Shifting to isolation

Often discriminated against:Students from the North East are subjected to abuse.Photo: Monica Tiwari

Often discriminated against:Students from the North East are subjected to abuse.Photo: Monica Tiwari  

Govind used to plough his land in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh an year ago when he decided to leave farming as he could barely make ends meet. He migrated to Delhi and now pulls a rickshaw. It fetches him just enough to fill his stomach twice a day as he has to send a major portion of his earnings to his family back home.

Thousands like Govind leave their homes every day in search of better income. According to the 2001 Census, Delhi has more than 5.6 million migrants, out of which 14 per cent have cited work/employment as the reason for their migration. There are 80 million inter-State migrants across India, of which 40 million are in the construction industry, 20 million are domestic workers, two million are sex workers and the rest are into various small businesses, according to a 2007 report of the International Metal Workers Federation.

Business, education and marriage are the other reasons that compel people to migrate. The rapid growth of Delhi has attracted lakhs of people from different parts of the country. Although livelihood options are better here, it also leaves the migrants lonely — socially and culturally alienated. Their lack of a social circle leaves the migrants more vulnerable to the anti-migrant attitude of people.

Sanjeet (27), a rickshaw puller by profession, says that people crack jokes about his Bihar origins. “I used to feel bad about it, felt depressed sometimes, but now I have got used to it, though I don’t like it all,” he says.

The 2011 report on ‘North East Migration & Challenges in National Capital Region’ revealed that nearly 78 per cent of migrants from the region are being subjected to several kinds of abuse.

Debarun Baruah, all India north east convener of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Delhi University, says in the absence of strict action, offenders are further encouraged to continue the abuse. “We can’t change our language and our looks but I feel people in Delhi should be made aware that we are also Indians like them,” he remarks.

“I feel very lonely here because I can’t communicate properly with anyone due to the language barrier,” says Ibobi from Manipur, who is pursuing his graduation in Delhi University.

Such loneliness and isolation could give birth to health problems like depression, hypertension and schizophrenia, says Dr. Ripan Sippy, a clinical psychologist. He says that nearly seven per cent of the migrants who come for treatment, including labourers and students, suffer from schizophrenia.

“I started smoking and drinking to forget my loneliness and have got addicted to them now,” says Ram Singh, a labourer at a construction site. This is a common occurrence; smoking and tobacco chewing has resulted in a steep increase in cases of lung and mouth cancer in the last decade.

Loneliness also poses the criminal risk factor among migrants. The recent brutal gang-rape of a five-year-old in the Capital is a case in point. It also provides a fertile ground for prostitution as girls from different parts of India are trafficked and are then forced into the business.

The rise of the crime graph in Delhi and the recent arrests of criminals who fled their home States and took shelter here have put all migrants under the scanner, especially the poor ones. The politicisation of the migrant issue has only added to the list of woes.

The migrants often face police excesses, resulting in further fear and seclusion. “The police beat me up for no reason and threaten to send behind the bars because I am poor and there is nobody to come to my rescue,” says Manjit, a vegetable vendor from Gorakhpur.

Moreover, migrants who are into small businesses face problems like banks denying loans. They find it difficult to rent houses, work as domestic help or start new businesses.

Away from family and friends, migrants in the Capital often get caught in the vortex of loneliness and related problems

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