To keep going
35-year old Asha Verma, from Siswani Jahada, Morang, lives in Delhi and works in a sports factory in Haryana. Born in India, Verma married her husband, a Nepali citizen. Despite having studied until high school in India, Verma says, her certificates weren’t recognised in Nepal, and frustration set in at being unable to find a job in Nepal or find support within her marital home. Hence, she decided to move to India to find a job with the help of some relatives who lived in Delhi. She says her soul cries for the lack of support that could have encouraged her to work, but she has to keep at it for the sake of her children’s future.
Bonding with the local community
Verma comes across as a woman who very strongly believes in good conduct, fulfilling one duties and responsibilities. When we start talking, she first talks about how she lives and bonds well with the people she works with, and the neighbourhood she lives in.
I do tailoring—craftwork. It’s been five years since I have been living in Delhi. I share a good relationship with all people there. If you can speak the language, you’ll make friends easily. Everyone I have met there, or got to know – I have managed to build good bonds with them. I do know a few Nepali women there, and we are quite close to each other as well. We get Sundays off, and that’s when we all meet, spend the day with each other, and that’s how we pass time.
If our character is clean we will make friends everywhere. If you are not dependable no one will be your friend. If we keep our behaviour proper we’ll make friends everywhere. We have friends. We have no one who is against us. Wherever I’ve been to, there hasn’t been any one who has been against me. If we perform our duties, people will support us. Even in your home, if you don’t fulfil your duties you won’t get any support. I haven’t had argument with anyone. I just have to ask once and they come to my aid. I maintain good relationships with all the women. I haven’t even had any argument in the company. If anyone sees me upset, they come up to me and ask me if everything is alright.
“Like I said, it’s how you behave that determines what happens to you. Where ever you go—you go to the jungle, village or town, how a person behaves determines how others treat the person. We go there without any hesitation, that’s why no one asks us any question.”
We get Sundays off (at the company she and her husband work in). So on that day we do our household chores, we meet one another to spend some good time—the usual stuff on Sundays. A bazaar is set up nearby. So we go there on Sundays. We buy the things we need and we come back home. In Delhi, you can’t just enter anyone’s home, no one has the time. It is morning and you have to prepare lunch by eight o’clock. By nine you have to be at work. You clean up, take shower and run to work. For ladies, you have to broom and sweep. Then take shower, and reach the company even if you hadn’t had the time to eat.
The lunch time at company starts around one, one-thirty. The work ends at six, sometimes eight. Then you head straight home, you cook, eat and sleep. Everyone has come from outside. Some who are from Delhi have their own place to live. But they also have to work. If you make a bit of money, all of it goes in getting your own place. There, no one really does do farming. So you just buy everything. It’s the same for everything, from salt to everything else, you just buy them. You get good products there. The homeowners also go to work and the tenants also go to work. When we come across each other, we exchange greetings and ask if the dinner is ready. You eat and then sleep. Everything’s fast. You don’t even talk. Eat, drink and sleep. That’s how we are spending our lives.
“I am from Nepal—that’s what I say. But I have some Indian documents, thinking they might come of use. But I am a Nepali. People ask, “Where are you from?”, while we are sitting together—maybe during lunch. Then I am from Nepal, she is from Bihar, etc.”
Like I said, it’s how you behave that determines what happens to you. Where ever you go—you go to the jungle, village or town, how a person behaves determines how others treat the person. We go there without any hesitation, that’s why no one asks us any question. It’s not that they don’t cheat you in Delhi—there is a lot of that going on there. But people get treated depending on how they behave.
There are women like that and there are men like that. And that’s same everywhere, even in villages. In Delhi also, you have to think and act. There was an abduction case of a girl in Delhi that got written about in the media as well. They were sentenced to death—the guys who did it. Four, five guys had abducted that girl. Everyone knows about these things. In Delhi, all these things happen. But such a thing won’t happen to us because we are not like that. Those who are not concerned with these things, nothing happens to them. They can work with their eyes closed. Those who are busy showing their style, these things happen to them. Who has that kind of time? We do not have such time. We get a day off on Sunday, but even on that day we have so much work piled up. We have to clean our rooms, wash clothes. We get a bit of free time at around three, four. Then we go to the market, spend a bit of time there. That is it. Where will we find time to sit and think about all that? It’s the people who don’t have work who have the time to sit down and gossip.
The identities conundrum
Verma was born in India, moved to Nepal after her marriage to a Nepali, and now identifies herself as a Nepali.
I am from Nepal—that’s what I say. But I have some Indian documents* , thinking they might come of use. But I am a Nepali. People ask, “Where are you from?”, while we are sitting together—maybe during lunch. Then I am from Nepal, she is from Bihar, etc.
Everyone talks about their respective places—how we live there, what we eat, what we produce? Everyone talks about their own village. That’s what happens when women sit together. We eventually talk about these things—about our village, and also what we recently brought from our village. We also ask each other if they have brought things from their village when they come back after visiting their village. And whatever that’s brought we share it among ourselves and enjoy our small portions. It’s just a way to show love. We get everything in Delhi, but the taste of something from the village is different. People ask, “Where did you bring it from?” And we say, “From the village.”
The move from India to Nepal
Coming from a district in the neighbouring town of Bihar, India, Verma’s father used to live in Nepal; he was a doctor—a private doctor. She was married off to a man from Nepal, and she subsequently moved to Nepal.
My father thought that corruption is not as prevalent here, so he got me married here, hoping that I would be able to find a job. We had a basic home. We couldn’t do much. I’ve done I.A.—campus. Two years after the SLC. That’s all I’ve studied. There weren’t colleges in Dehat (village), my parents’ place. We couldn’t afford to go another place, pay rent and study. And being a girl—parents didn’t allow their daughter (to study) on her own. It’s a common concern. In our village there was a college that taught till Grade 12. So they taught me there. To study further, I would have had to move and rent a place, which was not possible. And there is the money factor. We were seven siblings. My father would not have been able to afford it. Whatever was his capacity, he did for us. But even that I wasn’t able to fully utilize. He got me married here hoping that I would get some support.
But my father-in-law, who was a teacher, never supported me. He didn’t support us – no one supported us. My husband has a brother and a sister. The sister was already married. It was a small family. My father thought that he would get his daughter, who was educated, married to this house, and her father-in-law would help her out. After fighting continuously, he (my father-in-law) finally helped me get my Nepali citizenship card and our marriage certificate. That’s all he did for me.
Moving to Delhi from Jahada, Biratnagar
Talking about her life and work in Nepal, she sounds frustrated, and even angry at times, that her husband’s family could not help her find a job – this sense of desperation, the search for a job, is what drove her to migrate to India for work.
Now my home was Nepal, and it wasn’t possible for me to find a job in India—at least not in the government. I had already lived in Nepal for fifteen-sixteen years. No one helped us out in Nepal. Our lives were in disarray. I am already thirty-five years old. Where would I have found a job? So, I lost faith that anything can be done in Nepal, and we left for India. But where in India would we go? There isn’t much in Bihar. So we went to Delhi.
We have relatives there – mine, from my parents’ side. We went there and managed to sustain (our living) with their help. We have many acquaintances there. There are Nepalis from here as well, and also from India—from where I am from. There are also people from Delhi itself.
“They will provide treatment for me and my husband and our three children—no matter how much it would cost. They also pay us for overtime and night shifts. We are all paid according to the work we do.”
Slowly, we found jobs and settled there. At least there are companies there. So I learned how to sew and started working. That is it. Both my husband and I are working there. No one helped us here. We were not able to live here (in Nepal), but two of our children are studying here. The youngest daughter is living there with us. She is studying there. We need to fill the forms for her as well. What can we do? We have to do this. What will we do if we stay in Nepal? We do have our Nepali citizenship, but we have made our documents there as well. What can we do?
Living in Delhi – for the future
The sense of desperation that had Verma move to Nepal continues to keep here there, as she feels that everything she does is only to secure a good future for her children.
The district we live in is Bajarpur. We are living near the border between Haryana and Delhi. Our company is in Haryana. We have to walk for half an hour to get there. It is at the Haryana border, but we live in Delhi. People go to visit places, but we haven’t been anywhere. Sometimes we go to temples, and maybe the zoo. If we can save some extra money we can provide more for our children, so we prefer not to spend on travelling. That’s all we think about. We don’t think about travelling and spending money for ourselves. It’s all about the children. So we don’t go. We go to temples, Akshardham, here and there. It just takes around ten-twenty rupees transport fare, so we go and visit.
“At the factory, there are a lot of women—around 75% of the total workforce. In some companies, there are only women. The managers are women, the cashiers are women, and even the General Manager’s a woman. The supervisors in my company, who supervise me, are men.”
In Nepal, whatever we have—even a shack to live in—it is ours. There we are renting a place to live in. We have to pay for the electricity, for water. But what can we do. There is no facility here. So we have to go there. If there were facilities here, we would have stayed here. Even if we had a small job, we could have secured our children’s future. But there was nothing here. Everyone says (to me), what you studied in India is of no use here. But there are people who come back after studying in America—don’t these people work here? And they say that the certificates from India are of no use. Where ever I went they would reject my application. So what could I do? I didn’t receive any help in Nepal. It’s not like I got my certificate by bribing the authority. I studied. I went to school. My certificates are authentic.
The way Verma describes her factory; it suggests that the company looks after its employees well. She doesn’t have any complaints at the workplace. She has been working in the same company for five years; she and her husband work in different companies.
There is no difficulty – in terms of support and facility at the company we work. If we were to get sick and we would have to spend ten lakh rupees, we would not have to spend even a rupee. They have made such cards for our children as well. The facility covers for other possible expenses as well—such as to take care of the sick. We made a mistake. We didn’t include my mother-in-law’s name in the list. If we had, we could have got her treated there as well. They will provide treatment for me and my husband and our three children—no matter how much it would cost. They also pay us for overtime and night shifts. We are all paid according to the work we do.
There are people from different places. There are people from Delhi and Haryana. There are people from U.P. There are people from Bihar. There are people from Nepal, from Taplejung. There are many Nepalis. There are people from Karnataka as well—from many different places. In Delhi, there are people from all places. There are also around five-seven women from my village working there. We leave for work together in the mornings.
At the factory, there are a lot of women—around 75% of the total workforce. In some companies, there are only women. The managers are women, the cashiers are women, and even the General Manager’s a woman. The supervisors in my company, who supervise me, are men. They are well-behaved. No one can even raise their eyes there. It is quite strict. Ones who are proper are proper in all places. Ones who are not proper, they behave according to the rules within the compound, but as soon as they are outside they behave however they feel like. Within the compound of the company, they have to behave according to the rules. If anything were to happen within the company, the concerned people will show up immediately.
“There are things we would like to do but we have not been able to. That’s how it is for poor people. Our ideas get buried in our heads. Some of it is our fault. Some of it is our fate. And sometimes it’s the lack of support. We have got none of that to move forward. My soul still cries, but I have to keep going for the children.”
If there is any incident, the union members would come and look into it. The union members are from another department. So, we are not part of it. But they protect us. We just have to complain, we just have to make a call, and they show up immediately. There is one number where we can contact them. They show up in two minutes. If there is an accident, the ambulance will show up immediately and take the person for treatment. The place is very clean. It’s cleaned five-times, seven-times a day. If it’s hot, they put on the fans. If it’s cold in the winter, they turn on the AC. There is media there who keep an eye on these things.
In Nepal, there aren’t companies. There are companies there, so I went there. I can earn a few bucks, and there are facilities there. Where there are facilities, where there are companies in every street—which are means to earn money. It’s natural for people to go there. For government work, there was no help here (in Nepal). So I went (to India).
The local politics
In India, migrant groups, especially internal migrant groups are often viewed as ‘vote banks’ by political parties. Verma is well aware of the political ongoing in India.
There are political parties (with a local presence), and there are leaders as well. There is a women’s group leader as well. If there is any case of gender-based abuse, girls from colleges organize demonstrations. All of that happens there. All the political parties come during the election time; all of them come—to publicize their campaigns. And you cast vote for whomever you like.
I have been there for five years. When Modi won, we were there. There was no much celebration in the neighbourhood then. Now Arvind Kejriwal has won the Chief Ministership – we have to see how things are going to be this year. Last year was fine. Till now, Modi has done well. He has opened up accounts for everyone. He has done work. He has taken an oath that he’ll turn shacks and slum dwellings into proper houses.
Returning to Nepal
When I question Verma, if she intends to return to Nepal, her thoughts trail back to her failure in finding a job in Nepal, and she fears the same for her children.
I don’t see any opportunity in Nepal, so probably my children will also go to India. Here, the environment is not good. And children’s thoughts mould according to the environment in which they are brought up. So I think my children’s capacity to think has deteriorated. They are not studying like they are supposed to. Here they won’t do anything. If we take them there, they will learn a few things and could start working there. They’ll be able to think about their future. Here, my father-in-law is left in a place with people with small brains. The same thing has got into my children’s head. What will we do in the future? How will we live? My children living here is not right. What can we do? We are helpless. Let’s see what we can do in a year or two. For now they’ll live here. We’ll see what we can do. Right now, without the means what is the point thinking about these things? When we have the capacity we’ll take our children somewhere and do something. What’s the point talking about it? Here, the mentality is not correct, and that has affected our children’s mentality. There are things we would like to do but we have not been able to. That’s how it is for poor people. Our ideas get buried in our heads. Some of it is our fault. Some of it is our fate. And sometimes it’s the lack of support. We have got none of that to move forward. My soul still cries, but I have to keep going for the children. We have one son, but even for him we haven’t been able to provide fully. Our life has become a waste.
My children are here, so I have to send money. No, not every month, but depending on how much we are able to save. We have to pay the rent. Everything requires money. It’s sent through an account—through courier. But it can’t be sent to a Nepali account, so it’s sent to an Indian account in Bihar. And we bring it from there.
I don’t have any fond memories of Nepal. If my father was here, I wouldn’t even have gone to Delhi. He would have done something for us. He’s passed away. My mother is still there. She lives at home with my brother. She is old. She is sick. I came here twice since she has been sick. But I haven’t gone to visit. I wasn’t able to find time. The previous time I came, I hadn’t collected my payment. I hurried back thinking I might miss work.
At the moment, I’m here on leave from work—about a week, ten days’ leave. It’s already been a week. We received a call from here, so we left (India) and came here. I was working – I was in the company. They told us that our mother’s health had gone bad, and it’s serious. We told our manager, asked for a leave, and left. We told him we’d come in a week, ten days’ time. We didn’t take any payment. We just came.
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