by the public for the common good” (Munn vs Illinois 94 U.S. 113, 126 (1877).
The Supreme Court has yet to rule finally on the BCCI’s status. But its three rulings are instructive. They are: BCCI vs. Netaji Cricket Club and Ors (2005) 4 SCC 741 decided by Justices N. Santosh Hegde and S.B. Sinha, on January 10, 2005. However, they split only three weeks later in the second case on February 27, each speaking for the differing judges (3-2) in Zee Telefilms Ltd. & Anr. Vs. Union of India & Ors (2005) 4 SCC 649; and A.C. Muthiah vs. BCCI & Anr (2011) 6 SCC 617 decided on April 28, 2011 by Justices J.M. Panchal and Gyan Sudha Mishra. They differed. The BCCI’s status, therefore, awaits a decision by a larger Bench.
That said, the judges’ observations provide cold comfort to the BCCI’s oligarchs. The first case said that “the enormous power exercised by the Board” imposes on it the duty to act “fairly”, “reasonably” in “good faith” so as to conform to “higher standards”.
In Zee Films, three judges held that the BCCI was not an instrumentality of the state and was therefore not “the state” within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution. But it noted that its “activities can be said to be akin to public duties or state functions”. A citizen whose rights are violated can sue it in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution though not for violation of fundamental rights.
In a powerful dissent, Justice Sinha pointed out that the BCCI “was allowed by the state to represent the state or the country in international fora, it became a representative body of the international organizations as representing the country. The nature of function of such a body becomes such that having regard to the enormity thereof it acquires the status of monopoly for all practical purposes; regulates and controls the fundamental rights of a citizen as regards his right of speech or right of occupation, becomes representative of the country either overtly or covertly and has a final say in the matter of registration of players, umpires and others connected with a very popular sport”.
Justice Sinha noted that “the Board had all along been obtaining the requisite permission for sending an Indian team abroad or for inviting a foreign team to India in the prescribed form … a number of documents have been annexed, which clearly go to show that from the very beginning the Board had been asking for the permission of the Ministry of Human Resource Development either to go abroad or to play or participate in other countries or for inviting the others to play in India. Such permission had been sought for in the form prescribed in terms of the said Regulations. The said documents leave no manner of doubt that the Board had asked for and the Union of India had granted de facto recognition.”
Thus, while the majority ruled that the BCCI was subject not to the Constitution’s fundamental rights but to the writ jurisdiction of the High Courts, the minority ruled that it was also bound to respect the fundamental rights to equality and to the practice of an occupation.
The gap was narrow. In the third case, A.C. Muthiah challenged the amendment to the Regulations (Clause 6.2.4) on September 27, 2008 permitting Mr. Srinivasan, BCCI’s treasurer as well as Managing Director of India Cements Ltd, to bid in the Indian Premier League’s auction for ownership of CSK. Justice Panchal held that the Netaji Club case was “no longer good law” in view of the ruling in the Zee Telefilms case though it had not been overruled.
‘Multiple loyalties’
Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra disagreed. Her judgment cogently defines the BCCI’s status. She trenchantly criticised the amendments, predicted that “multiple loyalties can create commercial activities with the activities of the BCCI.” It wields monopoly control while enjoying state recognition and facilities. The right to see the game of cricket, live or on TV, the careers of cricketers and much else depend on its will.
And the BCCI has demonstrated incompetence, if not worse. The remedy lies in legislation which lays down a charter for democratic governance to ensure probity, accountability and transparency. Entry 63 of the Union List empowers Parliament to legislate in respect of any “institution declared by Parliament by law to be an institution of national importance.” The BCCI is just that. The provision was invoked to rid the Indian Council of World Affairs, a registered society, of the control of an individual with an agenda of his own. In doing so, the government alas also reduced the ICWA to an appendage of the Ministry of External Affairs. The law must guarantee the autonomy of the BCCI without touching the title to its properties and funds.
All that the law should do is to incorporate it as a legal entity, bound by the rules of democratic corporate governance. To begin with, the Right to Information Act, 2005, should be made applicable by widening the definition of “public authority” in Section 2 (L) to cover any body which “performs a public function or receives assistance or recognition from the State”. Next, no “public servant” as defined in Section 21(c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 should be eligible to serve on the Board. This will relieve our hard pressed ministers, civil servants and legislators from a singularly onerous duty to serve the nation in that thankless task. Members of mercantile bodies, incorporated or not, should also be excluded. Criteria for membership should be provided.
Thirdly, the law should ensure the holding of free and fair elections regularly at the Board level, and in affiliated bodies, and mandate the auditing of accounts and their publication. All this should be capped by an ombudsman who would report annually to Parliament on the working of the BCCI.