By Anjora Sarangi:
Nepal has faced a long history of poverty, unemployment, frequent civil war, fast depleting natural resources, Maoist insurgencies and is among the least developed nations in South Asia. Due to severe deprivation several Nepali people have migrated to India in search of a better living and fortune. The neighbours have had an ancient flow of migration but in the past there was greater migration from India to Nepal which has changed now. The bilateral treaty between India and Nepal in 1950 establishes that there exists an ‘open’ border between the two countries which means that citizens of both the nations can travel and work in either of the countries without being treated differently. According to a report in 2004, 200 Nepalese cross the border to India every hour.
Around 85% of the Nepali population lives from subsistence agriculture in rural areas dealing with great disparities of class, gender and geography. Nepalese travel to other countries as well but India remains their primary destination. Most of the times even though laws permit Nepali migrants to travel in India and find work, they are treated as right-less non-citizens and face severe discrimination at the hands of the unscrupulous Indian authorities. Their risky political and economic situation prevents them from demanding citizenship and labour rights from the ‘liberal’ Indian state and these migrants are often thrown to the margins of the society as cheap labour. One of the sectors of employment in which they are often found is security. They are considered trust worthy and efficient and are thus frequently assigned duty as watchmen outside posh colonies of the metropolitan cities. It is quite common now to see a security guard with a whistle and bamboo stick singlehandedly guarding the area.
One such Nepali migrant resides in my neighbourhood in South Delhi. Bal Bahadur, now 64 years old came to India way back in 1971. Faced with acute penury and hardship accompanied by intermittent strife and violence in a remote village called Majura Zila of Nepal, he made a decision at a very young age to travel to India in the hope of securing a job that would fill his stomach and maintain his ever increasing family. Over the 40 years of his stay he survived in the face of constant appraisal by the police, brushes with the law, threats by the authorities and the constant fear of death and destitution. His job as a security guard in the neighbourhood earns him Rs. 7000 per month which must feed and clothe not only himself but even his children and grandchildren. It is estimated that Delhi consists of tens of thousands of Nepali watchmen. He possesses no legal documents to prove that he has been living in India for these four decades, no ration card, passport, voter’s ID, or any other mark of identification. His work keeps him occupied through the day and night leaving almost no time for leisure, relaxation or rest. This is the reason why in the many years that he has lived here, he has gone back home only a dozen times. In the past few years, several more members of his family have joined him in Delhi to augment their income. In effect there are around 5 men performing security duty but receiving the salary of one. As a result Bal Bahadur still finds it difficult to make two ends meet.
Nepali migrants like Bahadur find very few jobs in the big city and are thus relegated to jobs like manual labour, factory work, security duty, agriculture, stone pulling, house servant, rickshaw pulling limiting their field of expansion in terms of opportunities. Numerous Nepali girls are brought into India and live for years as prostitutes in brothels. Very few Nepali migrants find their way up the ladder to prestigious jobs in the government or private sector. Also, their social interaction is limited due to the difference in language. Due to lack of employment opportunities and indebtedness, the migrants have been living and working in India for generations constantly vulnerable to exploitation. They belong to two countries at once but are owned by neither. Each generation inherits its predecessor’s burdens and develops new burdens for itself going through a cyclical trend of constant misery and gloom.
Bal Bahadur is one of those millions of Nepali migrants who struggle to find a space for themselves in the societal norms that denounce them because of their identity. Youth Ki Awaaz has taken a stand to present voices of these unheard people. Do drop in your views below. Check out more unheard storiesÂ here.