These stories began as individual projects by the students of Class 11 (academic year 2019), St Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bengaluru who interviewed migrants from rural areas now working as security guards, drivers, domestic workers, construction labourers, and in other informal sector jobs in Bengaluru.
The projects conform to the Economics syllabus of the Indian School Certificate (ISC-12) exam and were designed by their teachers in collaboration with PARI Education. Each project records the economic and social impact of migration and traces the hope-filled journeys of people from rural India who were forced to leave their homes because of falling agricultural incomes and rising debt.
In these profiles you read about migrants who have journeyed from rural areas of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and even Nepal, to Bengaluru city.
PARI Education is publishing selected stories from the Profiles of migrants project in three parts. Part I contains the six stories listed below:
- ‘I don’t use my farmland for anything anymore’ by V.S. Roshikka
- ‘Being a plumber is more risky than being a farmer’ by Yashi L. Jain
- ‘I make more money as a security guard than I did as a farmer’ by Sanjana K.
- ‘I was 12 years old when I left my home to look for a job’ by Syed Abyan
- ‘I dream of opening my own restaurant’ by Divit Kothari
- ‘Locks are never manufactured without keys…’ by Shamitha V.
‘I don’t use my farmland for anything anymore’
The owner of a jewellery shop gets to decide the price of an ornament. This is not the case for farmers. We grow and harvest crops and grains, but do not get to decide what our produce should be worth. We spend so much time and effort in farming. Crop prices are not constant either – onion prices, for instance, can vary between 10 and 100 rupees. Crop prices should be fixed by the government, taking our expenses into consideration.
We once cultivated four acres, had a well, two cows, two bulls, seven hens, 20 coconut trees and a small tiled house. The government helped fit the well with a motor pump set and provided us with free power.
We used to grow potatoes, tomatoes, green chillies, brinjal and tapioca – and we usually harvested thrice a year.
We grew hay in one corner to feed the cattle. Half the groundnut from our farm was sold as nuts and the other half was used to produce oil. The remains of groundnut from this (punaku in Tamil) was used as cow feed.
We took loans from agriculture cooperative banks at an eight per cent annual rate of interest. It became difficult to repay these debts as our harvest was affected by inconsistent rainfall – too little or too much. The level of water in our well also kept depleting every year. I eventually sank a borewell, but it did not give water for very long.
I cultivated tapioca in the last few years because it needed less water. However, what I earned from tapioca could not support us. As the rainfall became more irregular, the yield reduced to once a year, maybe twice with a lot of effort.
I had a loan of 5 lakh rupees from the cooperative bank, and over five years the interest on this grew to 2 lakh rupees. I sold our cows, bulls and hens. Finally, I had to quit farming. I did not sell the land, but I don’t use it for anything anymore. The coconut trees are still there but do not produce much.
I was not the only farmer to abandon my family occupation. Many others quit farming, work that they had been doing for generations, and migrated in search of jobs. I now work in Bengaluru as a crane driver and have managed to clear all my debts. I hope I can go back to farming someday.
Reporter: V.S. Roshikka
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‘Being a plumber is more risky than being a farmer’
I have been living in Bengaluru for 21 years. My father Venkatappan was a farmer. He grew vegetables on our land and earned about 150 rupees a day, just enough to feed us but not enough to educate us. I started working in the fields with my father when I was around 16 years old. Our farming was completely dependent on the rains; less rainfall meant more losses. When I turned 25 I decided to give up farming and move to the city for a better income.
Initially, in Bengaluru, I worked in a sweets factory, earning only 300 rupees a month. This was not enough to meet my expenses that included rent and my children’s school fees. I knew I needed a job with a better salary.
I learnt the basics of plumbing, and though I don’t have a permanent job, I get work through an engineer who hires me when he needs a plumber. On the days that I work, I earn a decent wage of 500 rupees. I spend 350 rupees a day to meet the basic needs of my family for food; I try to save the rest (150 rupees) for the future. I don’t have any medical insurance. It is tough for me to arrange for funds and I end up taking loans from my landlord.
I have two children – a son and a daughter; they are studying in higher secondary. I pay their annual school fees of 25,000 rupees from my yearly savings.
Being a plumber comes with a higher risk than being a farmer. I do a lot of my plumbing work manually because I don’t have any tools or machinery to make my job easier or more safe, so I have to take some risks. Still, this work gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I can earn and support my family.
My motivation to work is to educate my children. I want them to get government jobs that offer stability and a fair salary. Government workers also get a pension after retirement, which makes it a safe choice.
Reporter: Yashi L. Jain
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‘I make more money as a security guard than I did as a farmer’
When I lived in my village, I used to cultivate wheat on our two acres of land. I would spend around six to eight hours on the field and get 2,500 to 3,000 kilos of wheat a year. From this, I earned 1.5 to 2 lakh rupees a year. This was not enough to sustain my family – my wife Meena and sons, Anil and Sunil. I had to look for work that would give me better wages.
My brother-in-law, who was working in Bengaluru, assured me that there were jobs available and so I moved to the city when I was 25.
After some searching, I found a job as a security guard on Old Airport Road, where I continue to work. It pays 22,000 rupees a month. I earn more money as a security guard than I made as a farmer.
I live in a room on the ground floor – in the same building I work in – with my younger brother, who works with a catering company. We make a little extra money by washing cars in the neighbourhood. I usually do the work and my brother steps in for me when I am unwell or out of the city. I wash the cars of 10 families on different days of the week. I charge each family 1,000 rupees a month for this.
I also help people in the building with small chores, including cleaning water pumps, and helping with house shifting and repairs and shopping for which I use my cycle. I earn some extra money doing these jobs.
My regular expenses are food. I have my meals at nearby eateries and spend around 3,000 rupees each month. I don’t cook often, as I live in a small room. Occasionally, I spend some money on my cycle repairs. I buy clothes only during festivals. I send around 10,000 rupees back to my family in the village every month. I manage to settle any sudden expenses, usually due to illness, with my own savings, if not, the people I work for are generous enough to pay me my salary in advance or give me some extra money for treatment.
I miss my family very much. If all goes well and I am able to annually earn more than 2 lakh rupees, I plan to buy 10 acres of land and start a business. I am considering investing in textiles, but I will definitely buy land.
Living with your family in your village with fields all around you – there is nothing like it. But I am blessed to have a job that gives me a good pay and I respect it as much as my old work.
I go back to my village to meet my family once a year, usually during Diwali, and spend almost a month there. I go by train and my Diwali bonus from my employers takes care of my travel expenses. In my village, I wear a kurta and pyjamas, but in the city, since my work involves washing and cleaning, I prefer to wear long shorts and a cap.
Reporter: Sanjana K.
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‘I was 12 years old when I left my home to look for a job’
I am from a very small village called Javagal, in Karnataka’s Hassan district. I lived with my parents till I was 12. I never went to school, though my two younger siblings did. I am happily married and well settled. I work as a security guard at a shop. My son works as a driver.
Life in Javagal was a lot less hectic than life in the city. My father passed away in 2003 at the age of 62. He had four and a half acres of farmland and two acres of coconut palms. We grew paddy or ragi during the rainy season.
We have borewells on our land but one contains salty water and the rest don’t yield much water during the other seasons. The lakes and borewells dry up during the summer season.
As farmers, we only had work in the monsoon and faced unemployment the rest of the year. The conditions in my village were very bad and I was 12 years old when I left my home to look for a job. I took a KSRTC [state transport] bus from Hassan in Karnataka to Mumbai. The income from agriculture was not sufficient to support the whole family; in 1976, we earned around 100 rupees a month. Welfare schemes were not available to us in those days. That is why I was sent to look for work at such an early age.
In Mumbai, I worked in a guest house located in Worli for 20 years. I remember starting in 1976 at around 25 rupees a month and I received a pay hike of two rupees each year. I didn’t spend very much as all three meals were provided there. I would keep about 10 rupees for my personal expenses and send the rest of my earnings home to support my family.
Sadiq, my youngest brother, farms the land now and earns around 2 lakh rupees from one crop during the rainy season. The land is left barren throughout the summer. He does not share the profits with any of his siblings, even though we all have an equal right to it. I have never brought up this issue with my brother because it could ruin our bond. I believe that having a happy family is more important than having a rich one. I am grateful to god for everything I have in my life.
I shifted to Bengaluru from Mumbai and bought myself a cycle. I started selling guavas at the main gate of Bowring Hospital in Shivajinagar, earning 200 to 300 rupees a day.
When I was farming, I used to work four hours a day, but it was hard work. Working as a security guard requires less energy. I once spotted a thief trying to break in, but he ran away as soon as he saw me.
I earn 20,000 rupees a month now working as a daytime security guard. After coming to Bengaluru, my expenses are almost 10,000 rupees a month as I have to cover the costs of food and shelter.
I used to wear a lungi and a baniyan when I was in Javagal, but in Mumbai I had to wear a loose shirt and a pant because it is a city and I had to maintain standards. In Bengaluru, I wear a shirt and a pant when I am off duty, and a uniform while on duty. I still eat rice and ragi balls and I get my ragi stock for the whole year – my brother Sadiq sends it from Javagal.
I visit Javagal frequently by train and spend 1,000 rupees each time for a round trip. I keep aside some of my savings to share with my family. I miss them very much.
Reporter: Syed Abyan
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‘I dream of opening my own restaurant’
I moved to this city at the age of 21 to support my family with some additional income. I studied in school until Class 10 and then did two years of pre-university course. My father paid for my education through the earnings from his ration shop where he sold dal, rice, wheat, ghee, oil and similar goods.
My entire family – my wife and son, my parents and my two brothers and sister – lives together in Assam. Our village consists of about 200 families and most of them earn from farming.
My elder brother works as a driver for Oil India, my younger brother works as a road contractor and my sister is a nurse. My mother and wife work on the farm. They raise 200 hens, 50 ducks, six oxen, three cows, two dogs and 50 goats.
My son Yash is nine and has just completed Class 5. My father and brothers pay his tuition fees. I want my son to become an engineer when he grows up. My family has no debts and has never taken a loan from anyone. My father earns about 30,000 rupees every month from his ration shop and my siblings add to the income with their earnings.
When I first moved to Bengaluru, I had 5,000 rupees in hand and arrived on the Guwahati-Bangalore Express. I joined a security agency, Lion Securities, and earned 3,500 rupees a month. I soon left the agency to work independently, and now I work as a daytime watchman (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift), earning 13,500 rupees a month. I also take on a night shift every alternate week. The apartment authorities have provided me and another watchman with a small room to sleep and cook. I spend about 4,000 rupees on food each month.
I visit my village once a year. I take an airplane to Assam and catch a bus to my village. I save money through the year, and every time I visit my village I give my savings to my family. At the moment, I have saved close to 50,000 rupees.
My village in Assam is greener and colder than Bengaluru. We never wore traditional clothes at home in the village and I dress in a similar manner in the city when I’m not working. I like the people living in the apartment because they involve me in their celebrations and share their food. They also provide me with medicines when I am sick. I haven’t thought about leaving my job, but I dream of opening a hotel when I will have enough money for it in the future.
Reporter: Divit Kothari
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‘Locks are never manufactured without keys…’
I lost my parents when I was six months old and I was brought up by my maternal grandmother in the village. I studied in school till I was 11 years old. I used to help on the land also. At the age of 12, I moved to Bengaluru looking for better work and wages.
I worked in an aluminum factory in Bengaluru as a helper. I was a repairman doing odd jobs including checking scrap, minor repairs and fittings. I was paid 1,000 rupees a month. Over time, this increased to 8,000 rupees and then in 2012 the factory shut down.
Now, I am a technician in a steel vessels manufacturing company. I have been working here for five years, eight hours a day.
I was initially paid 250 rupees a day. Now I earn 400 rupees a day. It’s a private company, so I don’t get a break on government holidays; my weekly off is on Sunday. If I take a holiday, I lose that day’s wages.
I got married to my wife Mala when I was 28. She also helps me in riveting locks which I do after I come home. When we work together it takes us a day to finish riveting 25 kilos of locks that otherwise takes me two days on my own. We earn around 300 rupees for this work.
We have two sons. My older son is doing his pre-university and my younger son is in Class 7. They both attend tuition classes; I spend a lot on their education so that they will have bright futures.
I do not want them to suffer the difficult life we face today due to a lack of education. My earnings from one job are insufficient to take care of my family. My wife also works – she is an ancillary worker in an electrical factory. We spend on basic expenses such as rent, electricity, water, gas, school fees and tuition fees. We also have to meet sudden expenses, including special occasions (weddings, family functions, festivals, etc.), medical expenses and emergency situations.
I took a bank loan at an annual interest rate of 14 per cent six months ago. I have also taken a gold loan on an annual interest rate of 7 per cent. Due to all this, I don’t have any savings.
I return to my village usually once or twice a year to spend time with my relatives. I travel by the Lalbagh Express. It takes me five hours to reach my village. I don’t find much difference in working in the village or in the city. Labourers like us put the same effort irrespective of where we work.
Even after so many years away, I miss my home in Amur. I miss my friends and the delicious and healthy food – ragi, corn and millets grown on fertile land without fertilisers. These memories keep me going.
Locks are never manufactured without keys. Similarly god never gives problems without solutions. We just need patience to unlock them.
Reporter: Shamitha V.
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About the reporters
One of the first schools to bring PARI into the curriculum, St Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Bengaluru sent 137 girls and boys (girls are admitted to Classes 11 and 12) into the field to identify, interview and document migrants around them.
About the illustrator
Antara Raman is a recent graduate from the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. Her graduating thesis, titled ‘Seeds as cyclic time’ aimed to explore the seed as a metaphor for time. Using real-life incidents, including farmer suicides and the growing clout of agri-business, she explored injustices towards farmers and how a world of plentiful food is utopian and unrealistic. Antara believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic, and her work for PARI Education reflects that.