We share this special edition on the occasion of May Day with the story of Jonardhan, a migrant worker from Jhilu who moved to Bangalore for better job prospects. During the pandemic, he walked 1900 kilometers back to his village and arrived on May Day, expressing his hope for liberty and freedom.
Reaching Jhilu he could hear the songs of May Day being played and expressed “Long live Liberty”
What happened earlier
Jonardhan is a resident of Jhilu, a small village in West Bengal’s Bardhaman district. The 50-year-old man is a father of two children. His son who was appearing for his 12th exam wanted to join a medical college and become a doctor eventually. His daughter wants to pursue singing but needs to be trained further.
Janardhan works as a rice mill worker in his village and earns a wage of 7000. He eventually finds that this job could not support his family. He looks for opportunities in the city of Calcutta but found very few options available. One day he learns about opportunities in the Garden City of Bangalore, which offers a much higher salary and decides to move there in search of a better job with higher pay.
Dreams Vs Reality
Bangalore has recently been one of the largest migration corridors in India. It’s estimated that over 42 lakh migrants are working in the city. Many are employed in low-profile jobs such as construction jobs, security, or even as domestic helps.
Oftentimes, these workers are underpaid in comparison to the living cost in Bangalore and are victims of racism and ill-treatment.
They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labor rights. Many of these victims are lured by job agents’ promises of good pay and easy work. Yet, reality tells us this is not the case. Most victims find themselves trapped in low-paying jobs, working up to 15-hour days and having to endure verbal or physical abuse.
In the year 2016, Jonardhan was able to move to Bangalore successfully. His recruiters offered him a sum of twelve thousand rupees as a salary, which was much higher than what he earned in his village. He was promised that the employers were kind, reasonable, and good people who would take care of his living. With that, Jonardhan was convinced and ready to start a new life.
Upon reaching Bangalore, Jonardhan realized that he had been lied to. He was not sent to a beautiful home with kind employers, but rather to a construction site as a security guard. He and other security guards were forced to work 15 hours a day. If any of them spoke against the agency, they would receive verbal abuse, physical abuse, or have their pay withheld.
On the 24th of March, 2020, the government of India declared a nationwide lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus infection. But what followed over the next few months was the exodus of migrant workers from cities to their native places. In the absence of any mode of transportation, these migrant laborers embarked on long and perilous journeys on foot, walking thousands of kilometers, often without food. With almost no money left and no source of earning, Jonardhan decided to come back home too.
It was the 6th of April finding no other options for earning, Jonardhan decided to head home. He reached the railway station early in the morning with the hope to find a train, but finding none Jonardhan decided to travel the distance of almost 1900 kilometers on foot which took him 25 days.
On the morning of May 1st, 2022, he arrived at Jhilu and was greeted by the sound of songs such as “O Alor Potho Jatri,” which are traditionally played on May Day. Upon hearing the music, he exclaimed, “May liberty and freedom endure forever!”
The Present Day
Jonardhan now operates a small restaurant in his village where he sells Idly which he learned from a cook who used to live with him in Bangalore. Today, Jonardhan is self-sufficient and his son is on the path to becoming a doctor, while his daughter is learning Indian Classical music from Ustad Rashid Khan. Jonardhan’s wife assists him in running the restaurant.
I share Jonardhan’s story on the occasion of May Day to illustrate how being an entrepreneur and achieving self-dependence can lead to a happier life, rather than being dependent on large business establishments.
“If suddenly the whole workers of the whole world disappear then the whole world will stop! Let us all realize this and let us celebrate the workers – these great people who make our world move!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.