Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Inevitable drudgeries of Nagaland’s unorganised labour sector (Part-1)

By EMN Updated: Aug 06, 2019 12:15 am
Shatish Prasadh Jaiswal from Bihar sells fruits at a market in Dimapur.

Dimapur, Aug. 5 (EMN): His smile gleamed past the ancient, blue-grey shirt that once used to be blue. The olden garment hung on his thin brown frame; sun-scourged and bleached by perhaps too many encounters with summer salt and too many a rumple during cold winters. But he didn’t seem to care about the twist of fabric that hung on him like an indispensible friend.

Several bundles of polythene-wrapped apples, each weighing about a kilogram, sat patiently in several rows in front of him. He seemed content.

If at all, his smile came across as one a successful businessman would give after a good sale in Dimapur, Nagaland’s dusty commercial town where the fruit seller has made his home.

But for 36-year old apple seller Shatish Prasadh Jaiswal, home is in Bihar—about 1, 313 kilometres away. It’s been about 6-7 years—he doesn’t remember—since his throwing away his college textbooks and making his way to the hilly north-eastern state of Nagaland.

There, Jaiswal set up his trade. His ‘shop’ is nothing more than a small cool spot perched on a cement curb in front of a restaurant. Dressed in the ancient shirt, an equally aged ‘lungi,’ and a shock of beard that gazed at you defiantly, he is king of that tiny spot from which he peddles his trade.

Jaiswal has been living in Nagaland for 6-7 years, and apples are his current trade. He is from the historic town of Buxar in Bihar where the Battle of Buxar was fought on 21 October 1764 between forces led by the British East India Company, and the combined armies of Mir Qasim, Nawab of Bengal till 1764; the Nawab of Awadh Shuja-ud-Daula; and the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.

Did he mean the Battle-of-Buxar-town? “Yes, that Buxar. The Battle of Buxar,” he smiled. “1764,” he added.
“I am also educated,” Jaiswal explained in English as he smiled broadly. He asked to see this reporter’s notes. He goes through the notes and reads. ‘I know population (issues) and Climate Change,’ he said.

Queried about where he pursued academics, he asserted that he attended a “Ramgarh college” in his home state.
For this man from Bihar, life isn’t fruity. It’s more of bitter gourd. Jaiswal said to earn about INR 300-400 daily from selling apples. A 1 BHK house rent in Dimapur can range anywhere from INR 5000 to INR 7000. He used to sell his goods door-to-door but for some reason decided on finding a spot to sell his apples.

“Nagas are friendly people. But there are also drunken youths,” he said by way of perhaps explaining why he stopped selling apples door to door.

Why did he leave Bihar to seek a livelihood in Nagaland? “Employment is high in Bihar. I married but I breakup (sic). We have some family issue,” was the reply.

Jaiswal said there were “many” people from Bihar in Nagaland. More than ‘10,000,’ he estimated. He did not elaborate it but gave a generous smile before returning to tending his apples.

Jaiswal is one of an estimated ‘10,000-15,000’ Bihari migrants in Dimapur who have made Dimapur their bread and home.

About 40 ethnic tribes and sub-tribal communities each with its own unique dialect, and set of customs live in Nagaland. The state has a population of approximately 22.8 lakh (2012).

Among the numbers in this hilly state also live what is considered a microcosm of India long forgotten by the larger Indian Diaspora. This microcosm is the marginalized, non-ethnic, culturally non-north-eastern daily wage earners from Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh, among other “mainland” Indian states and communities.

An unaccounted number of them, statistically, live in Nagaland plying small trades in the unorganised labour and services sector. Their trades range from cess pool cleaners to porters at warehouses, ‘cart pullers’ to ‘pavement vegetable sellers,’ from ‘chana mattar’ and ‘paan shop’ businesses to waiters and mechanics.

Today, the labourers are perceived to make up almost the entire unorganized ‘casual services’ sector and unorganized agriculture and ‘open’ services: unskilled agriculture hands, contract tillers, vegetable sellers, collies and porters, auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws pullers, domestic ware peddlers, construction workers, toilet cleaners and rag pickers, scavengers and recyclers, ‘paan’ shopkeepers, scrap metal dealers, mechanics, domestic helpers and waiters, and almost all other low-income jobs.

Their pursuit to secure decent livelihood among an apprehensive ethnic population, in one of India’s most politically restive, insurgency-ridden conflict hotspots of the country often skirts away from welfare conversations.

“There is a need to address this sector as most of the labourers, mutia majdoors, masons, plumbers, carpenters, rickshaw pullers, cobblers, vegetable vendors are poor migrants from Bihar, Bengal, Odisha and Assam who live in very pitiable and unhygienic conditions,” said Abhishek Singh, one of Nagaland’s senior administrators, during an interaction the previous week.

Singh, who is currently secretary for the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, government of India, feels there are jobs for which migrants come in and fill as local youths are unwilling to take up menial or “small” jobs except high-paying government job positions.

“Precious resources of the government are spent in paying salaries without any tangible output. Further, many government jobs are given without following a fair recruitment procedure. So, those who get it do not value the same and then fail to even attend to their work regularly,” the senior official said as a personal opinion.

“Most of the available jobs in services sector are taken by migrants who work 24×7 and do not even get basic amenities like housing, sanitation, health care etc.”

Singh has served also as principal secretary to Nagaland’s chief minister, Personnel and Administrative Reforms, with additional charge of the Urban Development department.

A small community of the Jain and Marwari community has established itself as a major economic force especially in Dimapur, the state’s central business district. But a large majority of the community, whose population is not accounted nor are there any government data about their population, apparently still walks the long unpaved road that is economic drudgery.

Again, even data on proper business establishments are scarce. The chief administrator of the Dimapur Municipal Council, Moa Sangtam, said the municipal establishment has no welfare scheme or any other civic programmes for workers in the unorganised sector at this time.

Also, data concerning how may business establishments in Dimapur that are run by non-indigenous persons in the unorganised sector could not be had at this time this report was being written.

Similarly, W Temwang Konyak, assistant labour commissioner for Dimapur district, had said earlier that there was no data concerning the population of workers in the unorganised sector.

The Labour establishment had replied in the negative about the demographic of labourers and workers. Konyak had said that the state’s government establishments do not engage in taking surveys or studies that may explain categories of labourers, their sectors and their economic demographics.

A visit to the district commissioner’s establishment also received a similar answer. “For these matters, you people have to go to the Home department,” an official had told this reporter.

This reporter contacted state government sources for data. In reply, a number of state officials in Kohima, the capital town of Nagaland, said to ‘get back’ soon and data, if any, from them is being awaited at this time.

Nonetheless, the closest set of information concerning this invisible category of workers in the state dates back to almost ten years—the Nagaland Census 2011 which vaguely lists “cultivators,” “agriculture labourers,” and “other workers.”

According to the “distribution of main workers by category wise” data set in Census 2011, there are 7,41,179 workers in Nagaland listed in “cultivators,” “agriculture labourers,” and “other workers” categories. Dimapur district, the trade and commerce nerve centre of Nagaland, alone has 1,22,358 workers. Mon district—one of the state’s 12 administrative districts—trails close second at 1,04,981 workers.

Sterilised data and constantly updated statistics remain a gap for the state but it is widely perceived that the demographic of workers in the state’s unorganised sector is made up of non-indigenous populations in the majority.

The state’s insurgency problems also add to localised economic tensions, in the form of extortion among others. Reports of extortion activities against business people in Nagaland are unusually common that one can see news reports about them almost every alternate day.

“Kumar,” a barber from Bihar who has been living and working for about 12 years in Nagaland, said members of Naga underground organisations tax them regularly. Business people, both Naga and non-Naga, do not comfortably talk about this matter.

‘They come and impose tax and they threaten us,’ he said, not elaborating further. For small traders and casual labourers, the insurgents are to be feared, for refusal to pay as demanded have often had tragic consequences.

In March this year a Dimapur-based youth organisation called the Dimapur Ao Lanur Telongjem expressed outrage at what it stated was the ‘rampant threat and extortion/illegal taxation/random collection of money by miscreants’ from public members undertaking construction works.

The organisation had expressed outrage that miscreants were on the prowl targeting landowners and construction workers to extort from them money as “tax” for the Naga ‘political groups’ ie., the armed Naga underground organisations.

The Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation and the Nagaland Voluntary Consumer Organisation are two of the ardent activists against extortion activities in the state.

Extortion is one of the commonest cases local police authorities in Nagaland deal with almost daily. Weekly bulletins from the Dimapur police to the newspapers, for instance, invariably have multiple cases of extortion with the prey being small business establishments and commercial transports besides private citizens, among others.

This article is written by Al Ngullie. It is one of a series of reports published in Eastern Mirror as part of the National Foundation of India Fellowship, New Delhi.

By EMN Updated: Aug 06, 2019 12:15:33 am