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Back Home After Losing Work, Bihar’s Migrant Workers Now Unwilling to Return

‘Whatever I will earn, I will earn here,’ one said. Like him, many have thought about or have begun small businesses, while others work under MGNREGA, not wanting to go back.
Unwilling to Return

Patna: Narendar Kumar, a migrant worker, seemed relaxed after returning to his native village in Bihar after the lockdown began. He has decided not to return to place of his work outside the state to earn a livelihood after the lockdown is over. Narendar is currently without any work, having been home for nearly a month; he is now planning to start a small business locally, either in his own village or in a nearby semi-urban area, to make a livelihood.

“After facing so much trouble, I have decided not to return. I will stay in my village and will do anything to earn a living, there is no question of migrating again. I would love to live in the village because I can survive here with little income,” said Narendar. He lives in a which falls under Karpi police station in Arwal district, and had been working as a semi-skilled worker in a garment factory in Tamil Nadu.

Narendar, in his mid-40s, is a school drop out who used to earn between Rs 12,000 to Rs 14,000 per month and used to send about about Rs 10,000 to his family back home. After his return, he is hesitant to work as a farm labourer and harvest the Rabi crop under MNREGA in the village or in neighbouring villages. “I will have to start a business with the little saving I have to earn at least Rs 10,000 to manage my family,” he added.

Narendar said he was lucky to have safely returned home because dozens from his village, and some relatives working in cities, have been stranded outside due to the lockdown. “I am in regular touch with some of them. They are really struggling to survive and are faced with starvation. They failed to get payment because their factories had shut, and there is no arrangement for their food,” he said.

“Bahar Jake Kamane ka Nasha Utar Gaya hai (The intoxication of earning money outside is gone,” he added.

Like Narendar, Ram Lakhan Paswan, Jogendar Rai, Ashok Kumar Singh, Santosh Sharma, Vishwabath Yadav, Ram Pukar Rai and Arjun Bhagat are all migrant workers who had returned to their native villages in Bihar after the lockdown began. They all have also made up their mind to not to return to their places of work outside Bihar, and said they would do something locally to make a living.

Paswan, a resident of a village in Musahari block in Muzaffarpur district, said that there was the big question of earning money before him after he returned. “But I started work as a farm labourer or as a daily-wage labourer under MGNREGA. I have realised that I should locally, as I had been doing earlier, before I left the village to try and earn more, said Paswan, who is in his late 30s and had been working in a cement factory in Bhuj, Gujarat.

Similarly, Jogendar Rai, a worker from Mahua block in Vaishali district, said he preferred to die of hunger at his native place than outside, even while earning decent money. "I will not go outside now. I have some money that I had saved and will invest it in purchasing two cows or buffaloes to start a small milk supply business. Whatever I will earn, I will earn here," said Rai, who had been working in an iron factory in Andhra Pradesh and used to earn between Rs 10,000 to Rs 12000 per month. He added that his salary for one month was pending with the factory.

Ashok Kumar Singh had been working at a garment factory at Gurugram and earning Rs 10,000 per month. He said that after his return to his village of Enkha in Patna district in early April, he has started a vegetable shop."I am purchasing fresh vegetables directly from farmers and managing my family with this income,” said Singh.

Santosh Sharma had been working in a pipe factory in Maharashtra. He said he was lucky that he boarded a special train from Mumbai soon after the lockdown was announced and reached his village in Paliganj block in Patna. "I have nearly 3 acres of fertile land, I will farm and begin a small, part-time small business to earn more, but I will not go back to Maharashtra. Some of my friends who are stranded there due to the lockdown are telling me of their suffering and painful struggle to survive. The life in my village is better than the glamour of big cities, we live here peacefully. I will survive with less income, there is no problem,” he added.

Unlike Sharma, Vishwabath Yadav, a landless worker who returned from Delhi after walking for more than 500 kms with no food, said he had decided to work locally, either as a farm labourer or a construnction worker. “I was working in a garment factory and earning Rs 12000 per month. I may earn Rs 8000 here but I will be with my family,” said Yadav, who is currently working as a daily wage labourer under MGNREGA in his village.

According to reports from different districts, thousands of migrant workers are working under MGNREGA to earn their livelihood after returning home.

According to government data, more than 1.8 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after the lockdown began. Unofficial figures doing the rounds say more than 3 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after March 22.

As many as 17 lakh migrant workers from Bihar are stranded across the country due to the sudden lockdown announced on March 24 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and there is no plan to bring them back yet.

As of today, there were 301 COVID-19 positive cases in Bihar, with two people dead. So far, the state has tested more than 11,000 samples.

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