These stories began as individual projects by the students of Class 11 (academic year 2019) 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 3 concludes the series. The six stories are listed below:
- ‘I started working when I was 12 years old’ by Rhea Alvares
- ‘My parents thought educating a girl was of no use’ by S.A. Raqieb
- ‘I wish that I had the chance to go to school’ by Gunjan P. Khanted
- ‘I have come here so my children have a bright future’ by Gaurav Gadiya
- ‘I have been working from a young age, and now I want to study’ by Diya Bhandari
- ‘My family now has electricity, thanks to my earnings’ by Khushi R. Shah
- ‘For painting work, call me anytime’ by Shreya Settia
‘I started working when I was 12 years old’
I started working when I was 12 years old. My late father had studied till Class 10, but I stopped after Class 5. Going to school meant walking through two kilometres of rain and slush, and then the whole morning I would be wet. That’s why I stopped going to school. I also thought I would help my parents by earning some money.
I began working in a coffee estate in Chikmagaluru along with my parents, Narasu and Leela. I did weeding in the nursery and the field, and adding manure. My father was a supervisor. My mother did the same work that I did; some days she would also spray the pepper vines with fertiliser.
We used to be very busy from December to March because that was when the coffee needed to be picked and there was always a high demand for labour. The rest of the year was just maintenance work.
A few months after I started, I heard the son of the estate owner asking the girls I worked with if anyone was willing to go to Bengaluru for work. He asked about 14 girls but all of them said no because they didn’t want to leave their homes. He didn’t ask me but the next day I went up to him and asked if I could go. He was a little reluctant to let me go and so was my family because I was very small, but I wanted to go because I didn’t like the work here very much.
Two weeks later one of his relatives picked me up in a car and took me to Bengaluru. Before I left, he pulled me to the side and whispered to me very seriously that if the family ever troubled me I was to call him and he would immediately bring me back home, no matter what. With this reassurance I went to work at the home of a doctor couple. I looked after their children, one of whom was just three years younger than me. I earned 1,500 rupees a month.
I had seen children as young as eight years old working on estates, and no one has ever been caught or faced any consequences. No one checks properly. I was told to say that I was almost 15 years old if anyone asked; the doctor’s family believed me when I said that. People want to believe you. I could have told the doctor’s family that I was 19 and they would’ve believed me!
Many people have told me I have an engineer’s brain. I can remember recipes that I’ve made only once. If only I’d studied further I would’ve been more than a cook. I learnt to read, write and speak English from one of the children in that house. I was already fluent in six languages: Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Tulu, Lambani and Telugu. I wish I had listened to my parents when they encouraged me to continue in school and explained the importance of education.
After almost six years I changed jobs – I was a nurse to a heart patient for six months, and lived in Bengaluru and on that person’s estate in Chikmagalur. After that I worked as a live-in maid and then as a babysitter. I enjoyed taking the baby to parks, and I had my own room.
Today I work as a housekeeper and cook and I earn well. When I go home, I take my entire salary and savings to contribute to my family’s expenses.
I have five siblings and only two studied beyond Class 9. My youngest sibling, Rohit, was studying in a private institution till Class 12 and his fees were 30,000 rupees a year. We spent so much money on my parent’s health problems that we could not afford the fees anymore. He had to drop out of the private institution, but he continues his schooling in a government college where the annual fees are 15,000 rupees. He is now in his final year of college and I am very proud of him as he is the most educated member of our family.
In May 2015, my mother Leela fell ill. She was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She underwent an operation and had chemotherapy for six months and radiation too. My mother’s treatment was free and she has completely recovered.
In 2009, my father Narasu had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and low sugar. In 2013 he developed a heart ailment. Two years ago, my father, while working in the estate, was admitted to a nearby hospital with breathing problems. Unfortunately, the treatment he needed was only available in Mangalore and he was too sick to be transported there. We took him home and he passed away. My father’s medical bills had run up to 2.5 lakh rupees. He had no health insurance. We somehow came up with 80,000 rupees amongst ourselves and borrowed the remaining 1.7 lakh rupees from neighbours and relatives at 10 per cent interest. We are still struggling to pay back these loans.
I want to see my mother secure in her old age. That is my dream.
Reporter: Rhea Alvares
‘My parents thought educating a girl was of no use’
I have not had an easy life. I came to Bengaluru with my parents in 1972, I was 17 years old then and had completed Class 10 in a government school in Mudigere. My parents thought educating a girl further was of no use. I believe that education is a person’s backbone. I have been teaching Kannada every evening for the past 25 years. If not for my education, I don’t know what I would have done. Who knew that one day I would become a tuition teacher!
In our village, we owned around an acre of land on which we cultivated sugarcane, ragi and sweet potato. The income from agriculture was seasonal; we could not depend on it and so my father also sold milk. He would get up early in the morning at 4 a.m., milk the cows and go out to sell it. He would be back by 7 a.m. and then go to the fields, and return home only by 8 p.m.
Although we were able to meet our daily needs, any expenses for an emergency like health issues, meant we had to borrow from our neighbours. Everyone in the village borrowed from each other.
As the income from the land and cows was not enough, my father thought he would try for a job in Bengaluru. His brother, a clerk in the railways, was working in the city and could help. My father borrowed money from him and studied law in order to get a better-paying job. When we left, my grandparents and other family members stayed back to look after the land.
In 1980, my parents arranged my marriage to M. Venugopal. He worked in the city corporation office. We had two girls and educated them in the free corporation [government] school. One day, upset with problems at home, my elder daughter burnt herself alive. My husband was devastated, he was in shock. Some days later he went for work as usual but he has still not returned. I don’t know whether he is alive or not. My younger daughter got married and illegally took away the small house that we owned. I filed a case against her, which is still going on.
I had to get on with my life, and so at the age of 34 I started going to work in three houses. I would sleep and eat at places where I worked. One day, when I was sweeping, I saw a Kannada book and picked it up. It was a book on learning the language, and I thought, ‘I can do this’. Two children asked me to teach them Kannada, and this is how I started taking tuitions for students of Class 6 and above. Now, I teach Kannada every evening to many students from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. I also continue to work in houses as a maid. I rent a room for 3,000 rupees. I get 1,000 rupees every month under the State pension scheme – Sandhya Suraksha Yojana.
When I think of my childhood days, I feel very sad. Those were the best days as shifting to Bangalore totally changed my life. Now, I live for myself. I treat my neighbours as family members and carry on with my life.
Reporter: S.A. Raqieb
‘I wish that I had the chance to go to school’
I was married at the age of 14 to Basvaraghu. I wish that I had the chance to go to school like other children, but we were a big family and my parents did not have the means. I had to work in the fields and help out at home. However, I have made sure my daughters received a minimum education.
My parents grew only rain-fed crops, such as groundnuts, as irrigation facilities were poor in our village. We earned around 2,000 rupees a month, not enough to run the family. There was no government help for farming and there were no other jobs in the village.
My husband was also a farmer in the village. After the birth of our two daughters, we had no other option but to come to the city to earn enough money and educate our children.
I was 20 years old when I caught a bus, along with my husband and children, to Bengaluru. The first few weeks were miserable. With great difficulty my husband and I found jobs in and around Gandhinagar, where we live. My husband got work as a watchman and earns around 7,000 rupees a month. I work in three houses – washing clothes, doing the dishes and cleaning the house. It is tiring work, but it earns me 10,000 rupees every month.
I work from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and then from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. I get tired at the end of the day and have no time for myself. I get a holiday only on Sundays, which I spend with my family and friends. I visit temples and worship Lord Shiva. We spend most of my money on our health as medicines are expensive: I have hormonal problems, weak bones and my muscles tire, and my husband has knee problems.
A year ago, we took a home loan of 5 lakh rupees from a bank to build a house in the village for our future. We need to pay the money back in five years. I kept my gold jewellery as a collateral for the loan.
Both my daughters went to an affordable government school near our house in Bengaluru. My older daughter, Rani, studied till her second pre-university year (Class 12). She is 28 years old now and is happily married. She works as a maid. My younger daughter, Sudha, studied till Class 10. She is 26 years old now, happily married and is living in our village as a homemaker.
My brothers also moved to Bengaluru and live here with their families: Mahesh is 48 years old and works as a labourer in a factory; Revana is 40 years old and works in a tile company. My mother lives in the village and my brothers send her money. My father is no more.
I don’t regret coming here; I earn well and live a life without hunger and misery. I visit my village at least three times a year, but I can never stay for more than two days because of my work. Getting long holidays is difficult and we have to work even on festivals otherwise our employers will cut our salary.
My village is small and beautiful, and I have my family and friends there. The land that we owned and used for growing crops is left unused. I plan to work for a few more years till I have repaid the loan and collect some savings. After that, I will go back to my village and live in my new house with my family.
Reporter: Gunjan P. Khanted
‘I have come here so my children have a bright future’
My father did not have enough money to send me to a government school, but I somehow managed to complete Class 5. My wife Rajul stays in the village with our children Sachin, 14, Rakesh, 12 and Priya, 10. My children go to the government school in our village.
In the village, we own five acres of land; my father Mohanram Jhadav, my older brother Prakashram and my uncles work on the land.
I came to Bengaluru when I was 19 and began work as a construction worker.
Now I am a skilled mason and specialise in tiling work. I get paid when I complete a certain amount of work, say, a 100 square feet of tiling the floor. I enjoy my work and go home to visit my family in the village once every two months.
I have a bank account. I earn upto 36,000 rupees a month, but this fluctuates depending upon the amount of work I get. I send around 26,000 rupees to my family and the rest goes in managing my personal expenses, such as meals. My friends [people he works with] and I cook every day. We usually make rotis or rice and some sabzi with some sort of dal. We don’t store food grains, instead we buy them as and when required.
I stay wherever I work to avoid expenses such as rent, water, and electricity. I start my work by 9 a.m. and take a one-hour lunch break. My work often takes me to different places. A month ago, I was in Jaipur for tiling work there.
I have come to work here so that my children can have a bright future, and so that they do not have to be a daily wage worker like me.
Reporter: Gaurav Gadiya
‘I have been working from a young age, and now I want to study’
My parents passed away in a road accident when I was 14 years old. They were returning from my mother’s home. A few months later I left school to support my younger sister Asma and myself. Later I managed to clear my Class 10 exams while working. We were staying with our aunt and uncle, but we were not treated very well.
My father used to work on our two acres of land – he grew bananas, guavas, pomegranate and other fruits. He also did tiling work. When I started, I did building work near my village for two years, earning 260 rupees a week.
A friend who was working in Bengaluru called me and told me about a better-paying job in a khakra [snack] factory there, so I caught a train and left. I knew others who had migrated from Assam to Bengaluru to work, so I was not worried.
At the factory I was in charge of converting rotis into khakras. I was earning 7,500 rupees a month and ate all my meals at the factory. I stayed at Waterpali, a locality near the industrial area Jigani, where the factory was located. I worked here for six months and then left because the extreme heat from the machines would cause my skin to burn; I also developed allergies.
I started to work at another factory nearby – making noodles for a famous brand. I was earning 8,000 rupees here, used 1,300 rupees for rent and around 500 rupees for food. I sent the rest home for my sister’s expenses, including her education.
I had been away from my home in the village for 11 months and so I went back. I left home again for a job in Kerala on the recommendation of another friend. Here, I worked in a packing factory in Thrissur. We used to pack various kinds of flour, such as wheat flour, maida and others; I earned 7,000 rupees a month for working seven hours a day. Food and housing was provided by the company.
After six months I got news that my sister was ill again – a prolonged fever had made her extremely weak. She had to be admitted and the medication was quite expensive – it cost almost seven to eight months’ worth of my salary. It was a tough time.
Once she was better, I returned to South India, this time to Tamil Nadu in a factory where mechanical tools were manufactured. I earned 7,000 rupees a month and paid 1,500 rupees as rent. I was not able to save enough despite working for nine hours a day. I left the factory and decided I would look for domestic work, where I did not have to pay rent and could save some of my earnings. I have been working from a young age and now I want to study.
I am planning to go home for a visit soon. My younger sister is going to be ordained as a nun and I want to be there for the occasion. Also, my uncle has taken over our land – I need to look into it and get back my father’s land.
Reporter: Diya Bhandari
‘My family now has electricity, thanks to my earnings’
I like to call myself Pratibha, although my name is Pratiksha. When I was 17 years old, I left my home in Dabhole for Mumbai. My older sister Kalpana was already working there and she got me a job.
My parents were sorry to see me go, but we had no choice. We had experienced very heavy rainfall the previous year and our field was destroyed. My brother Sandeep, who is two years older than I am, had also left to find work outside and send money home. He became a waiter.
My parents – Bhikaji Ganpat (father) and Sitabai (mother) – are cultivators and they work very hard. When there is little to no rainfall we use the public well to water our crops. There have been times when my younger siblings stayed home from school to help my parents fetch more water from the well, which is five kilometres away. Other times, there is an excess of rainfall that destroys everything. My parents now cultivate only one crop a year – paddy.
My sister Kalpana, five years older than me, was allowed to study up to Class 5. She had to drop out as our mother’s arthritis began to get worse and she could not manage household chores.
I was fortunate enough to study up to Class 7 in the government school in Ratnagiri. I walked to school everyday – it was a 30-minute walk one way. In my village, they believe that girls should get a minimum education and then they should do household work for their future married lives.
The land was not giving us enough to live on, so I had to leave home and move to Mumbai to help pay back my parents’ loans. Initially, I was not able to adjust and I urged my parents quite a few times to let me come home and work with them on the field, but they insisted I continue to work in the city and send money home.
Later I got used to the work and the family I was working for. They allowed me to visit my parents often. After a few years, my employer family decided to move to Bengaluru and I moved with them.
I have been working for them for eight years and my monthly salary is now 9,000 rupees. I send all my earnings to my family as they need it for my parents’ medical expenses. I go home once a year, for a month in summer. My family now has electricity thanks to my earnings.
I got engaged a year ago to a farmer in my village and my marriage will happen soon. He was chosen by my parents. We are building a house for me to move into when I get married. It is costing a lakh of rupees and I have sent money for it. Once I get married, my brother will support my parents by sending money home.
I am looking forward to going back; all I want is to stay near my parents. I have learnt cooking and they are all waiting to eat food cooked by me.
Reporter: Khushi R. Shah
‘For painting work, call me anytime’
I used to work as a painter in my village and I do the same work here. Whenever the other painters came back to our village, they seemed satisfied with the money they earned in Bengaluru, so I decided to move here too.
After working all day, I have to cook and wash my clothes. When I first moved here, I had a lot of difficulty communicating as I don’t know Kannada. I also don’t know the route to many places. Sometimes I don’t get paid on time so it is very difficult.
In my village, I have my parents Ramharak Yadav and Navraji Yadav, and my wife Arti. I miss every small detail of my home. Celebrating festivals with my family is something I rarely get to do. I miss wearing my dhoti and turban. I have not been home for nearly a year now and I feel very sad from within that I cannot stay with my wife and parents. They work on the small piece of land we have, earning about 15,000-20,000 rupees every six months.
I have two sons and one daughter. My older son Vijay Kumar has studied till Class 12 and is working in Himachal Pradesh as a salesman. He earns around 18,000-20,000 rupees a month. My younger son Ajay Kumar has a bachelor’s degree. He now works in Dubai and earns about 30,000 rupees a month. My daughter Sunaina has only studied till Class 7. She is married and her husband owns a generator business.
In the past, there have been times when we had to sleep without eating anything. Our fields were destroyed in a flood during the monsoon and we struggled to send our children to school. Our daughter was a weak child and would often fall ill. We took a loan of 50,000 rupees at the rate of five per cent a year. That period of time was like a nightmare for my family and I wish we don’t have to face such days again. By god’s grace, all our debts have been cleared since both my sons have started working.
I work from project to project, so I can go home whenever I want to; but travel is expensive. I can earn around 18,000 rupees in a month and after deducting expenses for food and sometimes clothes, I am able to send back only 9,000 rupees.
For any painting work, call me anytime.
Reporter: Shreya Settia
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.