‘Who will pull your carts and who will clean your nullah?’
Dimapur, Aug. 8 (EMN): The footwear dealer’s estimate was pulled right off the counter. But the number that he quoted was also representative of a general agreement in the majority in Nagaland that a large percentage of a floating population has found a pit-stop in the politically restive north-eastern state.
‘Twenty persons out of 100 working in Nagaland will be from other states especially from Assam,’ Abdul Katir Taulkdar says, nodding vigorously by way of showing confidence in his estimation.
The 45-year old has been in the state for about 30 years running various businesses. He is known in his community as a fairly successful businessman; he knows his way around when it comes to trading in Dimapur town, the busiest business centre of Nagaland.
Talukdar is originally from Karimganj in Assam. In need of a steady livelihood, he decided to set up shop about 318 kilometres away in another state: Dimapur district, Nagaland’s only and chief trading district.
Since arriving in the city, he has peddled a colourful array of businesses from flirting with hiring out auto rickshaws, to even running a small fuel dealership from his home. He has opened a ‘paan’ shop too when he was trying to establish his business goals during the past three decades in the city. The father-of-three kept the shop for about 10 years before opening a small food joint. He operated the eatery for about five years serving daily wage earners (his primary customers) in the evening.
Then about a year ago, his hired cooks ran away apparently for reasons that they were unable to handle the pressures of running a food business—or cooking. That is when Talukdar decided that selling shoes most probably won’t have him on the run again. He decided on settling in on selling footwear. His small desi shoe store in Dimapur is booming.
‘All the businesses were good,’ he said in Hindi. ‘I have kept auto rickshaws, opened a paan shop too. They were good.’
According to him, while he has no idea how many people from other states might have come to live in Nagaland for work, he expressed confidence that ’20 out of 100 people’ in the state will be a non-Naga plying one trade or the other.
’20 percent,’ he said. ‘20 out of 100 people.’ That will be roughly around 4, 00, 000 or four lakh non-Naga persons working in the state. The state’s population is approximately 22.8 lakh (2012).
‘We don’t know (how many people from other states) but certainly, there will be lots, a lot,’ he said.
Talukdar plans to return to his home state Assam. There he can do business on his land.
‘We’ll return to Assam one day. There we can do business on our own land. Here (Nagaland) we give tax. We’ll return to Assam once the children have completed studies,’ he added.
Queried about whether he avails any government welfare schemes, he replied simply: ‘We don’t have any welfare schemes. No pension schemes too.’
The man from Assam is not the only non-Naga person who isn’t banking much on ‘welfare schemes’ for marginal workers in the unorganised services and labour sector in Nagaland. In fact, out of an estimated more than seven lakh workers in the agriculture and general unorganised sector in the state of Nagaland, only a total of 1, 035 people registered even for the much-publicised pension scheme Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan (PM-YM). The PM-YM is a pension scheme for workers in the unorganised sector.
Unemployment or status?
There is a small set of data, or has the appearance of it, concerning the number of unemployed youths in Nagaland. According to the state’s government employment register for April 2019, there are currently about 72, 000 youths from across Nagaland who have registered as ‘unemployed.’ Nagaland has no industry, save for informal rural and agriculture-based cottage-level industries with primary concentration on the rural areas.
The connection between the size of the migrant labourers’ population in the unorganised sector and the number of unemployed Naga youths is this: One of the chief arguments of policymakers and community leadership is that local Naga youths’ obsession for government jobs (which has less work commitment but higher financial security and retirement plans) is responsible for the high number of migrant workers in the state, besides illegal immigrants from as far as Bangladesh.
Abhishek Singh, principal secretary to the state’s chief minister, had said earlier during an interaction: “(Migrants workers) are here because these (menial and informal) jobs exist and we do not have local youths willing to take up these jobs.”
‘The value of dignity of labour is all but lost in Naga society. Our youths are carving only for high paying, non-productive government jobs which has a very high economic cost on the government. Precious resources of the government are spent in paying salaries without any tangible output.’
“Kumar,” is a barber from Bihar who has been working in Nagaland for about 12 years. He knows all too well the reason why migrants, both legal and illegal workers, find Nagaland to be a rich lode of work at least in the unorganised sector.
‘Who will cut your hair if they (migrant workers) don’t? Who will pull your carts if they don’t? Who will sell you vegetables?’ he said in a quiet reply. ‘We can go only where there is work.’
Kumar, not his real name, says there is a good population from the states of Bengal, Bihar and Assam working mostly as daily wage earners. There may be more than ‘5,000’ from Bihar alone, he said. However, people from Bengal are even more in population in the state, the barber explained.
‘Regular surveys needed’
The lack of sterilised data and organised studies continue to be a challenging gap for Nagaland. Labour and administrative authorities have little or no data concerning the welfare peripherals or the demographics of people engaged in the informal sector. Requests to district administrations in Dimapur and capital Kohima for data have been made but officials are yet to respond. The state lacks consistent data about some of the most important socio-economic components of industrial and economic measuring.
‘By norm, the Gaon Burah or villager leaders should be undertaking surveys every year but they (government authorities) don’t take such initiatives,’ said Pukuolie, a Gaon Burah. A Gaon Burah is a community leader who works as an assistant to district administrators, and represents local government authorities at the grass root.
‘If the chairmen and GBs will take surveys, we will know many Nagas and non-locals there are in Nagaland. Whether they are Nepali, Hindu or Muslim, anyone, legal or illegal immigrants, we will know if only we will have regular surveys,’ said Pukuolie, who has been a Gaon Burah for about 20 years, at Signal Basti in Dimapur.
To the query about the approximate number of migrants from outside the state who have come to Nagaland for work, the Gaon Burah pegged it to approximately ‘four lakh’ in Dimapur alone. It might likely be in that range, he said.
Zuthunglo Ezung, the district employment officer for Wokha district, one of Nagaland’s main four urban centres, said the state does not have much scope for employment except for “govt. alms.” It is the reason why youths in Nagaland will most likely aspire to secure a government job. There are no infrastructure, no industry, and no tax revenue; there is limited utilisation of human resources and all, Ezung said. She said there is no investment by multinational companies, which could have employed thousands but there is no such input.
‘And the most common reason will be for livelihood security reasons,’ Ezung said.
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.