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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Lok Sabha election 2019: No poll season for UP’s migrant workers

All have voter cards, but they are also unhappy with the state of affairs. Then, it also costs money to travel back home.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 16, 2019 15:56 IST
Chandan Kumar
Chandan Kumar
Hindustan Times, UP
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with a population of 199 million.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with a population of 199 million. (HT Photo )

Anurag Soni, 27, from Rae Bareli, and his wife Phulmati, 19, are at the head of a 150-metre long queue waiting to board the general (unreserved) compartment of the Pushpak Express from Lucknow to Mumbai.

That is an achievement in itself.

On Monday, the couple took a three-stage journey — two on buses, and the third in an auto-rickshaw — to reach Lucknow from Rae Bareli.

“We could not board the train (the first day) because all the general coaches were already full. There was no space for one to even stand. So we decided to stay at the station here,” Soni says as his wife stands beside him.

And so, the couple spent the night on the railway platform.

On Tuesday, they were at the head of the line.

Soni, who dropped out of school after Class V is now a construction worker in Mumbai. He travels once a year to Rae Bareli, usually around Holi, and spends a few weeks at home. Holi was on March 21 this year.

The others in the queue, from Rae Bareli, Bahraich, Sitapur, Gonda and other districts of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, have similar stories.

There’s Amar Nath of Unnao, slightly better off than the rest because he has a BA degree and works as a supervisor at a confectionery factory in Virar in Mumbai.

There’s Bhagwan Das Varun, 27, from Basti, a helper in a Mumbai restaurant who earns ~10,000 a month.

Then there’s Shankar Verma, 21, also from Basti who works as a waiter at a Kurla restaurant and earns ~12,000 a month.

None of them is looking forward to the 26-hour gruelling journey, still six hours faster than any other train.

None of them particularly likes Mumbai but it has one thing they can’t find in UP — jobs.

Verma moved to Mumbai last year after graduating. His brother, a master’s degree holder, hasn’t found a job and works at the family farm. Verma decided to look for his fortune in the city of dreams.

“Had our leaders done something to provide us with jobs, people like us would not have had to travel like cattle to reach Mumbai and be called a ‘bhaiya’ (there),” he says resentfully.

None of the passengers in the queue is going to come back and vote in the Lok Sabha elections. All have voter cards, but they are also unhappy with the state of affairs. Then, it also costs money to travel back home. “This is three days of my salary,” says Bhagwan Das Varun.

“The government has given us the right to vote, but it takes money to exercise this right,” he says.

But there are some divergent views too.

Sachin Singh, 27, who was standing behind Verma, doesn’t blame the government.

“You need to have a proper qualification to get a job. We cannot blame our leaders for everything. There are jobs, but not everyone is qualified enough to get them,” he says.

“Ok, how qualified are you?” asks Verma.

“Oh! I didn’t go to school. But I know things,” Singh replies as passengers near them laugh.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with a population of 199 million.

According to the last census, conducted in 2011, the state had 66 million people between the ages of 15 and 35, which accounts for 33.1% of the state’s population. But the state doesn’t have industrial infrastructure capable of providing jobs for all these people.

According to the economic survey 2017, around 5.83 million people between the ages of 20 and 29 left the state in their quest for jobs between 2001 and 2011. This was 197 % more than the out migration between 1991 and 2001.

A 2017 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) titled ‘The state of employment in Uttar Pradesh’ showed that while the population of the state increased by 20% between 2001 to 2011, the growth rate of employment declined from 2.43% ( 1994-2005) to 0.7 percent( 2005-2011).

The number isn’t made up of exclusively the young; there are also people who have tried their hand at something (usually farming), only to be thwarted by a series of challenges, and who have decided to look for better opportunities elsewhere.

Many young people from Uttar Pradesh head to other states in search of employment, an issue that Narendra Modi had raised at a rally in eastern UP’s Gorakhpur during the 2014 general election campaign.

Sample the figures: Over 2.8 million adult job-seekers are registered with the Directorate of Employment and Training in UP, which organises job fairs across the state.

According to government data, about 120,000 people are employed through these fairs in 2018.

Deputy director of the Directorate of Employment and Training PK Pundir says, “Over two lakh people, mostly in the age group of 21 to 35, register with us each year. Over 90% of these are graduate or above.”

Arundhati Dhuru, an expert on rural job situation and former advisor to Supreme Court on food security, says: “UP is going through one of the worst phases of unemployment largely because of the collapse of agricultural sector. Lack of industries and other job sectors have also contributed to this effect. The condition is worse in eastern UP, Bundelkhand and some districts bordering Nepal.”

The only way out for many of these economic migrants, and their dreams, are trains like the Pushpak Express that take them to cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata.

This correspondent travelled 90 kms from Lucknow to Kanpur on the Pushpak Express. To meet the swelling rush of migrants, the Railways had issued 560 tokens on April 9 for four unreserved coaches. On an average, 140 people occupied seats meant for 60 — some cramped over the toilets while others jostled together on a six-inch wide luggage rack.

The air inside was humid, the overcrowded compartment stuffy and the rickety fans overhead provided no comfort.

As a rule, personnel from the Railway Protection Force check tokens issued four hours before the train arrives.

A constable shouts: “Token in hand, ticket in pocket”. More constables join him to ensure there is no last-minute chaos while entering the coach.

Not all are lucky enough to board the train because the coach can’t accommodate more. Nanke Raut, 45, is relieved after he enters the coach.

After all, he had borrowed ~50,000 from a local moneylender and is now hopeful of paying off his debt. He has heard that Mumbai rarely disappoint job-seekers.

“The number of passengers is increasing every day but the government is doing little to add more trains or general coaches to accommodate the spiralling numbers,” laments Miraj, a post-graduate in science with a degree in education.

Amir Mansoor, 26, quips, “Mullaji, then you must stay and vote for a person who you think can provide a comfortable train journey for you.”

Miraj retorts, “Who cares! Till the other day they were talking about temple and mosque but now the discourse is on Pakistan and terrorism. Who is bothered about us and our needs?”

Many nod in agreement.

It is election time, the campaigning has reached a fever pitch and candidates have promised many sops, including jobs. But there are few takers.

The near consensus among the passengers on board the Pushpak Express is that their vote is not going to better their lives.

“I am an SC (Scheduled Caste) from Bahraich. I like Narendra Modi but his party members are undoing all his work by spreading hatred among different communities,” says Raj Kumar Gautam, who works at a hardware shop in Thane near Mumbai.

Mehraj Alam, 19, comes from Baddupur in Barabanki, and laments, “ No one asks about our caste and religion in Mumbai;here, in our villages, they only discuss castes and communities.” Mehraj works at a utensil factory in Nalasopara.

As the train slowly rumbles out of the station, people start settling down and the discussion shifts from national to local issues — from surgical strike to free gas cylinders and the menace caused by stray cattle.

Only a handful say they are aware of the airstrike in Balakot and the successful Anti-Satellite (ASAT) mission. As the train picks up speed, most say they are not interested in talking about the elections. Their only point of concern is whether the train will reach Mumbai on time.

First Published: Apr 16, 2019 07:14 IST

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