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Last Updated: Monday, 10 March 2008, 16:41 GMT
India's victims of anti-migrant anger
By Amarnath Tewary
Siwan, Bihar

Srikishun Singh and his wife
Srikishun Singh used to hawk savouries for a living Pics: Prashant Ravi
Lying on a bed in a dingy ward of a government hospital in India's eastern state of Bihar, 37-year-old Srikishun Singh tries to cover what remains of his hands with a blanket.

He says his hands were chopped by a group of people in the western Indian city of Pune in Maharashtra state last month. They were demanding the removal of migrant workers like Srikishun.

It all began when the leader of a small right-wing regionalist party, Raj Thackeray, accused migrants of swamping Maharashtra, India's most industrialised state, in search of jobs.

Following his statement, his supporters attacked north Indian migrants like Srikishun in Mumbai (Bombay) and other towns in the state and damaged property associated with them.

Police arrested Mr Thackeray on charges of stoking communal tension. He has denied inciting violence.

The unrest forced many migrants to flee their neighbourhoods - in Nasik, a booming industrial city, several thousands were reported to have left.

Terrified

One of millions of poor migrants from Bihar - India's poorest state with a per capita income of $165 - Srikishun Singh used to hawk savouries on the sidewalks of Pune for a living.

He had arrived in the city just one-and-half months ago from a neighbouring city where he had worked for a decade.

Hari Kumar Rai
One night a group of local political activists came to my apartment and threatened us to leave the place
Hari Kumar Rai

"I was sleeping on the road close to the railway station when a group of people shouting 'Go away, go away, Biharis go away' attacked me and I fell unconscious," he said.

"Later when I regained consciousness I found both my hands chopped off and an old man bandaging them. The man told me to flee as soon as possible."

A terrified Srikishun rushed to the railway station and travelled home in excruciating pain after changing a couple of trains.

In his home village of Siwan, Srikishun was treated by a local doctor until he was admitted to the local government hospital.

Since then he has been lying there meeting a stream of visitors, mostly politicians, policemen and journalists.

A police team from Pune have also visited the hospital to investigate the attack.

Being the only earning member of his family, Srikishun now appears helpless.

"I do not know how my family will survive now. My two little children and wife will starve to death," he said, as his wife Durgawati Devi weeps at his bedside.

"But now I'll never return to Maharashtra".

Siwan is among the 100 poorest districts of the country. Migrants from the district send some $389m home every year.

Fear psychosis

An independent study on migration in collaboration with the London-based Overseas Development Institute found that migrants from Bihar send over $2bn back home every year.

Srikishun Singh is not the only one who has to bear the burnt of anti-migrant protests in Maharashtra.

Migrant workers and families from Maharashtra return to Bihar
More than 2.5m migrants from Bihar work in Maharashtra

Most of the villagers of around Siwan have also returned home - over 80% people from this village work in Maharashtra, mostly in Nasik-Pune industrial area.

One of them, Phulena Pandit, says he has never been afraid to work outside Bihar before.

"We have never faced such fear. We had to flee leaving behind all our belongings and money in the bank, " said Phulena, who was the first villager to migrate from his village in 1970.

Similarly Hari Kumar Rai, who had been living for the last 17 years in Nasik, locked his flat in the city and fled home.

"One night a group of local political activists came to my apartment and told us to leave the place immediately otherwise they would burn down my flat," he said.

"The next day I locked my flat and took a train for Bihar. I do not know what they have done with my property there."

Sri Krishna Prasad too has been living in Nasik since 1982 along with his son, Chetan Kumar, and two grandsons, Raju and Rahul.

Phulena Pandit
Phulena Pandit was the first resident of his village to migrate

"I purchased a house there with my savings but our world crashed in a single day when they forced us to leave the place. We left leaving everything out there. Here I have nothing to eat, no place to live," he said.

There are many more migrants in Siwan who have returned home to tell similar tales.

Almost all of them worked as a masons in Nasik.

Hundreds of villagers from neighbouring villages have also returned home after the anti-migrant campaign in Maharashtra.

According to a one estimate, there are 2.5 million Bihari migrants working in Mumbai and about 4 million in the capital, Delhi.

But those numbers will fast decrease if present trends continue.



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