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Challenges Faced by Migrant Workers in Delhi: Stories of Struggle and Resilience

Main media anchor and vo artist Ariba Khan Reported By Ariba Khan |
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Firoz Doing Hand Embroidery At A Factory In Delhi's Govindpuri

Impact of Migration, Employment Difficulties, and Economic Changes

Firoz, a resident of Haldikhoda panchayat in Kishanganj district of Bihar, is engaged in hand embroidery at a factory in Delhi’s Govindpuri area. He had previously left this work before the year 2000 but has recently resumed it. After 2000, Firoz worked in Mumbai for nine years, followed by two years in Hyderabad, one and a half years in Noida, and then he went to Saudi Arabia in search of higher-paying employment.

From India to Saudi Arabia and Back

Firoz’s family resides in the village, where only children and elderly members remain. He has two brothers, one working as a laborer in Japan and the other in Dubai. Kishanganj district, situated in the Seemanchal region of Bihar, is home to a large population of migrant laborers.

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Firoz fought a case in Saudi Arabia’s labor court to secure permission to return home. He had stayed in Saudi Arabia for four years working as a horse caretaker. Upon returning to Bangalore, he later went back to Saudi Arabia for plumbing work. He revealed that during his initial stay in Saudi Arabia, he managed to come home only after fighting a case in the labor court as his boss had refused to grant him leave for four years.

Upon returning to India, Firoz realized that suitable employment opportunities were still scarce, which led him to work as a plumber in Saudi Arabia once again. However, after two years, a labor strike in Saudi Arabia prompted him to return to India.

India holds the distinction of being the largest country of origin for international migrants, with a diaspora of approximately 17.5 million people worldwide, according to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) ‘Global Migration Report 2020.’ The Annual Periodic Labor Force Survey reveals that the migration rate across India was 28.9% from July 2020 to 2021.

Currently, Firoz works as a hand embroidery artisan, dedicating 15 hours a day, from 9:00 am to midnight, to his craft. However, due to technological advancements, he now earns less compared to before. He used to be able to support his family comfortably prior to the year 2000, but now he only earns around 15,000 rupees per month despite the long hours.

Low Wages in Delhi and Aspirations for Overseas Employment

Tabrez, a 24-year-old resident of Rangrayya Laltoli panchayat in Purnia district, Bihar, has been working as a tailor for ready-made clothing in Delhi for the past 10-12 years. Despite being away from home for many years, he can only earn around 15,000 to 16,000 rupees per month, even after working 12 hours a day. This income must cover his living expenses in Delhi and also support his family. To save money for his family, Tabrez cooks his own meals and sleeps in the factory, rearranging the machines to create a makeshift sleeping area. However, his salary is insufficient to provide for his family’s well-being, so he is contemplating seeking employment abroad.

Tabrez working as a tailor for ready-made clothing for the past 10-12 years
Tabrez working as a tailor for ready-made clothing for the past 10-12 years

Deemonetisation and COVID-19

Manzoor Alam, a resident of Kathamatha panchayat in Kishanganj district, owns the same factory in Delhi’s Govindpuri area where Tabrez works. He explained that prior to demonetization in 2017, the factory operated around 75 sewing machines. However, the work significantly slowed down after demonetization, forcing him to remove 25 machines from the factory. Subsequently, the factory faced closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, further disrupting operations. Currently, only 30-35 sewing machines remain, with only 20 in use. Consequently, migrant labourers have been laid off from factories, and their salaries have been reduced. The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reports that India’s unemployment rate increased to 8.11% in April 2023 from 7.8% in March 2023, with Bihar’s unemployment rate at 19.1%, higher than the national rate.

Lakhan, a resident of Kairi Birpur village in Kochadhaman block, Kishanganj, left his home 35 years ago to establish a vegetarian hotel in Delhi’s Govindpuri area. Half of Lakhan’s family resides in the village, while the other half lives with him in Delhi. Prior to the lockdown, Lakhan employed two assistants in his hotel. However, due to a significant reduction in the number of customers, he had to let go of the assistants and now manages the entire hotel alone. Lakhan attributes this decline to the fact that most migrant laborers working in the Govindpuri area returned home after the lockdown.

Lakhan runs a vegetarian hotel in Delhi's Govindpuri for 35 years
Lakhan runs a vegetarian hotel in Delhi’s Govindpuri for 35 years

A Hub of Migration and Poverty

The Seemanchal-Kosi region in Bihar, encompassing districts such as Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia, Katihar, Saharsa, Supaul, and Madhepura, is known for its high population of migrant workers. These districts, according to government data, are among the most underdeveloped areas in Bihar. The recent Multidimensional Poverty Index by NITI Aayog also ranks all seven districts among the ten poorest in the state.

Bihar holds the second position in terms of the number of migrant workers, as stated in the 2021 Economic Survey of India. With an estimated 11 million migrant workers, the state faces significant challenges in providing sufficient employment opportunities for its population. A survey conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in 2020 revealed that nearly 50% of households in Bihar experience the impact of migration, with the average age of migrant workers being 32 years. This highlights the trend of young people from Bihar seeking employment outside their home state.

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Ariba Khan is a Mass Media student. She started her career as an anchor for Main Media's daily morning bulletin and voice over artist for multimedia reports. She has received National Foundation for India fellowship in 2021.

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