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Bihari labourers arrive by hundreds from Assam
Raman Mohan
Tribune News Service

Rohtak, December 23
The exodus of Bihari labourers from strife-torn Assam has caused a sudden influx of farm and other labour in Haryana resulting in a significant fall in their wages but evolution of a whole new innovative system of their employment.

Over the recent months, Biharis have been arriving in Haryana by the hundreds. Their favourite destinations are the northern districts of Ambala, Yamunanagar, Panipat, Karnal, Kaithal, Sonepat and Kurukshetra. This is partly because the districts located along the National Highway No 1 are well connected by rail and partly because farming in these areas is lucrative and the labour is paid well.

However, since these districts cannot absorb all Biharis pouring in day after day, their next choice is Hisar, Fatehabad and Sirsa districts. Rohtak, Bhiwani, Jhajjar and the southern districts come last mainly because these districts have smaller holdings and employment potential is lower.

Now that they have the numbers, Biharis have changed their tactics. They prefer to be employed in small groups preferably on adjoining lands or at least in adjoining villages. They also prefer to live at one place together on the outskirts of villages seeking safety in numbers. The other advantage accruing to them from this is that the landowners cannot dare to assault them in case of a dispute.

Perhaps the most important outcome of this show of unity is financial security. Earlier, individual labourers often had their wages confiscated by landowners on one pretext or the other. However, now the Biharis have begun to assert themselves. There have been reports of Biharis assaulting erring landowners and extracting their dues.

Yet, the numbers game is also working against them. There has been a steep fall in their earnings because of competition among themselves. Reports indicate a 10 to 20 per cent decrease in their wages in the recent weeks. The fall in wages is also due to their insistence on being hired in groups. These Biharis prefer contractual employment on farms on a yearly basis rather than seasonal work like harvesting and threshing alone.

Likewise, in road building too, they are edging out the tough Rajasthani labourers whose entire families are engaged in massive projects going on all over Haryana. The quick learners that they are, the Biharis saw an opportunity of group employment in these projects and offered their services at much lower rates. They are now eyeing the cable-laying work also where Andhraites have almost a monopoly.

There has been a sudden change in the construction labour scenario too. Here groups of Biharis have pooled their resources to bag the labour component on a contractual basis. So far, local contractors hired them on a daily-wages basis and got private construction done on contract. The major share thus went to the local contractor. Now, they have chosen their leaders to win the contracts in which they are all share their earnings equally after paying the leader for his supervisory services. This has not only ensured comparatively better earnings, but also the chances of the contractor withholding their earnings are now almost nil.

On the domestic hands front, Biharis no longer shun such employment. Local middle class families are giving them preference over Nepalis following a spate of violent incidents involving Nepali servants who decamped with cash and valuables of their employers after injuring or even murdering them. However, this kind of work is their last choice and generally earmarked for boys in their teens.

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