Migration and Cultural Traditions of the Bhojpuri Region: A Research and Documentation Programme

(Funded by The Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust, Mumbai)
Report of Brainstorming Workshop
December 10-11, 2013

G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Jhusi, Allahabad-211019

GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, launched the project ‘Migration and Cultural Traditions of Bhojpuri Region – A Research and Documentation Programme’ funded by the Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust, Mumbai through a brainstorming session on December 10-11, 2013 at the Institute premises. The main focus of this brainstorming session was to understand the relationship between Folklore and Migration with special reference to Bhojpuri Society and Culture. The main theme of the discussion was mapping the methods and direction of the research during the project.

Scholars; policy makers; litterateurs working on migration; media persons; film makers; cultural activists; and NGO activists working on migration issues were invited to discuss and help prepare a blue print and road map for the research project. Eminent academicians who participated in the discourse were Prof. N. Jayaram from TISS, Mumbai, Prof. Jawaharlal Handoo, Folklorist and Professor at National Folklore Study Centre, Mysore, Prof. Hitendra Patel, Historian and Associate Professor at Rabindra Bharti University, Kolkata, Prof. Badri Narayan (Project Director), Prof. Pradeep Bhargava (Director), Prof. Bhaskar Majumdar and Dr. Kunal Kesari from GBPSSI, Prof. RN Sharma, ex- Prof. TISS, Sri Mata Prasad from Jaunpur, UP, Sri Taiyab Hussain from Chappra, Bihar, Sri Hariram Dwivedi from Varanasi, UP, and Sri Arun Seetansh from Arrah, Bihar. In addition to them folklorists Ramanuj Pathak and Mannu Yadav and folk performers, folk poets and Lokgyanis of the Bhojpuri region also participated in the discourse. The members of the advisory board of the project also participated in the workshop along with the research team of the project Mousumi Majumder, Archana Singh, Ritu Sureka, Brijendra Gautam, Nivedita Singh and Julie Khanna.

Prof. Badri Narayan as the Project Director, presented the concept of the project and the future plan of the proposed document, research and intervention activities. According to him the project is an attempt to place the Pardesia cultural tradition within the broader cultural tradition of the Bhojpuri region known as Bidesia Folk Tradition that had evolved during the colonial period when a huge population of Bhojpuri people left the Indian shores to work in sugarcane, cocoa, jute and other plantations in Caribbean countries, owned and run by Europeans. The project will explore the diminishing cultural forms in Bidesia and document the interpolations and changes through the years to understand the collective memory and the cultural psyche of migration. He stressed on the three metaphors for migration that are in use i.e. the Bidesia, Pardesia and Batohia. Basically the project would help to understand how folk culture helps migrants to recover from the pain and loss on leaving their homelands. Both tangible and intangible cultural heritage would be studied in this project. Folklore is a very important medium to understand social change because there is a continuum in them even though new elements are constantly added to them over time and space, which can be decoded and studied.

All the participants appreciated the Tata Trust for granting the institute this challenging project and hoped that the project would successfully bring out the issues for which it was being conducted.

Summary of discussions held during the brainstorming workshop

Many points and suggestions emerged during the two day discourse, the summary of which is given below.
Migration is an age old universal phenomena that varies across countries and regions. The number of people migrating from one region is different from the number of people migrating from another region, the nature and social composition of the migrants is different, and the distance traversed by the migrants also varies from place to place. Migration impacts greatly on both the people who are left behind in the homeland and the people who leave for their destinations as both are filled with sorrow and anguish at the separation from their loved ones. This sorrow often leads to the generation of a unique culture and folk form at both the homeland and the destination, which works as a catharsis to release the pain and sorrow in the hearts of the people suffering from the pangs of partition. The culture that is generated has two dimensions. One is that it starts generating a new set of expression and ideas at the origin level since the migrants bring back new ideas and also traces of the culture encountered by them at their destination points when they return, and secondly a re-invention of culture takes place at the destination points because the people who migrate carry with them certain elements of their native cultural traditions that is often assimilated into the culture of that region. Both the components generate new cultural forms and it is important to study both these forms for a comprehensive understanding of migration.

Memory is a very important part of migration study since it is memory which helps to sustain both the migrants and their family members during their period of separation. Memory served a different function earlier due to the absence of means of communication that are present today and in the present scenario the migrants are often less reliant on memory due to the tremendous use of recording devices, mobiles and the possibility of greater and more frequent contact with those left behind.

It must be noted that the destination of the migrants from the Bhojpuri region has changed since the colonial migration that took place in the mid nineteenth and early twentieth century. At that time the migration was to overseas European colonies like Suriname, Mauritius, Guyana, Fiji etc. The migration from the Bhojpuri region that is taking place today is usually to places within India like Mumbai, Surat, Delhi, Bangalore and so on, although there is also some migration to Middle East countries. The nature of contemporary migration differs greatly from the colonial migration because of the change in circumstances post- independence and it is also far more widespread today. If we analyse the migration situation now we will find that the idea of distance and time has also been reduced in the virtual sense due to advancement in technology and availability of quicker modes of travel.

As compared to the colonial migration, contemporary migration has caused more significant impact on the home front since the migrants return home more frequently whereas earlier the migrants were indentured for a period of five years at their destination points. At the end of the period of indenture many migrants chose to remain in their destination points as they were afraid that they would be made outcastes in their villages since overseas travel was banned in Hindu culture. Thus the migrants who left often went for good and their family members also lost hopes of their return after a few years. On the other hand today the migrants usually go to their destinations on a contract of eight months and return home at the end of the contract.

At the destination points all the migrants coming from the same region of UP and Bihar tend to form clusters and live together in enclaves. These enclaves hold tremendous significance in terms of culture and social institutions since it is here that the migrants conserve and preserve their traditional culture and also generate new culture through the assimilation of the culture prevailing at that destination points. When they return home they return not only with their physical self and money but also with the new cultural elements that were alien in their homeland. Thus folk culture is continuously being produced and expanded even though the original culture remains the same. One of the aims of this project is to document the rich repertoire of culture which migration and Diaspora have produced in this region over the last few centuries and to study the continuity and change in them. This rich cultural heritage comprising cultural traditions, folklore, poems, and stories of the migrants is unknown to most non-Bhojpuri people in the country and it needs to be recorded and documented for posterity.

According to the Marxist interpretation of migration, it was thought earlier that when a person migrates he comes back with a sense of revolutionary consciousness and tries to bring a desired change in its homeland. We will have to look at the situation now. Are the relations of production being reproduced even in the destination? In the words of Prof. Bhargava, the migrant is a labourer at both the points and these relations are being reproduced and strengthened over a period of time. What is happening to these relations? The kind of social change that is happening needs to be studied and if it is not happening then it is a serious issue.

An important issue that emerged during the workshop was that the causes that force people to migrate from their homelands have to be pondered upon. If we have to find out the causes of migration from Bhojpuri region we will have to study synchronically and diachronically the conditions of the Bhojpuri region that caused the people to migrate. The feudal system prevalent in the Bhojpuri region was one of the prime reasons for migration of the people from their homelands. Declining economic opportunities and possibility of getting new jobs as well as possible wage differential might be the important causes of migration of people from the Bhojpuri region. Often higher caste people prefer long distance migration for anonymity reasons and participate in economic activities not sanctioned by their caste rules. Thus folk has to be given due importance along with the lore. The living conditions of the people and the kind of tragedies they are going through needs to be documented apart from their folksongs, folkstories, folk riddles. The identity of the migrants is a big question that one needs to question. The political economy of the migrants also becomes very important and has to be interwoven with the project.

One important point that we will have to keep in mind while conducting this project is not to lay much stress on the theoretical aspect of the migration. Instead, documenting the pain, suffering and anguish of the migrants as well as that of their family members will be the most important part of this study. Narratives and stories are important in folklore study but seeing the chronological order of the events does not play an important role in folklore studies. The role of History in this whole process cannot be ignored as history provides a perspective and helps us understand the reasons behind events and frame the picture accordingly. Alternative history always enriches historical researches. One important aspect of history i.e. emotional history has remained untouched in historical studies. A major challenge of this project is to understand the collective memory of both the migrants and their loved ones which gives birth to folk culture at the homeland and destination that each one relates and identifies with individually. It is the collective memory of the migrants that leads them to work hard in a short span of time and also save as much as they can as the memory of their family and loved ones keeps them connected to their homeland. In order to compensate for the sorrow and misery due to the memory of their loved one they themselves live in miserable conditions and try to save as much money as possible to take back home.

Folk culture, especially folk songs, plays a crucial role in the life of the migrant labourers at their destination points and they are so much connected to them that they start relating with them. With the passage of time the form of folksongs has changed since modernisation has strongly impacted on them. Sometimes there is also a negative effect on them and with each passing generation the folk forms are presented in a different and distorted form. Now English words are also used frequently in folk songs. In several places the migrants are ignorant about their folk forms and folk songs due to the growing popularity of Hindi films and television. The project would try to act as a bridge between the Bhojpuri migrants and their original folk culture as we will organise cultural programmes at various places of the country where Bhojpuri migrants are working. Popular folk singers living in the Bhojpuri region of UP and Bihar would be invited to perform at them so that the Bhojpuri migrants are exposed to the original forms of the folk songs that have undergone changes at the destination points.

Another reason for the urgent need to record and document this folk culture is that the popularity and spread of the Bhojpuri folk culture among the Bhojpuri speaking people in the country and across the world is leading to plagiarism due to the effects of commercialisation and there is intellectual property exploitation of the composers of the folklore. These poets and lyricists who mostly live in villages and urban slums are hardly known to any one and they are paid very little for their creativity even though their compositions are popular among a large population of Bhojpuri speakers. Through the project we would also identify and confer prestige to the poets at both the homeland and destinations who are usually unknown to the listeners since the singers who sing their compositions are more visible and thus better known.

Mapping the project
Selection of villages:
  • Selection of villages for field study will be the first step of our research work. Basically the Bhojpuri region is divided into six linguistic zones and in the initial phase of research broadly three villages each would be picked up from these linguistic divisions, which would total eighteen villages. After analyzing the cultural and migration profiles of these villages one village would be selected as a base village from each linguistic zone. A semi-structured questionnaire will be prepared for preparing the cultural profile of the selected villages. In this manner we will have a total of six villages on which we will base our research.
  • An indicator for the selected village will be from where indentured migration has taken place in the past and is still going on.
  • Another indicator would be to select the villages of those folk singers who had composed folk songs in the past and where people are still composing songs. The villages of folk singers like Mahendra Mishra, Bhikhari Thakur and Ramanuj Pathak will be located for study. Other folk poets and folk singers identified during the workshop were Sandhya Mishra and Rakesh Tiwari who reside in Mumbai.
  • The destination will be guided by the Homeland profile. The destination points would be decided on the basis of migration which has taken place from these villages. The slums and areas where the migrants and migrant singers reside in the destination points will be studied and their cultural profiles will be prepared.
Formulating research strategy and specific goals for the project
  • An important aspect of folk culture is that the original keeps changing with time and new variants are formed. A dialogue between the folk composers of the destination and the homeland would be organized to see the differences in these variations. Multiple versions of similar folk songs will be studied to document how changes occur in the forms of the folk songs with changes in the place and audience.
  • There will be a comprehensive documentation of the migration songs and cultural repertoire of the migrants. After that an Interface of folk composers and folk performers will be organized in the homelands and destinations to know what changes have occurred in the tone, tune, accent and language of the migrants. In homeland performers will be invited from the destination and vice versa. This will also help to generate knowledge and data base for the theoretical analysis and research of the project.
  • The research will focus on the various forms of migration and take into account the cultural repertoire including folk songs and migration stories of the migrants which reflect their pain and suffering.
  • We will also study the changes in the folk forms and content of the folk repertoire.
  • We will trace and make a list of the folk poets who wrote migration songs in the past and are writing them today also. A workshop of these folk composers would be organized in Chappra, Banaras, Patna and Allahabad. We will also try to relate how migration took place in different time phases from these areas.
  • Those networks which helped to disseminate the folksongs in the past and present, which are helping to reinvent and recreate the folk songs will be studied in the project.
  • An audio visual and print archive of folklore and cultural traditions around migration will also be set up and developed on the basis of the three year documentation and research. This archive would be of benefit to the academicians, research scholars, policy makers nationwide.
Folk forms which will be documented in the project:
  • During the course of the workshop a few folk forms were identified which reflect the pain of migration. These include Kajari, Khadi Birha, Loti, Chaparia, Chaiti, , Thadi Birha, Kaharwa, Purbi, Sohar, Dadra, Jatsaar, Jhumar, Khemta, Nayakwa, Biraini, Chautal, Ropni, Sohni, Lalna , Kakahra, Dhobiu, Gunau, Lachaari , Fag and Fagua, Chaumasa, Sanjha Paraki, and so on. We will record these songs that contain elements of migration sung in the homeland and compare them with their forms sung in the destinations and analyse the changes that have occurred in them over time and space.
  • We will also document other folk songs like Domekach, Kolhu Geet, Tel Perne Ka Geet, Dhobiu, Chamraudha, Murau, Kaharwa and then compare them at the homeland and destination.
  • Folk ballads like Shobhnayaka Banjara Ki Katha , Loriki, Chandaini which reflect migration content will also be collected in the oral and printed forms .
Advice and suggestions received during the brainstorming workshop
  • To lay emphasis on the folk and intellectual property of the Bhojpuri region.
  • To make a comparison of folk forms and establish connections between them both at the origin and at the destination, record the folk forms that are surviving, and analyse the innovations found in them at present.
  • To collect and analyse the multiple versions of the same folk song to find out the changes in the nuances and why. Collection of versions is very important for having a complete data on migration.
  • To do a cultural census of the selected villages to map where the migrants have gone. In the destination a similar census can be done which would tell where the migrants came from. Perhaps we can make a statistical analysis and match both the data’s.
  • To be unbiased and keep away from the trap of romanticisation while doing research.
  • To develop an M. Phil programme on regional culture and to to establish a meaningful collaboration with the Departments of Anthropology and Sociology at the University to work out this course.
  • To keep in mind the multiple identities of the migrants while doing research.
  • Not to ignore the creativity of the migrants since their creativity will be slightly different from the creativity at the origin.
  • To capture the continuities found during our research. If we find a village which contributed to earlier Diasporic migration and from where migration is still continuing, it will give some insight into the continuity aspect of migration.
  • To look at caste as a variable.
  • To clearly list the objectives of the project and not work on random objectives. Both short term targets indicating what has to be achieved at the end of one year and full term targets indicating what has to be achieved at the end of three years should be set up for the project The objectives should be presented by data and the conditions itself.
  • If the project permits then the possibilities of Diaspora angle may also be added to the project.
  • Community review will also be carried out as it is as important as the documentation.
  • Kolkata is the most important destination point to study migration from the Bhojpuri region in the entire project because it will link with diasporic experiences as most colonial migration took place from the port in Kolkata. Even today Kolkata attracts a large number of Bhojpuri migrants who work in several capacities. In the project we will study Kolkata as a metaphor for migration and separation in the Bhojpuri region.
  • To map the difference in the folk songs written by women and men. Also to map the differences in the folk songs written by illiterate and literate women of today.
  • To study and document the folk tales which talk about the pain of migration.
  • To study the market impact on the folk culture in the present time.
  • To try and document other folk songs apart from Bhojpuri.
  • To prepare a comprehensive classified index.
  • To share the inputs/outputs of the research with the folk composers and singers.
  • To identify those archives, libraries, resource centres, research centres within the geographical zone of the project where work on folklore and culture has been done. For instance the archives of Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Kolkata would be very useful in this regard
  • To collect and document chap books and CDs containing the folklore and folksongs.
  • To list the folk composers and folk poets in the homeland and destination, conduct their interviews and prepare their biographical profile.
(Badri Narayan)

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