Bijan Rai (45), a rickshaw puller, came to Phagwara (Punjab) from Patna in June 2016—nearly two months after the Nitish Kumar Government clamped prohibition in Bihar.
Bijan—a Yadav by caste and resident of a Saran district’s village—had been plying rickshaw on Patna streets for 15 years before landing at Phagwara to carry on with what he was doing at Bihar’s capital.
The other day, while going to catch a train at Phagwara railway station, I chanced to board Bijan’s rickshaw, asking him to drop me at the railway station. When Bijan sensed some similarity in the way of our speaking, he asked, “Apne Bihar ke baani ka ? (Do you belong to Bihar?). Once, he came to know that I too belonged to his native state he came out with his story on how he migrated to Phagwara.
“After Nitish Kumar clamped prohibition, it became hard to get liquor. Somehow, I had arranged a pouch of liquor, by paying double of the amount I used to pay before the liquor ban in Bihar”.
“After plying the rickshaw for the whole day, I drank that pouch of liquor and slept on the pavement near the Gandhi Maidan, Patna. A policeman came driving his stick in my stomach and jerking me off my sleep”.
“I was in drunken stupor. The policeman started raining his stick on my back. I told the policeman that I was a poor man…If he broke my back and legs, how would I earn the living for my wife and three children. I requested him to send me to jail instead of beating me. Then the policeman asked for money. I don’t remember how much money I had in my pocket then. But, immediately, I took out all the notes and coins that I had and gave it to the policemen”.
Bijan quoted the policeman as saying, “Pahl-e hi paisa de-diya hota to mar nahin lagti (Had you given money earlier, I would not have beaten you)”.
“On the same night I concluded that Bihar ab ke khatarnak jagah ho gaya hai (Bihar has become a dangerous place) and decided to leave the state. Next, morning I deposited the rickshaw with the malik (owner) and boarded a Jalandhar bound train. I had many friends from Bihar in Jalandhar and Phagwara, pulling rickshaw or doing other such works. About four/five months ago, I brought my wife and three children too”.
“Babu! I don’t drink too much. I drink a pouch every evening after doing the hard work of pulling rickshaw. I request you to visit my place. I have never quarrelled with my wife and my wife has no complaints about my drinking habit. Din bhar mihnat ka kam karne ke baad ek gilas pi liya tou kya ho-jayega (Heaven will not fall if I drink a glass of liquor after the long day of hard work)”.
Bijan was looking happy and relieved. At the same time he was melancholic also. “Yahan ek gilas daru pin-e ke liye koi tang nahin karta (No one pesters me here for drinking a glass of liquor). The earning is also good. I have got my two sons admitted to a government school which are better than that of Chhapra and Patna. My wife too is happy for a rich Punjabi farmer has allowed us to live in his outhouse free of cost”.
“But apna desh chhut gaya, Babu (I am deprived of my own land). I am still unable to understand why Nitish made us leave our land.
Bijan informed me that, at least, 300 rickshaw pullers from Chhapra, Hajipur and Patna, have migrated to Punjab and Phagwara alone after Nitish clamping the liquor ban.
When I asked him if he would go to his native place to vote against Nitish in next election, Bijan turned philosophical, “Garibon ko apna ghar-bar chudakar agar Nitish raaj karna chahte hain tou karein. Bhagwan unka bhala kar-e. (If Nitish wants to rule Bihar by driving out the poor people let him do so. May God bless him”.
Let me confess here that I no longer operate as a reporter and as such I don’t have time to verify the truth in Bijan’s claim about 300 rickshaw pullers migrating to Jalandhar and Phagwara in the wake of liquor ban in Bihar.
But Bijan’s story moved me. I paid him Rs 50 against his demand of Rs 20, suggesting him to drink his quota of liquor on the day from my money. Bijan blessed me. “Bhagwan aapko tarakki dein..Apan ke bal-bachcha khush rahe (May God give you promotion. May God keep your children happy)”.
I have not gone judgemental in writing Bijan’s story. I have produced it the way I heard from Bijan. It is for the readers to make judgement. I, personally, have opposed Nitish’s liquor ban in Bihar for a variety of reasons and have written volubly on it as a journalist, prior to joining as a teacher at LPU.