Report of Mumbai programme (Lokdhwani) held on 18th and 19th November, 2014
Migration from the Bhojpuri region of India comprising parts of Bihar and UP is a harsh reality characterizing this region. This phenomenon has been continuing since the colonial period when a huge population migrated to various Caribbean countries like Fiji, Suriname, Trinidad, Mauritius, Guyana etc. to work as indentured labourers in sugarcane and other plantations owned by colonial countries like Britain, Holland, France etc. At present this region is witnessing internal migration when a large population of youth migrates to various parts of India like Surat, Mumbai, Delhi etc. to work as unskilled labourers. When the migrants leave their homeland they take with them their cultural baggage comprising apart from items of daily use, a huge legacy of folk culture in the form of folk songs. This folk culture works as a catharsis for the migrants to relieve themselves of the emotional pain of separation from their loved ones.
In order to study and document the cultural heritage of Bhojpuri speaking migrants who are present in a large number in Mumbai, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, under the project ‘Migration and Cultural Traditions of Bhojpuri Region: A Research and Documentation Programme’, funded by The Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust, Mumbai, organized a two day academic and cultural meet called ‘Lokdhwani: Popular Culture in the Chawls of Mumbai’, on November 18-19, 2014 in collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, on the TISS campus. The meet was inaugurated by eminent film and theatre personality MS Sathyu. In his speech MS Sathyu said that migration was a universal phenomenon found in all countries of the world like South America, North America, Sri Lanka, West Indies etc. He himself had migrated to Mumbai from Mysore nearly forty years ago. He said that people usually migrate for a better future and for economic reasons but one thing common to migrants is that they try to preserve their original culture. He himself still spoke and read Kannada and ate Kannada food. In Mumbai there was a large population of people from UP and Bihar who work as taxi and auto drivers. All of them try hard to preserve their culture in the form of songs and lifestyle in their bastis. Many people consider migration as a danger as it destroys culture but he himself does not think so as culture is very deep rooted. MS Sathyu expressed his deep concern that Bhojpuri films and songs represent a vulgar culture today. He felt that good films should be made which provoke the viewers to think. He concluded by saying that mainstream culture will always exist but parallel culture should also develop and art in the form of music, literature, theatre, films etc. should reach the people.
Earlier the Project Director Prof. Badri Narayan of G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, introduced the project to the audience. He said that the project aimed to understand the popular culture of Bhojpuri migrants from the homeland perspective and this particular meet sought to bring together academicians, writers, folk poets and folk singers from the Bhojpuri region and those living in Mumbai as migration caused a fracture in the people and by bringing them together the fracture could be repaired. However the sum might not add up to the whole as several changes are brought into culture in both places over the years. The meet will also give prestige to the folk poets known as kavijees who are usually overlooked by the listeners since the singers assume greater importance.
The Director of G.B. Pant Institute, Prof. Pradeep Bhargava, an eminent economist welcomed the guests at the seminar. The Presidential address was given by Prof. Chandrakala Padia, Chairperson of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, and an eminent scholar. In her speech she congratulated Prof. Badri Narayan since he had developed a new methodology in social sciences by gathering narratives from the invisible sections of society. She emphasized that it was important to develop an indigenous methodology in order to understand the social reality of India. She said that it was important to develop a social consciousness within our children and develop a secular mindset in them.
On the theme of migration she said that migration is not just for progress but also for survival. On the other hand culture is a part of the collective consciousness and a person feels uprooted if he is not allowed to practice his culture. She felt that our social consciousness is still hegemonic and not linked with the consciousness of dalits and marginal. Even today many words and phrases are used which degrade them. She felt that our text, literature and culture should not be anti-margin but should include the culture of the people at the margin so that they can be uplifted and brought into the mainstream.
The inaugural session concluded with a few Bhojpuri songs written and composed by folk poet Tarakeshwar Mishra Rahi. One of his songs narrated the sorrow of a wife whose husband has migrated to Mumbai and she repeatedly tells him to write letters to her regularly. Another song was based on caste differences existing in Bhojpuri culture.
Manish Jha, Associate Professor, TISS, gave the vote of thanks. This was followed by a tea break.
The first technical session after tea began with a song by Manoranjan Ojha, a folk singer from Patna. He sang a Poorbi song which is usually sung by women. Earlier men from the Bhojpuri region usually migrated to Calcutta, which is in the east of Bihar thus known as Poorab in folk language, in search of work. The songs narrating the sorrow of the women are called Poorbi. These songs were written and composed long back and were very popular among the people but the names of the writers and composers are not known. In the song sung by Manoranjan Ojha the wife is narrating what she has written in a letter written to her husband who has migrated to the Poorab.
Prof. N. Jayram of TISS, who has worked on the theme of migration for many years, introduced the theme of the session which was Culture and Space. He welcomed the guests to TISS and said that he had been associated with the project since its inception as he had also participated in the brainstorming session held in Allahabad last year when the project was launched. He said that the project was progressing on schedule for which he expressed his appreciation. According to him what was fascinating about Bhojpuri diaspora is that in all the destinations like Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji etc., there is the concept of “gathri’’ or bundle, which the migrants had taken with them when they migrated. This bundle also included the folk culture which the migrants took with them and diligently preserved over the years.
The first speaker of the session was Akhilesh, a famous Hindi writer. In his speech he said that whenever a new set of people come to a place a new culture evolves, which is visible in music, literature and other fields. This process is usually a constructive one. After the setting in of globalization migration has increased since globalization has brought about development and middle-classes who have mainly benefitted from globalization, migrate to places where they feel they will develop more. Many students also migrate to other places to study engineering etc. as they get more opportunities. However ordinary students living in districts of UP and Bihar like Sultanpur etc. do not get the opportunity to migrate even if they want to. There is a strong consciousness about migration in those districts. He felt that migration is not just geographical but also in minds as often there emerges great difference in thinking because of migration which might not be only because of physical distance. There are also many changes in society which not be because of migration. Also sometimes cities and people change and our memories regarding them are getting lost.
Akhilesh also added that with increasing globalization and commercialization there is increasing vulgarity in Bhojpuri films and music. The reason is that they sell more and people involved in this sector can earn a lot of money. However he felt that this was there in all languages and cultures.
The next speaker Manish Jha said that most migration is studied from the angle of deprivation, i.e., deprivation forces people to migrate. But this deprivation has many layers since all sections of the population cannot migrate. The space from where migrants come and where they go is very important, and the dilemma of a migrant has be studied from the view of both homeland and destination. There is the dialectics of longing and belonging as the migrant wants to belong in his destination but he cannot forget his past. In the destination he has to develop an identity in both society and in the state like ration card, voter’s card etc. This often affects the migrant as he has to prove that he belongs in the new place, but he also doesn’t want to forget his roots. The migrants express themselves through their culture but often they have to keep their culture hidden if the new place is hostile and does not accept his culture.This politics of migration and culture is thus often very painful as the migrants have to undergo a great deal of struggle in their daily lives.
Prof. Maurits Hasan Khan, an eminent scholar from Suriname, whose forefathers had migrated to Suriname from the Bhojpuri region in the colonial period, was the following speaker. He spoke about the present language of the Bhojpuris in Suriname. This language which has evolved through interaction with various linguistic groups over the years is called Sarnami. Earlier it was called Sarnami- Hindustani but for political reason it is now called only Sarnami and is now one of the official languages of Suriname. He said that culture is supposed to belong to a language and area but their ancestors came from India, especially from north India, and their original culture is now the culture of the present day Sarnamis. They try to retain broken Bhojpuri as their culture. It is often believed that the Bhojpuri diaspora was only by Hindus but a lot of Muslims, including his own forefather, also went. The Hindus took the Hanuman Chalisa while Muslims took the Koran. However in Suriname they are one ethnic group even though within it there are many different identities.
Prof. Hasan Khan said that some years after the girmitiya (indentured, agreement) migration in the colonial period the Hindustanis in Suriname had to face a second migration when a large number of young people migrated to Holland. So what is the origin of the Hindustani- Surinamese in Holland and what is their homeland? They have difficulty in saying whether their homeland is Suriname or India, so they all have multiple identities. They call themselves full citizens of Suriname but their culture is what they brought from India. Even today in Suriname one will find old Bhojpuri culture, including music, which the Hindustanis have proudly retained. However many Indians think that the Hindustanis of Suriname are very conservative. On the other hand Prof. Hasan Khan feels sad when he hears the present day Bhojpuri songs, which often have vulgar content. Since in the globalised world everything is easily accessible through internet, the people of Trinidad, Suriname who listen to these songs, take them as the standard of Bhojpuri culture. Alongside there is a great influence of Bollywood songs and films. These have helped to forge connectivity with India. Many Bhojpuri musicians in the diasporic countries are now composing Bhojpuri songs similar to the present day songs found in India which are called Chutney music. However old people still look for the old Bhojpuri culture as they feel this is not real Indian culture. He said that the Bhojpuri writers, musicians and singers from India had a great responsibility to compose good songs as their compositions reach out worldwide.
Mr. Taiyab Husain, a folk singer and researcher from the Bhojpuri region, who was the next speaker, said that many people migrate out of a desire to develop and progress but a large section from UP and Bihar migrates out of force. In the colonial period the girmitya migrants were recruited by recruiters who lured them by false promises. The migrants were not middle-class but poor and needy people. Most were also dalits. At that time the Zamindari system had been introduced by the British because of which many people lost their lands and became landless labourers and agreed to migrate as an option. Also when World War II started labour was needed so many of these people were taken forcibly as labourers.
In this process women suffered the most. First they left their parents house at the time of marriage, and then their husbands left them to become migrants. After many years when the husbands returned their language and lifestyles had changed. Also often at the destinations they had married some other woman, or had fallen ill or had started drinking. All the Bidai songs of the Bhojpuri region are filled with pathos and narrate the sorrows of women which were their realities. In the songs women often revolt against migration by cursing the railways, ships, money etc., which take away their husbands. Sometimes after returning from the destination husbands asked their wives for proof of fidelity. In some songs the women ask the earth to open up so that they can submerge in it like Sita did. Migration however had positive effects as many new things were introduced in the households and villages by the returning migrants. Thus both positive and negative aspects have to be considered while studying migration.
The following speaker was Prof. R.B. Bhagat of the Indian Institute of Population Studies, Mumbai. In his speech he said that during the colonial period the Congress party presented stories of the indentured migration in a very negative way and later, after independence the policy makers presented migration from UP and Bihar to big cities of India, also in a negative way. MNREGA was introduced to control migration, which would ensure that people could get work in their native villages. However he believed that migration also has many positive aspects. Throughout the history of India migration of people from outside has helped to develop and change Indian culture. Migration is a process by which space changes into place, as culture of a place changes due to inflow of outsiders. In this process a new language also emerges. He gave the example of Mumbai which has developed because of the numerous streams of migrants to the city over the years. He added that migrants have a great role in developing the destination, homeland and also themselves. There are nearly 25 million Indians abroad of whom many are diasporics. The remittances sent back by them help both the country and the families to develop. The suffering that was experienced by migrants in the colonial period is not seen much today. Alongside in many cases migration of males also leads to women’s empowerment as the women who are left behind develop the ability to take independent decisions.The migrants from UP and Bihar send back money to their villages which help to develop them. Thus there are many positive aspects of migration, the chief of which is that it is an instrument for fulfilling human aspirations. That is why most people do not want to stay back in villages but want to move out.
Prof. Bhagat ended by saying that there is a need to protect the rights of migrants. They have to constantly give identity proof at the place of residence. Many are also not the voter’s list. There should be more participation of migrants in Indian democracy which will go a long way in developing the country and also help in its sustainable development.
The session ended with a few concluding remarks by Prof. Jayram. He said that today if we examine Bhojpuri culture then migration itself has become a part of Bhojpuri culture. We can understand how migration is expressed by studying and analyzing their folk songs. In anthropology and social science as a whole there is a fallacious debate on whether culture has been retained or has changed. In Suriname we can understand how Bhojpuri has been retained but in Trinidad Bhojpuri has almost completely disappeared. Only a few abusive words are still retained. However in many places the food culture has remained as the diasporic Bhojpuris still like to eat the original Indian food. Cultures undergo metamorphosis both in homeland and in the destination and we have to understand how is changing due to migration.
Prof. Jayram said that the process of migration itself has changed. Earlier it took nearly 100 days to go to Trinidad and letters also took a long time to reach. But now we can travel to Trinidad in only one day and communicate immediately through technology. Thus earlier migration meant a physical disconnect but now mobile phones have democratized communication. He added that sometimes we find vulgar culture in Bhojpuri but that is inevitable. People who compose the music see what sells. The people who work the whole day want to see commercial movies and listen to spicy songs. We cannot wish away commercialization and it is the duty of scholars to study all the aspects of migration.
The seminar then broke for lunch. In the post lunch session the theme was Homeland and Destination: A Cultural Interaction. The first speaker was Prof. Maurits Hasan Khan who spoke about the life and culture of present day Surinamese-Hindustanis in Suriname. He said that all the descendants of the indentured Bhojpuri migrants who went there in the colonial period want to know who they are. He said that we are proud that by hard work the Hindustanis have moved forward and have become a significant ethnic community of Suriname. Prof. Hasan Khan who had collaborated in the original three country Bidesia project undertaken by G.B. Pant Institute as the head of the Suriname group, said that it was only after the project that he and others understood the feelings of the people who had been left behind. So as a historian he had made it a priority to also study history of the people who were left behind and also of those who migrated.
Prof. Hasan Khan said that in 1970 a large number of youngsters from Suriname moved to Holland. This experience helped him and other scholars to understand and compare the feelings of the Indians who had been left behind during the colonial migration. Now the people who have been left in Suriname are always connected to their relatives and friends in Holland through mobiles and internet but at that time there was no such facility. At that time the migrants who went away to earn money had the idea that they would return after five years. Economic reason was the chief reason for migrating. That time the labour salary in India was 2 annas whereas the migrants were paid 12 annans. However only 30% of the migrants returned. This does not mean that 70% of the migrants decided to stay back in Suriname. Nearly 17% died there, which means that only 50% stayed on. Of the people who stayed on some wanted to return to their villages but were forced to return due to the hostility of the people in their villages. Some others married Bhojpuri migrant women and settled down there.
Prof. Hasan Khan said that Indian diasporics have many things in common and still think of themselves as Indians. However there are also many differences. For example the caste difference existing in India disappeared as everyone had to work as coolies there. The only difference is between Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Prof. Hasan Khan said that he has not yet traced his ancestors in India but he feels that all the people of UP and Bihar are his relatives.
The next speaker was Surabhi Sharma, a film maker. She is not a Bhojpuri by birth but became interested in Bhojpuri migration after she went to Trinidad in 2004 and became interested in the music there, which she documented. The music is a blend of Bhojpuri and African and the race politics of Trinidad can be seen in the music too. Through the music she understood the history of Trinidad and the music also throws light on the identity politics there. After returning to Mumbai she became interested in the Bhojpuri migrant politics that erupted in Mumbai and how Bhojpuri songs were an important instrument in this politics. At that time Bhojpuri music started being used to mobilize Bhojpuri people against the Shiv Sena. Also, as the politics increased the scale of Bhojpuri festivals like the Chhath Puja increased. The Bhojpuri music industry is a flourishing one in India now and can be heard almost everywhere in India. She found that all Bhojpuri songs like Biraha, Chaiti, Jhoomar etc., have an element of migration and separation.
Surabhi Sharma said that another reality of Bhojpuri migrants in Mumbai was that the areas where they were living started being demolished which made the migrants very insecure. She started documenting and researching on all these aspects of Bhojpuri migrants in Mumbai and made a film based on her research in which she documented the experiences of Bhojpuri singers in Mumbai and the status of the Bhojpuri music industry.
The speakers in this session also included Bhojpuri folk singers and poets. Manoranjan Ojha spoke about the role of folk music in migration. He said that many migrants who are poetic and artistic from within have to face a great deal of struggle in their daily lives in the new place. After settling down their inherent skills emerge and they start searching for people of their native villages to share their culture. The reason is that when they interact with people of different cultures they want to preserve their own culture. For example Chhatth Puja is celebrated in a big way by Bhojpuri migrants everywhere.
Manoranjan Ojha said that today Bhojpuri films are known for their vulgarity but before 1990 there was no vulgarity in them. Today the people who write vulgar songs do it to both misguide the youth and to earn money. There are many agents working in music companies who lure Bhojpuri singers to sell their lands to produce music CDs. The artistes get trapped by the agents and start singing and composing vulgar songs. He ended by saying that migration has both positive and negative aspects.
The next speaker was Suresh Mishra who comes from the village of Mahendra Mishra, a Bhojpuri song writer during the colonial period. Suresh Mishra spoke on Mahendra Mishra and said that all the songs composed by him expressed the pain of migration. Suresh Mishra said that migration causes all family relations to break. Migrants become more self-centered after they leave their families behind. In villages there are many old people who children have left them alone. Now many people feel that it was wrong to educate their children as they left them alone. Earlier the children used to send money home but later they stopped. Now in villages many festivals have stopped being celebrated as there is no one to sing songs. The new generations in the villages also do not know any old folk song. He concluded that development leads to migration but culture is getting lost in the process. He felt that people should desire to earn less money so that they remain contented in their villages and retain their family and cultural ties.
Priyanka Singh, a famous Bhojpuri folk singer settled in Mumbai shared her experience as a migrant folk singer. She said that migrants try to pass on their culture to their children but some elements are left out. She lamented that so much vulgarity has crept into Bhojpuri songs. Many agents tell her to sing such songs as they are more paying. However these same producers do not teach such songs to their own children. She requested the GB Pant Institute to encourage singers who are neglected for singing good songs.
Mannu Yadav, a folk singer living in the Bhojpuri region said that the theme of migration has existed since Lord Krishna’s time when birds, animals etc., sang separation songs when he left Mathura. Apart from migrants who leave for work there are other migrants like shephards, camel tenders also who leave their homes for a long time. Their separation also evokes migration songs. Mannu Yadav assured the listeners that there are still many good songs in Bhojpuri and not just vulgar songs.
The post lunch session ended with a poetic meet in which famous Hindi poets like Vijay Kumar, Badri Narayan, Anil Mishra, Nilay Upadhyay, Hari Mridul, Hridayesh Mayank, Sanjay Bhise, Prakash Uday, Suresh Kumar Mishra, Anoop Sethi and Raman Mishra recited their poems.
The first day’s proceedings ended with a cultural performance by Bhojpuri folk singers like Manoranjan Ojha and team from Patna, Mannu Yadav and team from Varanasi, Ramdas Giri from Chhapra and Kailash Nath Mishra from Jaunpur.
The second day of the meet was held in Nala Sopara in Mumbai which is inhabited by a large number of migrants from UP and Bihar. The aim was to make them more familiar with the Bhojpuri culture in the Bhojpuri regions of UP and Bihar, which many of them are on the verge of forgetting. Singers like Manoranjan Ojha, Mannu Yadav and team from Varanasi, Ramdas Giri from Chhapra, Kailash Nath Mishra from Jaunpur, Priyanka Singh, Rakesh Tiwari etc. put up lively performances that were highly appreciated by the audience.