Ajmail Shaik is one of three men who were assaulted in Munnekolala in Bengaluru in August. The attack left his friend and neighbour Bashir-ul Shaik (no relation) dead. Ajmail has a version of what happened in the hours prior to Bashir’s death.
Ajmail says they were killed because they could not pay the Rs2 lakh the accused had asked for—and that theft has nothing to do with it. The police version differs substantially.
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, had said that the three men assaulted had been involved in a theft of some wire, which was later found in one of their homes. The police FIR identifies 10 accused.
“West Bengal chodke mai kya idhar chori karne aaoonga (I will leave Bengal to steal?)? I could have committed robberies there also. Why would I come here to steal Rs2,000-3,000?” Ajmail asks.
He says that every time some locals in the neighbourhood (like the ones who assaulted them) needed money, they would come to the Bengali immigrants living in Munnekolala . “When a guy is being killed, you give a thousand, that person gives a thousand, I give a thousand. The money is collected from different people and given to them (the assailants).”
“I have never even seen Rs2 lakh, from where would I bring it? That is when they killed Bashir. We even gave them Rs53,000. Ek aadmi ko pura langda bana diya, mar, mar ke. (They broke a man’s leg by beating him),” Ajmail says.
“They would catch people in the evening or in the afternoon, when they (the locals) get together to drink. They would call us. If nobody answered them, they would begin beating us. ‘You smoke ganja?’ Where would we get it from? I make Rs200-300 (a day). Where would I buy those things from? Do I give (the money) to my wife and children, or do I smoke those things?”
Long way from home
Ajmail is from a village called Panchkhela in West Bengal’s Nadia district. Panchkhela has 3,816 people, of whom 497 are below the age of six, 42% of whom are illiterate, according to the 2011 Census. It is a Muslim settlement around a pond. Bashir, who died in the assault, was from a similar village called Dogachi, also in Nadia.
The two met each other and Hafizul Shaik, the third victim of the assault, because they all live in the same neighbourhood.
There is not much to do back home in Bengal. Occasionally there is need for some labour for construction, on other days, there may be some agricultural work, Ajmail says. “That is why people leave their villages and come here.”
The “here” Ajmail refers to is Bengaluru, but it may be any town in India, where there is need for labour—any kind of work that needs human hands to accomplish.
In Bengaluru, it is rag-picking, while in other states it may be other things. On a visit to Kerala’s Perumbavur town some two years ago, this reporter found crowds of people drawn primarily to the plywood industry, which was a large employer in those parts.
Among the thousands seeking employment there was Miraz-ul Shaik from Behrampore, who made his living begging, even collecting enough money to send home to his wife in West Bengal.
Ajmail says he first worked in a sweet shop in Palashi town in Nadia, famous as the site of a battle—Plassey—in 1757, after which the East India Company went from being mere traders to imperialists.
He estimates he may have been 10 then. He worked there for two or three years. He says that around that time his mother and his younger sister went to Delhi, because his mother needed to start saving money for her daughter’s eventual wedding.
“But when I would go home at night, I could not sleep. There is nobody else at home. What could I do?” Ajmail says his boss gave him one month’s salary of Rs300 and he went to Delhi.
Ajmail worked in Delhi for a few months and got his sister married. He had borrowed some Rs25,000 for the wedding and he stayed in Delhi to pay that back. Then he went back home to Panchkhela. He hung around there, working, when jobs were available.
Then, somebody in his village told him about Bengaluru.
“I don’t have any land of my own. I live in government land. For working on people’s fields, I would get Rs200-Rs150 (a day). Rs150 is nothing to feed four-five people. But I have two girls. I have to save some money for them, for their wedding, I wasn’t able to save for that. That is why people leave their villages and come here. I have three children. There is my mother and my wife. We are six people at home. I have to take care of them,” says Ajmail.
Bashir and Ajmail are representative of millions of other migrants. According to Chinmay Tumbe, an assistant professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, some 60% of Bengaluru’s migrants come from rural areas.
The 60% is an estimate, Tumbe cautions, as the 2011 census data on migration has not been released yet. The corresponding data for 2001 is just over 50%.
“In contrast, Surat gets over 70% of migrants from rural areas. These numbers considerably affect how cities are shaped and viewed,” he said.
The Nadia district that Bashir and Ajmail are from has a population density of 1,316 people for every square kilometre, which is more than the state average of 1,028. There are 947 women for every 1,000 men, lower than the state average of 950.
Agriculture is the major occupation in the district with the 2011 census labelling 17% of the district’s population as cultivators, while 30% are agricultural labourers.
A study done between 2008 and 2009 of minority-concentrated districts showed that of the 90 districts surveyed, nearly half the Muslim population did not have a toilet within the house.
Nadia, with 30 villages, was one of districts that, according to the census of 2001, have both a significant minority population and socioeconomic indicators below the national average.
In Ajmail’s words, “Where I live, everybody is poor.”
“My mother, when she will live, when she will die, there is no guarantee. She cannot walk, cannot see properly. She sits in a corner quietly. (I may get a) phone call (that) she has died. I will then have to leave immediately. My mother needs medicines worth Rs200-300 every day. She lives on medicines.
“I was a child when my father died. My mother has been married twice. Her first husband died. With him, she had a boy and a girl. Then she married again. From that, she had me and my sister.
“Bashir was from Karimpur Dogachi. He was a good man. He didn’t have any vices. His mother was here (Bengaluru). He had left his wife in his village because she couldn’t speak. He had left her with her parents.”
He says about his treatment at the hands of the locals: “’Give Rs40,000, Rs30,000.’ That is the business they do. That is the way the three of us were caught. Bekaar mein hum logon ko phasaaya, woh log pura milke. (All of them together trapped us for no good reason.)
“There has not been a murder (before this), but a lot of people have been hit and money taken. What would you do? If 20 people had gone there (when we were being beaten), they would have run away and Bashir would not have been dead. If somebody had called the police, he would have been saved.
“Whenever they have a problem, they come to the Bengalis (for money).
“Bashir’s house is a patkhati (shack). Uska koi shohor nahi hain. (There is no city he can call home.). The road (to his house) is very dirty, because of the rain. I went to his grave also.
“Where will I live? I cannot live there, I cannot live here, then where will I live? I need to live some place right? Where will I live?”
Other kinds of migration
In Nagvarpalya, also in East Bengaluru, where there used to be fields some 30 years ago, there are now houses. Nagvarpalya is one area where migrants from other parts of Karnataka live. They, like their Bengali counterparts to the south-east, come from the impoverished parts of the country.
There is nothing to do where they are from either, so they moved to Bengaluru. Many found work in the construction sector—Bengaluru was the fastest growing city in the first decade of the 2000s and many of them got jobs in the construction sector.
For the Kannadiga migrants, the wages per day are Rs450. One local migrant, who did not want to be named, said Rs1,000 is deducted from his salary as rent and the rest is given to them.
“Aakade, dudd jasthi kododilla, dudd jasthi sigodilre (There, you don’t get much money, they don’t pay much),” said an elderly man with one clouded eye from Gulbarga district’s Afzalpur taluk. The man says he is 75 and hesitates to give his name. When I tell him that nobody is going to harm a 75-year-old man, he says they may harm his children who also work there.
The old man says he has about two acres of land in his village of Gobbarbe, but no facility to water the crops. He has been in Bengaluru for 32 years. He has four children. The old man continues to work “for the stomach. God gave us stomachs.”
He says no to my photographing him and his house. “This was all (indicating the housing layout on all sides) fields. We work and we eat. If there is work, we work. If there is no work, we come home.”
Anil Kumar, a 24-year-old from Anpura in Yadgir district (north Karnataka), came to Bengaluru via Hyderabad, where he went as a 16-year-old to join his brother in a hotel that he worked in. There Kumar did several jobs like washing the dishes and manning the cash counter.
Kumar says he had to leave the job after a manager took exception to him. His brother then suggested that Kumar move to Bengaluru while he stayed on in Hyderabad. Kumar has three siblings: the brother who is in Hyderabad and two sisters.
Anil Kumar’s family has four acres of land but no borewell, no irrigation. When it rains, they farm.
Metropolitan cities and other urban centres have always been magnets for migration, “but now south has emerged as an evolving destination, offering best wages, better treatment of workers, some of the longest migration corridors have evolved in the past two decades,” says Benoy Peter, executive director of the Center for Migration and Inclusive Development.
With the lack of census information on migrants, the number of people travelling on trains may serve as a good proxy. According to a story in The Indian Express, the increasing popularity of the south of India was evident in how crowded trains—the popular mode of distance travel—were.
In 2007-08, a train between Bengaluru and Delhi was the sole entrant for peninsular south India, apart from a train between Goa’s Vasco and Mumbai. By 2016-17 however, that changed to include a train from Dhanbad in Jharkand to Alappuzha in Kerala.
According to Chandni Singh, a research consultant with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, the most common reasons for migration are environmental change because of droughts, decrease in soil fertility, water scarcity, lack of opportunities in rural areas and changing aspirations of people with parents not wanting their children to take up farming.
“It is rare to find one single factor and how these drivers impact migration decisions is mediated by who you are (young/old; male/female; ST/SC/general; large/small landholder etc.),” Singh said in an emailed response.
Everybody wants a piece of Ajmail
Ajmail is aware of the hazardous conditions in which he works. The police say that if he is kept in the local police station, there is a chance he may be harmed by the locals, which is why they released him to the custody of human rights activists. But all Ajmail wants to do is to get back to work.
“Six people (live off my earnings). Those (six people) have to be fed, clothed and I have to do this for everyone. If I stopped, they would die of starvation. That is why I told them don’t keep me here. On the date of the case, phone me and I will come immediately,” Ajmail says.
“Our condition is such. We cannot work for too long. Slowly, slowly we will completely go away. These two hands (of mine), they cannot lift (even) five kilos,” says Ajmail.
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