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Aspiration for dignity

Sarah Berry | New Delhi |

A woman, who has given birth barely two days ago, steps out in the scorching heat to finish one of her afternoon tasks… as a domestic help. The house she works for has also seen a birth – both mother and child rest comfortably, enjoying the attention, care and fuss. Stark contrast? Actual reality?

A construction worker, the only bread-earner of a family of five, breaks concrete – and his body – in the stifling heat and dust. Clean drinking water and lavatory facilities are a distant dream. Human rights? Common scenario?

India’s total population stands at 1.3 billion (UNESCAP 2016). Nearly 5 million people from South Asia migrated to India in 2015, including 3.2 million from Bangladesh, 1.1 million from Pakistan, 543,000 from Nepal and 155,000 from Sri Lanka (UNDESA 2015). India’s internal migration accounts for a large population – 454 million people comprising 37% of the population (Census 2011) – in stark contrast to an international migration figure of 15.6 million (UNDESA 2015). About 43% of Delhi’s population are migrants, with over half coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (NSSO 2007-2008; MHUPA 2017). About 28.3% of the workforce in India comprises of migrants (NSSO 2007-2008; MHUPA 2017). Nearly 69% of internal migrants in India are women (Census 2011). Besides this, about 15 million children in India are estimated to be internal migrants (Daniel, 2011; Smita 2011). The Indian domestic remittance market was estimated at INR 50,000 crore (INR 50 billion) in 2007-2008 (Tumbe, 2011). Mind-boggling figures? And yet, the common reaction is ‘we versus them’? Indifference?
On 25 April, International Labour Day, UNESCO launched an awareness campaign to highlight the importance of creating inclusive urban spaces for migrants. Khanabadhoshon ki Duniya or A World of Migrants is a series of 10 radio programmes, of duration 3-4 minutes each, produced by UNESCO featuring several real-life situations involving migrants and the challenges they face in accessing their rights and entitlements. What is unique about these programmes is that they adopt alternative narratives to highlight unique characteristics of migrants in the city: migrants as agents of development, migrants as upholders of cultural diversity, the migrant working woman, migrants as contributors to skill diversity and migrants as symbols of new aspirations. The objective? Quite simple actually: To disrupt the singular image of the underprivileged migrant as a suffering, needy and dependent person to a resilient and strong survivor and entrepreneur, besides enhancing urban understanding and awareness around the right of migrants and the challenges they face, thereby changing the public perceptions of the images of migrants.

Marina Faetanini, Section’s Chief and Programme Specialist, Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO New Delhi, aptly sums it, “We wish to draw attention to the brave choices migrants make and encourage city dwellers to ensure that migrants feel part of the city which is welcoming, inclusive and recognizes migrants’ entitlement to a dignified life.”
Venu Arora, Executive Director, Ideosync, the company behind the production of the 10 radio programmes, adds “It is important that voices at the grass root level are heard. And, it is not merely hearing but also listening, based on which appropriate action is taken.”

Ideosync has been working on projects which help provide not only a platform to people in order to make their voices heard, but also provide them the required skills to present their concerns and experiences effectively, irrespective of the media.

“The objective of this particular project was to generate awareness about the value migrants bring to the lives in metropolitan cities,” Arora says. What, according to her, are the challenges she faces “The main challenges lie in determining a systematic mapping of long-term impact and subsequent change, and in the procurement of new partners.”

So, who should make an effort to make a difference? To an obvious answer of “Each one of us!” the next question posed is “How?”

Perhaps, the journey of Arti Jaiman, Station Director, radio channel Gurgaon Ki Awaz, will help understand the fact better that each individual can make a difference, no matter on what scale. Jaiman, a journalist by profession, embarked on the challenging, yet fulfilling journey of leading Gurgaon Ki Awaz, by chance. The channel which focusses on the lives of migrant workers, their aspirations, causes and challenges has today almost 5,00,000 listeners.

Assembling her team in May 2009, the channel began broadcasting in November 2009. Despite many challenges, from the setting-up and sustenance of the radio channel to raising funds, the going has been tough, but satisfying in every sense of the word. Besides creating a space of its own, broadcasting in approximately 7-8 dialects and addressing a whole gamut of pragmatic issues like health and gender violence, among other issues, the channel most importantly creates a space where people can speak and be heard with respect. Indeed, listening, which is such an important part of communication, is an art, which very few possess in today’s times.

Jaiman says, “My motto has always been to try, no matter what. There is no harm in failing, but not trying is not acceptable. Living now in Gurgaon for almost 23 years, I have realised that it is not only important to know the urban spaces that surround you, but also the rural spaces – understanding their culture, background and lives is not only interesting and enriching, and also important as they are a part of the same community of which we are a part of. What is heart-warming is the support of people, who have not only contributed in kind but also, most importantly, with their time.”

Harsh Mander, IAS, and author of Insensitivity, invisibility, a day without migrants, among many other publications, has been emphasizing on the need for awareness generation, sensitivity, understanding and empathy towards fellow beings, irrespective of caste, colour, religion and many other man-made discrimination. “It has a lot to do with the upbringing of the children of today or the decision makers of tomorrow. What values are they taught? How are they brought-up? What kind of behaviors do they experience in their immediate surroundings? It is important that attributes like respect and empathy are inculcated. This is how a change can be brought about.”
Mander’s words bring to mind the words of Ban Ki-moon “Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family” and the very fact that we as a part of society owe it back to society to make it a better place for each one of us, in whatever best way we can.