By Niha Masih

you can guess their pattern, their flight
their destination
far away to the south in winter,
north in spring. - Jan Haag

48 years old Kuldeep has been coming to Delhi to work for the last 18 years. Originally a resident of the Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, his family owns a small patch of farm land which has become increasingly irrelevant due to frequent floods. He realized early on that he would have to come to the city for work to support his family. With absolutely no education, there was limited possibility of finding work and he took up odd jobs as a laborer.

18 years down the line, he comes to Delhi every year with his family for around 6-8 months, depending on the availability of work. He has five children, two of whom live in the village for studies while the older ones come with him to work.

Their work involves breaking boulders into stones which is used for laying railway tracks and other construction sites. They get paid according to the number of trucks the stones fill at the end of each day. They generally manage two trucks between the four of them and earn rupees 1000 daily. They save money during their work stint in Delhi and use it when they return to their village for a few months.

For the same work in Madhya Pradesh they would not get paid even half as much nor would the women folks get work there and hence the need to shift base. He says, “Dilli acha hai kyunki yahan par kaam milta hai, par gaaon jaisa nahi lagta.” (Delhi is nice as there is work here but it is not the same as my village.)

This is not just Kuldeep’s story but the story of an entire community. A small close knit community mainly from Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh - their current work place is near the Yamuna in Kalindi Kunj. Most of them lament the loss of education for their children since they are not based in one place.

18 years old Vivek proudly tells he is learning English from a nearby coaching. His father is interested about Government schools in the vicinity but adds how it is not easy for the children to go to school for reasons varying from paperwork required in schools to their usefulness at home.

Though statistics differ, roughly there are around 100 million circular migrants in India. The migration pattern for the rural poor (to urban centres) is generally circular as they do not have the social security to keep them there. Also due to families and land they tend to keep returning to their native land, especially during the agricultural season.

While for many migrating to the city means a better life, it is not exactly that for most labour migrants. The city does pay them but also takes much away. They are the bottom of the industrial class structure with very little or no scope for upward mobility. They are compelled to live in sub human conditions, with even basic amenities like drinking water not easily available. These are not migrant specific problems per se but for them is a more potent roadblock. This sector has largely remained unorganized and hence most of these issues remain unaddressed.