Lokyatra: Documenting the Folk-Culture of Migrants

In this lokyatra, we propose to study the folk culture of migrant labourers of the Bhojpuri region both in their homelands and at the destination points. The Bhojpuri region is a large cultural region in the north-central part of India and includes some parts of Bihar and the eastern part of UP. In order to study the folk culture at the homeland we propose to divide the Bhojpuri region into 3 clusters since there are huge cultural and linguistic differences even with this unified cultural region.

The first cluster will be the eastern part of UP and will comprise the districts of Varanasi, Ghazipur, Ballia, Azamgarh and Jaunpur. The second cluster will be the northern part of Bihar and will comprise the districts of Arrah, Sasaram, Bhabhua and Buxar. The third cluster will be the central part of Bihar and will comprise the districts of Chhapra, Tirbhut, Champaran and Muzaffarpur. We will focus on the villages from where indentured migration has taken place and still contemporary migration is going on. The destination points that we will cover are Surat in Gujarat, Mumbai and Gaziabad/NOIDA in western UP, since these cities have huge Bhojpuri migrant populations. We will select a few slums, bastis and ghettoes in each city.

We will have long conversation with our respondents (both men and women) who may articulate folk stories and have knowledge of various folk forms/ songs. We will also identify poets (kavijees), singers and theatre groups residing in all these areas covered by our study, who compose poems and songs and stage theatres on the migration.

Manuscripts, copies of songs, CDs, VCDs, cassettes of folk forms like Birha, Kajri, Jatsar, Barahamasi and grind-mill songs that are part of the Bidesia folk culture will be collected from small kiosks in qusbas and large shops in towns and cities from the targeted areas. The changes in folk forms around migration that has taken place due to the intervention of technology and market, interrelations of context and experience, transport and experience, time and experience, and destination and experience will be studied.

Barwaripur, Kadipur Block, District Sultanpur,
Uttar Pradesh (25. 8. 2014)

This village is situated 2.5 kilometers from the District headquarters. This village had been listed in Ambedkar Village in the year 1995-96 earning rich benefits in each five year plans. All the hamlets of this village are well connected with mettled roads.

The settlement of this village is dominated by the thakurs and Nishaads followed by the Chamaars, Guptas, Yadavas, Pals, Mauryas, Kahaars, Kumhars, Brahmins, Muslims and non communities that sparsely populate the village like the Prajapatis, Dhobis etc. The caste structure of migrants from this village shows variations by job seeking in the destination places. For example, the Thakurs migrated in search of private or other services (200), or started own business (50). The Nishaads and Chamaars were absorbed in the daily wage labour (100 from each community). The Guptas (30) and the Yadavs (15) mostly engaged in own business in the destination places.

Market place is situated in the heart of the village where Gupta, Baniya and Thakur community people have shops. The place is densely settled. Many homes in this village were found locked. On enquiry we found that these are homes of migrant families that migrate to other places in search of better economic options. They return to their native village after many years and stay for a month two and return back to their destination places. This village is affluent. Raj Kumar Singh an affluent corporate who holds a senior position in the J P Cement factory hails from this village. In terms of availability of basic amenities this village is very rich. The village has a CHC, primary village, inter College and Degree College. It also has the best means of irrigation facilities, government tubewells, and private pumpsets at a distance of every 200 meters. Along the banks of the river flowing toward the south of the village resides the Nishaads. Their main activity relies on transportation of people and cargo from one village to other apart from occasional fishing. The women of this community involves in rope making from locally available grass named ‘moonjh’. A good proportion of people from this community have migrated to lucrative regions like Mumbai and Kolkatta in search of better economic options. This migration is one of short duration for an average period of 7 to 8 months. The rest of the season they involve in cultivation of ‘Arhar’ crop.

Richness of Folk Culture in the Awadh and Bhojpuri Regions

The Awadh region under the Sultanpur district and Purvanchal region has a rich tradition of festivals, culture and celebrations. These songs reflecting joy, festivity and traditions of the region are sung on social and religious occasions. The festive and fasts fall each month. The songs that are sung in these occasions inculcate and rouse the devotional fervour among fasting women folk. In the context of migration of male counterparts, these songs take instrumental part in their lives in keeping alive their religious fervor and traditions on one hand on the other sustaining them in the imposed alienated lives.

For Hindus all this means a way of life and worshipping forces of nature has been a part of Hinduism from ancient times. Various cultural festivals like Karva Chauth where local deity Avsaan Mai is worshiped, Ganesh Chauth, Anant Chaturdashi, Nag Panchami, Govardhan Puja, Holi, Saraswati Puja, Durga Puja, Dusshehra, Shiv Ratri etc. are celebrated with full fervor and devotion. Nag Panchmi is celebrated throughout India and falls on the fifth day of the moonlit fortnight of the month of Sravana, which falls in the month of July or August. A large number of devotees visit various temples of Lord Shiva on the occasion of Nag Panchami. This festival is considered as most sacred in the holy month of Shrawan. It is mainly celebrated in UP and Bihar. Hundreds of devotees beeline in front of temples since morning while many throng by the Ganga ghats to take a holy dip. People believe that pleasing the assets of Lord Shiva, especially snakes and Ganga get them closer to Him. There are some myths and facts behind the celebration, worship and offerings that are given to the snake God.

The main reason of celebrating this day must be that snakes are a great threat to mankind during these months. They usually come out of their holes as rainwater seeps in and while looking for shelter they might harm humans. People also celebrate Gudiya festival on day. Children beat up cloth-made dolls as par of this festival. Women sing folk songs and apply mehndi on hands. People also indulge in-kite flying (patang baazi) on this day. Therefore, the sky was inundated with colourful kites. Girls aspiring for marriage believe that the cobra offers good luck in their quest for eternal happiness. Local fares are organized on various festive occasions at Barwaripur. In the ‘Agahan’ (December) month a Puranmasi Mela is organized. Women folks along with children enjoy it with folk music and traditional Jogini Dance and music performances. Each caste has its own unique flavour of folk dances and songs that are performed all throughout the night.

Various Community or Caste Specific Songs:

Birhaa: A typical of the Yadava community, ‘birhaas’ reflect the pangs of separation of the remaining women folk consequent upon their spouse migration. Emanating from the word “Birha’ these songs are sung with short or lengthy lyrics. In short songs, Birhaas with four stanzas are known as ‘Charkadiya’. Some famous Birhaas are long tales like the Dhiwarntritya also known as Dhiwarraag that is sung on occasions of marriage.

Kaiharwa: these songs are mostly sung by the Kahaar community. These songs are sung by women and men folks in full volume.

Kolhu songs: These folk songs are sung by the Baniya (or community engaged in business, trade and commerce) community.

Various Labour Oriented Songs:

Jaat Songs: These are the songs that are sung by women folks while grinding flour in the stone grinders locally known as Jaatas. These songs reflect the pains of women folk and their stories in their version. These songs are now losing their relevance among the new generation. The older generations still strives to keep this tradition alive.

Ropani Sohani Songs: the women of Barwaripur now do not sing these songs. Still some old women do remember these songs. Lamenting on the sorry state of affairs, an old woman resident of Barwaripur states that the society of the new generation has changed. Now no one likes to socialize and sit in common gatherings. Everyone has become individualistic.

The excitement and fervor of the festivals, music and dance are dying. Various folk versions of songs like Pachara geet, Hori Geet are now becoming extinct. The people of the Mujhara village (an adjoining village) specialize in playing Mridang (a drum-like Indian percussion instrument). On festive occasion they play Mridang and people follow dancing to their beats. The fusion music of the grinding beats on the grinder along with the beats of the Mridang is real enticing.

Mumbai (Nalla Sopara) Report 8th to 12th Oct. 2014

The state of Bihar has over decades registered huge outflow of migrants to other cities and states. Large numbers of people migrated from Bihar as indentured labour to British colonies around the world as well as to other parts of the country, mainly West Bengal and Assam, during the 19th and 20th centuries. Poor domestic wages combined with employment uncertainty, lack of educational institutions combined with lack of industry, and absence of market and investment opportunities have been the plausible factors behind this. The migrants’ remittances were crucial to the Bihar economy though there are no official figures to quote. The economists point out that Bihar has remained primarily agrarian still recording drastic fall in foodgrain output, power generation almost negligible and industrial growth barely touched 5.5% compared with the national rate of 20.1%. This appalling state of affairs of Bihar has been coupled and aggravated with parochial interest of their leaders.

Outmigration from Bihar is not a new phenomenon. Infact migrants from Bihar are the original migrants of the nation, with the first migration from Bihar dating back to 1834. The British used to describe the Bihari migrants as physically and mentally strong. According to Srikant, a journalist from Hindustan, it was the Bihari migrants who laid the first roads in Mauritius.

Given this background of the state of affairs of the Bihari migrants in Mumbai, our stud team visited those areas of Bihari settlements in Mumbai that had Bhojpuri dominance. It was observed that their prolonged settlement in Mumbai had failed to make much dent into their appalling state of poverty. Even after years of toiling hard for existence in this state, the Bihari migrants are struggling hard to find space and identity for themselves. These migrants commonly known as the ‘Bhaiyas’ seems to be a satirical pun and even at times as derogatory term for the original Mumbaikars. The Marathi mentality that follows behind this is “ek bihari, su bimari” meaning one Bihari is equivalent to hundreds of ailments.

Mumbai has long been a hotpot for migration from Bihar and other states like Uttar Pradesh. These migrant shave occupied very petty but very vital roles in the daily lives of the resident people. They are the taxi drivers, milkmen, construction labourers and what not. They have been putting their cheap labour available for the services of the Mubaikars. This huge influx of cheap labour from Bihar has affected the local wage rates outcasting local labourers from the job market. This led to resentment among local Maharashtrians led to revolt against the Bihari migrant labourers who had by now become the backbone of the country’s workforce. In 2008, thousands of Biharis found themselves forced to return from Maharashtra following the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s sons-of-the-soil campaign. Bihari migrant workers have been subject to a growing degree of xenophobia, racial discrimination, prejudice and violence.

On the contrary there is unanimity among the migrant Biharis. They stand together and are very proud of their culture and traditions. There large numbers prove as lucrative vote banks for the local politicians. Though about 35 per cent of them are not in the voter list yet their huge numbers proves dominant. It is during the elections that the local politicians bank on the Bhojpuri artisits and performers to lure huge crowds of the Bihari and UP region. This publicity gimmick works well in attracting huge crowd.

Our team took part in one such election gathering. Huge crowd had gathered to listen to their favourite Bhojpuri singers, Priyanka Singh and Nirhua. These artists were performing regularly in several election meetings and gatherings. In between their performances they would make their vote appeals. Infact, it is true that these Bhojuri speaking migrants fall prey to the promises and lures made in such election campaigns hoping positively for a better change in their lives. Their power rests in their number. It was observed that they still carry their traditional ways of living in their daily life. Life over the years has not changed much for them.
Our research team visited Nallasopara, a town within the Mumbai Conurbation. The town lies in Palghar district of Maharashtra state in India. The population of the city is 184,664 (2001 census) governed by the VVMC Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation.

The rich historical, cultural and traditional heritage of Nalasopara dates back to 2600 years when Purna Maitrayaniputra, a rich merchant and trader from Sunaparanta in ancient Western India now known as, on his visit to Shravasti in Uttar Pradesh, he embraced Buddhism. It was once a major port town whose trade had linked ancient India to Mesopotamia, Arabia, Greece, Rome, Africa among others. Much later when Emperor Asoka embraced Buddhism, he built a Stupa at Nalasopara. It is believed that Asoka sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to spread the tenets of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The Nallasopara East comprising of the Vaikunt Nagar Phase-II, Radha Nagar, Achole Road, Tulinj Road, Central Park,Vijay Nagar, Achole Gaon, Vasai-Nallasopara Link Road Area (RASHMI DHRUVITA PARK) and Kargil Nagar are dominated by non-Marathi, Hindi speaking community. The very ambience roads of this place with petty shops displaying CDs of Hindi songs, music played in the temples, posters on the walls etc. give a feeling of Uttar Pradesh. There are many families that migrate for seasonal period of 8-9 months, work and then leave for their root. Yet there is another group that has more stable source of employment and live in temporary arrangements, chawls or even rented flats in apartments. It is this group of migrant population that has voter identity cards, ration cards etc.

There are also some contactors from Uttar Pradesh as well. A local builder named J. P. Singh constructed a temple to celebrate festivals and celebrate Bhojpuri traditions. He shared with us his version of the historical development of the region. The region was dominated by tribals, vast tracts of hills, riverlets, wasteland and dense forests. But with growth of urbanization and population there has been massive and large scale encroachment on nature and its resources. It is said that the Patil community grabbed land ownership and became successful contractors. Women from the local community celebrate together their traditional festivals like Chhat Puja. On such festive occasions they arrange for shows by prominent singers and traditional folk artists like Priyanka Singh, Mamta Gupta, Rakesh Tiwari, Ramanuj Pathak etc.

Mau Field Visit 6th to 15th February, 2015

Village: Nasopur, Post: Umapur, District: Mau

Mau, now known as Maunath Bhanjan, is an industrial town in Uttar Pradesh, India, located nearly 120 km from Varanasi on the banks of Tamsa (Choti Saryu). It is a major centre of the textile weavers. It is divided into 4 tehsils, 9 blocks, 596 gram panchayats and 1644 villages. The Tamasa river flows through the city. In the 1960s it was the biggest supplier of a plant called plash. This town is the headquarters of the Mau district. The study village Nasopur with an approximate reported population of 3000 mostly comprises of the Aahirs, Chamaars, Khatiks, Thakurs, Pandits, Madhyasias, Kharwaars and Paasis in order of density of their settlement. This village is situated 6 kilometers far from the Mau district headquarters. Similar to other villages people migrate from this village in search of job options to cities in Mumbai, Kolkatta, Delhi and Noida. Past migration patterns of this village had shown out migration to places like Asansol, Kolkatta and Jharia. The village people are primarily depended on agriculture. Due its vicinity to the city, labourers from this village migrate to cities in search of livelihood options in rickshaw pulling. Labourers from the socially lower strata migrate to work in brick kilns. Past occurrences of migration as reported in discussions with folks of the village revealed migration to Jharia, Asansol, Dhanbad and Katras to work in coal mines. The migrants left to work in these areas leaving behind their women, children and other elderly members of the family. The family reunited only on festive occasions of Deepawali, Holi and Chaat. The songs reflect the pangs of separation, joy of reunion and other feelings related to migration of their male counterparts. Folk songs specifically sung on such occasions are like Sohar, Jhumar, Faag, Chaita etc. the present generation is losing its inclination and interest in these cultures and therefore they may die.

The ‘Vandevi’ mela bears great significance in this region and folks from all neighbouring regions gather to participate in this occasion. Folk singers from all regions especially Bhojpuri singers and performers come to show their performances.
This village is famous for a spiritual hermitage popularly known as ‘Mathiya Baba ka Ashram’. The village people have great reverence for a Vaishanav Saint who resides here. People from all religions, faith and sects come to seek his blessings.

The village Nasopur is known for two renowned Bhojpuri brother singers named Upendra and Harindra Vishwakarma, who have become famous for their Bojpuri songs and performances. Dance performances of Hiralal Jakhmi and Birha songs of Paras Yadav are equally famous. They draw huge crowds in their performances and have been very instrumental in propagation of Bhojpuri songs, drama and other performances.

This village is also known for its wrestling performances and performers. Even the elderly folks regularly go to local gymnasiums and actively participate in wrestling grounds. Two famous traditional wrestlers Kailash Yadav and Bahadur Yadav have been responsible to popularize this art. The present generation is losing interest in this art. Villagers have now started following the steps of a few successful migrants who migrated to Saudi and earned lucratively. Migration is common to vicinity areas both interstate and intra state to adjoin areas and cities like Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon etc. in search of better employment options in industries and manufacturing zones. Some of these migrants settle down in these urban areas in shanty settlements as slum or pavement dwellers. They return back to their villages only in a span of 4 to six years.

Dying of Culture:

The caste and work based folk songs that reflected the various temperaments and state of women folks are now dying with changing caste-class power structures and fading traditions and growing mechanization. The Jaat songs have become extinct with growing flour mills, limited socialization of women folks and growing individualism.

Dhowai Mela: Close on the banks of the Dhowai River, in the Jeth month of year, this fair was used to be organized. Now there is dearth of free open space to organize such fairs. A inter college has been constructed on this ground. With growing aversion towards discrimination against the socially backward class, migration among this class has grown. These people come back to their root villages very rarely once in 4 to 5 years.

Baderi Village, Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh (17th & 27th of October, 2015)

One of the villages selected for study in the homeland was village Badka Purva, Gram Panchayat Baderi, located in Madiyahun Block of Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh. This village is situated 28 km west of district Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. Rajendra Jaiswal is the pradhan of this gram Panchayat.

A field visit was conducted on 17 October, 2015 in the Baderi village of Madiyahun Block of Jaunpur district. Area wise and population wise Baderi is a big village and comprises of 13 hamlets (purvas). The total population of this village is 2974 out of which 1444 are male and 1528 are female. The SC population in the village is 848. The village has two primary schools, a middle school and a degree college. The main reason behind selecting this village for study is that it is the home of Bhojpuri singer Ramanuj Pathak who has migrated to Mumbai for a living. Ramanuj Pathak is a taxi driver in Mumbai and performs small shows and grabs the attention of people with his Bhojpuri songs. Another important reason to select this village is that it is culturally vibrant too.

The Badka purva in Baderi village is Brahmin dominated with only one Kumhar household. People have migrated from every house in this hamlet. Mostly the youth of this village has been migrating to cities like Mumbai, Delhi for a better living. Shri Lalta Pathak was the first man who migrated hundred years before from this village to Mumbai. He worked in Mumbai in the Jasmin Mill. Mostly the youth of this village migrate to Mumbai for work and they become taxi drivers or work in industries. The village people provided information that a huge number of people from the village work in orchestra or increase their income by playing other musical instruments.
The people left behind in these houses are young boys, wives of elderly men or the wives of migrants. Inspite of all the hardships that the families of the migrants are facing in the homeland culture provides them a solace to overcome the pain and suffering of migration.

The village has a temple where a big cultural programme is organized every year. Apart from this the village people whether young or old, whether men, women or children all gather together on festive occasions and dance and sing together. A big fair is organized here on the occasion of Vijayadashmi which is attended by people from various districts like Allahabad, Bhadohi, Pratapgarh. On the occasion of Navratri village people install the idol of Durga. A fourteen year old boy of the village Shankar Pathak himself creates the idol of Goddess Durga. During the afternoon the ladies of the village sing devi geet. In the evening after the Durga Aarti the village people stage religious plays like Sharavan Kumar, Sita Haran etc. Santosh Pathak and Rajnath Dubey entertain the people by playing Dholak and Harmonium respectively. We also came to know that many of the people of this village have got the opportunity to play their musical instruments in the television programmes too.

The migrants come to the village when any big programme is organized during the festival time. The migrants do not leave any opportunity to register their participation in these programmes to make it successful. The elderly women of village have a reservoir of old folk songs which we have documented exhaustively. The new generation of the village is connected to their folk traditions through the use of new forms of technology like memory cards, U-tubes which is an easy way for them to remain associated with their culture. They prefer to download Bhojpuri songs through U-tube and then store them in the memory card of their mobiles so that they can listen to them whenever they feel like.

Through our initiative the people of this village are now realising that it is their cultural identity only that is providing them recognition in the outside world. Their cultural consciousness has become more active. One interesting change that was evident in the homeland is that village people were seen playing Garba along with their own cultural forms on the occasion of Durga Puja. The Garba dance has been introduced in the homeland by the migrants who have brought it from the culture of their destination. This flow of cultural exchange clearly manifests the tradition of the homeland and the destination. With limited resources in hand these people also perform Ramlila without any stage or special costumes. The elderly people of the village communicate that wrestling was the main game of this village but now young people are getting more inclined to games like cricket and the craze of wrestling has lessened.

The Baderi village is extremely important for our field study because migration has occurred in huge number from this village. This village is culturally vibrant and one can clearly examine discourse portraying a blend of the culture of the homeland and destination. Culture does not provide any economic support to the people left behind but it certainly provides them solace to fight the odds of life. Culture provides them a space to share their joys and sorrows. This village has tried to maintain its cultural identity inspite of all the difficulties and hardships it has been facing due to lack of economic resources.

It is popular in the nearby villages that Badka Purva is a village of artists. Vinay Pathak of this village constitutes a team of village people who perform Ramcharit Manas in the cities. The people of this village say with pride ‘Each one of us is an artist here’.

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