Project 3

Migration and Cultural Traditions of Bhojpuri Region – A Research and Documentation Programme

About the Project

This project is an attempt to study and document the cultural heritage of Bhojpuri speaking migrant labourers who have left their native villages in Bihar and UP to work in different places within India like Surat, Delhi and Mumbai, and the cultural heritage of their family members left behind. While on the one hand the study will help to create awareness about the cultural heritage of the Bhojpuri migrants who are looked upon as mere labourers in their destination points, on the other it will also give an insight into the continuity and change that has taken place in the two cultures due to the migration. As an intervention aspect , this project will also attempt to strengthen the cultural bonds of the migrants with their family members left behind in their homelands by organizing cultural meets and workshops both at the destination points and in the native villages.

It is a truism that migrants all over the world take with them their cultural baggage which includes songs, stories, art, paintings and so on when they leave their homelands. This cultural repertoire helps the migrants to purge themselves of the pain of separation and continue with the mundane drudgery of everyday life in their destination points. This holds true for Bhojpuri migrants (also called pardesis in the local language) too, who leave their native villages to work in far off places and return for a short visit every year. While it is their economic need which drives them out from their native lands it is their culture which helps them to emotionally connect with their homeland and keep them rooted. After a hard day’s grueling labour when they get together in their slums or ghettoes and sing songs together they are able to mitigate some of the pain at separating from their native villages and loved ones. For the people who are left behind in the homeland too, like the wives, children, parents and siblings, this cultural repertoire provides solace and helps them to surmount the pain and anguish at the going away of their loved one.

Through this project we will also attempt to place this cultural tradition, which can be called the Pardesia Cultural Tradition, within the broader cultural tradition of the Bhojpuri region known as Bidesia (from the word Bides or Videsh meaning ‘foreign’) Folk Tradition that had evolved during the colonial period when a huge population of Bhojpuri people left the Indian shores to work in sugarcane, cocoa, jute and other plantations in the Caribbean countries like Mauritius, Suriname, Fiji, Trinidad, Guyana and so on, owned and run by Europeans. The pain and anguish of the people of the Bhojpuri region at this mass migration gave birth to a distinct folk culture known as the Bidesia Folk Culture that narrated the agony and grief of both the migrants and their loved ones left behind. This folk culture, that was the outcome of the emotion or bhav produced by the separation, was composed both at the destination points in Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad, Fiji and so on, and also in the Bhojpuri region of India and the two cultures bear a striking similarity with each other although the new experiences of the migrants in their destination points were added to the culture composed by them there.
In this research we are using Bidesia as a metaphor for the folk cultural tradition that developed around the theme of separation and encompasses folk forms like Bidesia theatre, folk songs, motifs and wall paintings depicting parrots with letter in their beaks to represent the theme of migration, within its fold. Several folk stories and folk deities also evolved around migration in the Bhojpuri region at that time which too can be included in the Bidesia folk culture. This repertoire of cultural forms is still alive in the folk memory and popular culture of Bhojpuri people though the form has changed with the new technological developments and the onset of modernity.

In the present context, the songs and poems that are composed by the Bhojpuri migrants (pardesis) at their destination points in Surat, Delhi or Mumbai include all the new experiences which they make during their stay there although the bedrock of these new compositions is the original culture which they grew up with. When they return to their villages for their annual visits the new experiences made by them are shared with the people back home, which are then woven into the folk tradition in their native places.

The folk culture of the Bhojpuri region is thus constantly changing and evolving even though the thread of continuity, which is the emotion produced by the separation, is still running through it. In the recent past many commercial poets and song writers have emerged both in the Bhojpuri region and in the destination points who compose songs and poems based on the theme of separation and sell them in the form of booklets and CDs to the migrants. Alongside many professional theatre companies stage theatres around this theme, which people at both the places flock to see. Bhojpuri channels like Mahua, ETV Bihar, ETV UP and so on also telecast several serials and soaps whose pegs are the theme of separation which are very popular among Bhojpuri viewers.

Thus the Pardesi culture has become extremely vibrant and has also become greatly commercialized since the companies producing this culture have understood its tremendous market potential due to the strong emotion underlying it but a great deal is still in the oral form among the ordinary people residing in villages and slums. A long-term effort is necessary to record this culture that is circulating in the oral tradition of the Bhojpuris, which reflects the various stages of the socio-cultural history of this section of the society.

Thus the main aim of the project is to document and research the rich cultural legacy that is continuously changing and evolving at both the destination points and the homelands.