Unskilled and semi-skilled migrants are the largest chunk of the internal migrants in India who migrate in search of livelihood options.

Unskilled and semi-skilled internal migrants in India, leaving their homes in desperate search of the elusive earning option that they could not get at their homes, begin their journey on an unpredictable note, without any planning, much like their journey.

Some of them take to the roads but for most, the Indian Railways is the only option.

Indian trains have an unreserved class, also called the ‘general class’, offering cheapest fairs, and almost no amenities. Anyone who is even slightly capable of meeting some ends would never want to board these ‘general class compartments’ of any train.

Most of the Indian trains are notorious but the general class compartments can effectively be put in the ‘horrible journey experience’ category when they chug from and to the poorer or poorly governed states; states providing the rest of the India with unskilled or semi-skilled manpower. Most of them are daily wage earners. Unorganized occupation units like construction, private transportation and small time vending employ almost of the lot.

Though the labour law sets rules of engagement but it is never followed in such manpower sectors. People, for whom the law is enacted, can’t read even the newspaper properly. Their only concern is to survive the coming day. It is silly to expect that they would raise voices to say that they are not being paid the basic minimum wage as defined by the statute.

And they pack the general class of these Indian Railways trains which are devoid of even the basic amenities.

Take a walk on a major railway station like Delhi, Mumbai or Howrah and you can see the large queues struggling to enter the general class compartments of the trains heading to the states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and some other poor states. Police force is employed to manage the swelling crowd that overcrowds the trains packing them many times beyond the capacity. Some stampedes in past have killed many.

But they have no other option than to board these compartments.

For them, life is restricted to the environs of the general class compartment of the Indian Railways trains – neglected, marginalized, overburdened, and ignorant!

And this symbolism continues with their lives in the big city India.

They do carry hope when they board the train but it is not the kind of hope that the passengers boarding the air-conditioned coaches of the same train carry. Their hopes, most of the time, don’t fall even in the category of the hopes carried by the reserved sleeper class passengers, a class having slightly better amenities than the unreserved general class.

Also, the sleeper class is known as ‘second class’ in common man’s terminology. That, invariably, leaves the ‘third class’ notion and ‘treatment’ for the ‘general class passengers’. Isn’t it?

These internal migrants of India do carry a hope when they leave their homes or when they return to their homes.

Yes, they carry just one hope, the hope of survival that they would be able to find something to do there, to earn, and to live further. Their agenda of life is limited to a day or set of a few days only and keeps on changing. The glitzy metros with their blitzy environs are just like the air-conditioned class of the train they just pass through but do not even notice while heading to the cramped ‘general class’ compartments with ‘third class’ amenities.

They toil on the city roads and in the city environs during their working hours and head to the city slums or look for a corner on the road pavements to complete their day for the next day.

It is a dark aspect of the internal migration in the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic of India.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –