M A I N   N E W S

Life on the edges-III
Migrants become Singhs and Kaurs for survival
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Rajkot, September 26
Renowned comedian Bhagwant Mann’s parody on the migrant labourers speaking Punjabi is fast becoming a reality in the countryside of Punjab.

The socio-cultural change among migrants, who have settled down in the state for the past decade, is more pronounced than ever before.

This transformation in the migrants is not just confined to the language but in the overall way of life. Gone are the dhoti-baniyans and names like Mahendra Rai or Buddhia Singh.

The migrants with their flowing beards, kesri patkas and kurta pyjamas, now call themselves Kuldeep Singh or Harman Kaur. Though the cultural transformation has come about to gain social acceptance in this “land of opportunity”, it is still a long journey before the divide between them and their “feudal Punjabi landlords” can be bridged.

From the sewadars in gurudwaras to the farm labourers, the roadside fruit and vegetable vendors to the employees at the grocery store in the village, a sizeable number of migrants are quietly adopting the social mores of their Punjabi employers.

Like Shivji Yadav of Gingri village of Samstipur in Bihar, whose long beard, blue kurta and white pyjama have helped in camouflaging his real identity. An employee at a gurudwara in this sleepy town, it is only his dialect that gives away his identity.

“I came to Punjab seven years ago and realised that I would have to change my appearance, if not my name and religion, in order to get social acceptance and thus get better job opportunities,” he says.

Savitri, whose chaste Punjabi dialect, would even confuse a hardcore Punjabi about her identity, says that living and working with the Punjabis here has led them to this change.

A resident of village Andlu near here, she had come to the village looking for a better life with her husband, Sada Sukh. “The zamindar’s wife named my sons as Harkanwaljot and Kulwinder. Since they grew up with the landlord’s children, they have adopted Punjabi customs. Now they even dress up like Sikhs – complete with turbans and flowing beards,” she says.

And this conversion to Punjabi customs has surely helped the migrants to prosper. They have pucca houses in the villages and all amenities of modern life – motorcycle, scooter, refrigerator, colour television, washing machine et al.

At Andlu, Arun Mandal has the virtual control of all affairs of his 82-year-old employer Mahinder Singh Fauja’s 18-acre farm. With Mahinder Singh being too old to handle the farm work on his own and his only daughter living in a far off village, Mandal, who sports a turban, decides on what crop has to be sown, how much labour is to be hired and where the harvested crop has to be sold.

His children – Kuldip Kumar and Pradeep Kumar and daughter Harman – are all studying in a government school.

But adapting to the social mores and gaining economic prosperity have not meant that these migrants are considered a part of the social fabric of the villages. “Though we are not regarded as untouchables, we cannot marry into Sikh families. Even marriages between migrants and poor Sikh families are unheard of. Though inter-religious marriages are common in villages, no one wants to marry his child in a migrant’s family,” says Amandeep Kaur of Mehtiana village.

This economic prosperity has not even freed them from the “bondage” of the zamindar. “We are not attached labourers , but we cannot leave our work at their houses. The zamindars help us economically and socially but without their permission, we cannot just start any work of our own,” says Sukhwinder Singh of Andlu, who is a migrant labourer from Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh.

To be concluded



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