By Chitra Ahanthem
The grass is green on the other side` is an oft-repeated saying. Every single time I run into a salesgirl or a receptionist or an attendant or security guard from various parts of the state in metros spread across the country, this saying comes to my mind, also considering that Manipur sees quite a number of migrant population eking out a living here. Yes, there are many from the state who are employed in various parts of the country in senior levels in highly paid salary bands and leading from the front in various sectors. But there are more lower ranked, lowly paid people from the state who exist on a few thousands per month than the few hundreds who are earning well and moving around in senior levels. This then begs the question of what is it that makes people move from their home and roots and try and get a foothold somewhere else. As far as the presence of migrant labour in Manipur is concerned, many say that the cost of living here is low. Over and above this bit, the lack of a work force that is prepared to do menial jobs like cleaning, sweeping, carrying loads easily facilitates a vacuum that migrants fill in the state. The sheer irony here is that a lot many young people from the state are heading outside the state to work more hours on not so much pay but where the cost of living does not come cheap at all.
You see them in shopping malls working as salespersons, as attendants in parking lots, as hotel helps and cooks, as helpers in saloons and beauty parlours. The ones who can speak polished English are visible in the same job sector but in a more better position: as hairdressers, spa staff, as receptionists, as stewards and waiters in hotels and restaurants. Strike a conversation with them and they will tell you that they have been around for some time, that they earn a 15,000 maximum salary band per month and that they work 8 hours a day with one day off for the week. Only a few of those I speak with say they are also continuing with their studies along with their work by taking up distance learning since they are too tired to do anything else. But ask about the reason for leaving the comforts of home to work long hours with little pay, and the reasons make an interesting mix. Some say that they were brought into the cities where they work to study by relatives who were studying but then offered the choice of jobs when their marks were found to be on the lesser side; a few say that working outside of the state is the best option as there is a dearth of the same kind of openings for people in the state.
In the beauty, wellness and hospitality sector, those from the state and the other North Eastern states are preferred over others, provided they are confident and do not have a language issue. It is this category that has the most opportunities in terms of promotions and incentives, with employers wanting faces from the region to exhibit just a bit of exotica. My youngest sister who has been in the beauty and wellness industry in a senior level executive industry tells me that more and more, the industry is looking for people from the region with employers going the extra mile of providing company staying places. She tells me that the difference in facial structures is a huge hit with consumers who may or may not know about the citizenship of people from the region. She would know: many years as she began her first foray into the beauty sector, my sister was picked to have her photo for a promotional campaign of the beauty training institute that had a tagline saying `across the world`™. The advertisement had foreign faces and hers would have been included an Asian (read Mongoloid) face.
Be what it may, the world today has shrunk and just as young people are venturing out to work as per their qualifications, so also the presence of migrant labour in the state. This crisscrossing of people across places and regions in search of livelihood will endure and continue. Some will be lucky to have a supportive environment as they try to fit into alien surroundings, and some will be unfortunate enough to have restrictions on their movement and work. But the struggle for a better life will continue over the ages.