Migration is a major social reality of the 21st century. This era has experienced unprecedented movements of people from rural to urban and developing to developed countries. The word “migration” is defined broadly as permanent or semi-permanent change of residence. The UN defines “migrant” as an individual who has resided in a foreign country for more than one year irrespective of the causes, voluntary or involuntary. This paper is limited to focusing on Nepalese migrants in India with five case studies, specially highlighting briefly on Missiological strategies. In addition, it will also try to give some of the frameworks about the situation of Nepalese migrants in India.
A Ground Situation of Nepalese Migrants in India
I do not intend to say that migrants have to go back home. My aim is to look for the opportunities and strategies on how we could partner with other organizations and existing Nepalese churches to help the migrants in India. Before I address the issues, I would like to start with the question, “why do Nepalese migrate to India?” The question seems to be very general but the answer is always the same: it is all about survival. Everyone wants to have their own identity and people look for new avenues and opportunities where they can find easier life. Dennis answers the question like this: “People migrate for many different reasons. These reasons are: economic, social, political or environmental.” (Footsteps 78, www.tearfund.org) The reasons for Nepalese migrants are not different from what Dennis says.
Due to the open-border between India and Nepal, there is no record available on how many Nepalese move to India every day. Mostly migrants from Mid-west and Far-West move to North West of India, especially in off-season in Nepal. Most Nepalese are involved in construction sites, mostly to the North West, whereas others work in companies, factories, security jobs, and hotels. Moreover Chinese restaurants in India do not run without Nepalese.
Issues of Nepalese Migrants in India
This section presents five case studies which describes different issues of Nepalese migrants in India.
…Meet Narendra BK. He left for Nepal with the sum of 13,000 rupees. He took a general ticket from New Delhi railway station and got on the train. The train arrived at Lucknow around 4am in the morning. Narendra was supposed to take a rickshaw in order to go to the taxi-stand. Unfortunately, everything turned upside down. He was cheated by the rickshaw puller who also offered to Narendra some eatables that were poisonous. Narendra became unconscious for more than 12 hours. Finally, local police found him lying on the road side on the following day. They contacted Narendra’s relatives in Delhi. Narendra lost all his bags, money and even his jacket that he was wearing.
Two things can be observed here: a) money transaction from India to Nepal, b) A sense of awareness. Had Narendra used a banking transaction, he would have saved 13,000 rupees. Though we know that India has given access to banking through the NEFT policy, many are not aware of it and find this process complicated.
I am from Achham. My husband used to work in Mumbai. I got married in 2000 and came to Mumbai along with my husband. His parents were also in Mumbai. After a few months, my husband became ill. We had no clue of his sickness. His sickness became much worse day by day. His health became more complicated. We took him to the hospital for checkups. After the check-up, we realised that he had contracted HIV. In 2008, He died due to the sickness. Things had changed a lot. Later on, I was sexually abused by my own brother-in-law. He took an advantage of my widowhood. Even my family members didn’t even bother when someone harassed and abused me. I ran away from my home and lived alone with my kids. I am also affected by HIV and so is my 2 year old son. Some people showed me the way to this rehabilitation centre. I do not want to go back to Nepal. How can I go there and tell them that I am ill? This is not possible.
This is another problem of migrant women in India. Some have returned to Nepal and some have not. Those who return have to live in isolation, and others have been living in shocking condition. How can we assist them?
My name is Akhil. I finished 12th standard in Nawalparasi. I came to Delhi in March of 2009. I thought of joining the Nepal Army but didn’t because of the political crisis. My friend came to India before me and got a job in the Indian Army. He told me that I would have to work for one of the officers for about a year and then the officer could easily help me in getting recruited into the army. I came to Delhi and started to work for one of the officers. It’s almost a year now but the officer has not given me any hope for army recruitment. It seems that he is not interested in my life. I worked for him for nearly 11 months, without a single penny, hoping that he will give me the job. But he says that he cannot do anything unless I work for him for another year. All my hope is gone. I lost one year. I think I will have to go back to my country. I will join a college and resume my study.
There are hundreds like Akhil who come to India, hoping to further their career. However it does not turn out as fruitful as they expect. Akhil represents the young generation who have a lot of enthusiasm, will power, and energy. They represent the brain-tank of the Nation.
The Patel Nagar police have arrested Surender Singh, 35, a resident of Mohabbawala, for raping a schoolgirl at Chaula village in Patel Nagar a few days ago. The accused had picked up the girl while she was returning from school and took her to a nearby forest and committed the crime. The girl had lost consciousness for some time but later returned to her village. She narrated the incident to her parents. The police were informed and prepared a sketch of the accused. The police zeroed in on Surender after villagers told them that he frequented the forest. However, Surender stopped coming to the forest with his cattle after the incident. This confirmed the police suspicion about his involvement in the crime. He was arrested and the girl and her teacher identified him. Surender, however, denied that he committed the crime. (The Tribune India, 23rd May, 2012)
A few months ago, I was in Delhi and wanted to register/inform the Embassy about this case where a minor, a school-going Nepalese girl was raped by Surender Singh. The girl’s mother was threatened by the culprit and police authorities were reluctant to process on the case further. I thought that the Embassy of Nepal would be a right option to provide the assistance. However I called the Embassy, in return I was told to call them up again. Even after telling the whole episode to the person at the desk, I was not connected to a concerned person. Finally, I was told to submit the case to the Embassy along with the victim’s citizenship card. What is the role of the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi if they do not address the needs and pleas of their citizens? This is a poignant case.
Thinlee was born in 1967 in a village called Kiangsing, Sindhupalchok. He was brought up close to the border with Tibet. At the age of 15, he left to sell garments in the streets of Bombay and Karnataka. He came back home after four years and was married to Zangmo. He started work there but all his work became unprofitable. In 1988, he decided to go to Bombay for the garment business. After a few months, he came back and bought 50 cows. However, a disease killed most of them and he managed to sell 10 of them. In 2003, Thinlee and Zangmo decided to leave Nepal again due to fear of the Maoist and government, as both asked villagers to support and join into their forces. They started their journey to Zangskar of Himanchal Pradesh. Both of them worked there for a road contractor. This does not seem to be profitable for them as it often happens to migrants they were not paid. They heard that working conditions in Ladhakh were much better. They worked on a stock construction site, building walls and canals but there also they were not paid enough. From there they went to Skalzangling and worked as masons. This is where Zangmo gave birth to her sixth child and only son: Tashi. From Skalzagling, they moved to Shey where they found a stone breaking work (very hard job). From there, they moved to Kargil in 2005. In 2006, they moved to Chilling as some of his relatives were already working there. There, he joined as a driller. (The officer did not tell them that the job was difficult and that many people died due to accidents. Because of the deaths, the drilling job was almost stopped). Thinlee and his family worked on the construction site for nearly two years. The Costs of living are higher for migrants on the roadside. They do not have any provision for ration cards as other Indians do. Most of their incomes is spent in buying food and fuel like heating-wood and kerosene. The dangers are obvious to anyone visiting there. Death is not unusual for them as people keep dying at the construction site. In 2007, Thinlee began drilling along with the team. A whole section of mountain collapsed, killing one of the drillers – Shanta, Thinlee’s friend. That morning, Shanta had told Thinlee he wanted to quit this job and go back to Delhi for a safer job, even at a lower pay. Stones can fall at any time while drilling. As the time passed by, Thinlee too died in one of the blast accidents in Chilling. (This is a summarized story, extracted with permission from the author, Jonathan Demenge, “In the shadow of Zangskar: The Life of the Nepali Migrant,”Ladhak Studies 24 (June, 2009):4-14)
From Thinlee’s life, Jonathan has extracted five main factors.
1. The situation in Nepal (Political and Economical): Even today, this is not different. Uncertainty of government and the low standard of Nepali politics have downgraded our economy.
2. The precariousness of work: This is prevalent with the seasonal and semi-literate migrants. Most of them do not get their salary on time. There is no agreement as such between the employer and employee. Even if there is an agreement, it is always in favour to the employer.
3. Little amount of bargaining capacity: Migrants do not have many choices. If you do not work, someone else will take your place. There is no space left for a migrant to bargain for their salary. Contractors take advantages of migrants’ vulnerability and they have to work for low wages.
4. High costs of living in India: Due to the rise of expenses in the Himalayan region, a poor worker cannot afford his/her daily needs. Moreover, a whole family depends on one’s earnings, particularly in the migrants’ set up.
5. The danger of the task: This is especially true in the North West of India, where Nepalese have to work on construction sites, risking their lives. And, they do not have any insurance policies.
How to render help?
The five different case studies give us a clear picture that the problems of Nepalese migrants are not being addressed. Nepalese media hardly addresses any needs. In 2010, German bakery was blasted in India and a few of the victims were Nepalese. Nepal Embassy was reluctant to render any help. A Nepalese widow in Dehradun is crying for justice. However, The Nepalese Embassy does not even bother to listen when someone tries to inform them. This is ironical!
There are four areas where Migrants need help.
1. Awareness to the migrants at the exit points
2. Advocating their cases in India,
3. Developing migrants’ skills, and
4. Networking with Nepalese churches in India
I have observed these four points as the most important ways to assist migrants in India. Nepalese migrating to India has never been their aspiration; rather it is a force arising from the various reasons which I have already elaborated. Nevertheless, Nepalese need awareness about health, trafficking, money management, transacting the remittances, providing the advocacy and networking with the churches in India which could be a great assistance to them. At the same time, some migrants innocently fall into trapped in different situations. Such people then need legal help and advice. The local churches can play an important role in witnessing to the truth and standing for justice. Migrants can build up their scope if they can further enhance their skills.
Missiological Pattern; An opportunity for the Nepalese churches
Dispersion of peoples and their movement is within God’s plan, and it is also considered as “God’s global plan for worldwide missions.” (Lausanne 2010) History gives us ample examples of how people moved from one place to another and God was engaged with people, regardless of the place and boundary. It is very much significant to note it down that God’s sovereign will for the people and the church has to realize the flow of God’s heart in this moving generation where there is not a string that has been laid down. Jonathon Lewis talks about the two forces. (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A reader, Fourth Edition, 80) Attractive Force (Come to the Blessing: Centripetal Force) 2. An Expansive Force (Go to the Nations- Centrifugal Force). The Attractive force symbolizes the OT where Temple and Tabernacle were the places where people were attracted to meet with God. The Bible records where several other foreigners were also attracted to Israel because of the evidence of God’s blessing. A second force in operation was an expansive force which means to send messages beyond the border of Israel. I think this is right to ponder about. These two forces are also evident even in present today when we think the Nepalese situation. In truth, there is a huge and unrecorded number of Nepalese migrants who leave for India daily. Would not this be our concern? There is one thing very obvious in God’s strategy; that He will use His people to spread the message.
Nepalese have lived in India for a long period; therefore there is a mixed group of Nepalese, both Indian Nepalese and Nepali Nepalese. On the other side, Nepali speaking churches are gradually increasing in India where Nepalese community is growing. The church should walk where people go.
In conclusion, I do not want to blame the Nepal government for their lukewarm approach toward Nepalese migrants in India. This was not my motive here. However, I would like to emphasise the role of the Nepali speaking churches in India, who could stand for justice, in different capacities at the first hand, and also foster the networks to reach them with the gospel of God. What IMI is doing in India, is just a small step for the Nepalese migrants. INF/W does not put its banner in the field believing that the Church is the right choice to go to the front line to do the work with the people and for the people. IMI’s program is focussed toward the people and relationships. These are the areas that tend to be neglected most in development sectors.
(This paper was presented in the NeMun Gathering on 2nd August, 2012 at Putalisadak Church, Kathmandu)
Republished in new layout 20-May-2013