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Hands Afar

In A Migratory State

In a district cursed by economic barrenness, men like Mohammad Afrazul have to offer their labour elsewhere, despite discomfort or danger

In A Migratory State
Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee
Mohammad Afrazul(inset) and his grieving family in Jallalpur
In A Migratory State
outlookindia.com
2017-12-16T12:11:12+05:30

A long with its luscious mangoes, human capital is also a highly exportable commodity in this district of West Bengal. “You will not find a single household in the district which doesn’t have at least one member who has migrated to another state for livelihood,” says Abdul Matin, a neighbour of Mohammad Afrazul, the migrant lab­ourer from Malda, who was butchered, then burnt to death in Rajasthan. Matin, 41, who has been working as an ‘agent’ who supplies workers from the district since he was 17, explains, “There are no jobs in Malda. The district doesn’t have any industries and unlike other districts in West Bengal, agriculture is not an option either.”

Not part of the rice bowl of Bengal and with few cultivatable fields, Malda is known for its mango and lichi groves, but which can only employ a limited number of people. A 173-km long border with East Pakistan/Bangladesh was, according to local administrators, one of the worst aff­ected regions in Bengal in terms of refugee influx at the time of Partition and later during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. “Malda is still reeling under that weight of the influx of refugees,” says a politician who doesn’t see any easy sol­ution to this “chronic problem”. He cla­ims that “Malda has resisted traditional attempts at development because of several factors.” These include proximity to the border, which makes it a hub of smu­ggling and other cross-border crimes like human trafficking, money-­laundering and unchecked infiltration. The illegal job market is a thriving parallel economy in Malda, which in 2015 was declared by the National Invest­igative Agency as the main centre of the illicit currency racket in the country, acc­ount­ing for a staggering 90 per cent of India’s fake currency. A mia­­sma of illegality seems to have spread and disabled, or infected, other economic activity.

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