Looking at ‘Circulation of Labour’ in the Himalayas: A Study of Bharias (Head Porters) In Darjeeling Hills
The image of a group of people with naamlo or tumpline slung over their shoulders waiting for their customers and haggling with tourists carrying heavy loads on their back, usually dressed in traditional nepali attires, speaking different dialects of nepali with accents that are distinctly different from the ones of those who consider themselves as locals of Darjeeling, is a common sight in the urban spaces of the Darjeeling Himalayas. This group of people are locally known as bharias, coolies, namleys, and so on. Most of these bharias have come from the rural spaces of Nepal. They are the seemingly unimportant, invisible section of the urban landscape, ever present but never included. This group encompasses the very nature of the fluid human movement across the Himalayan space. This group of people broadly falls under the category of informal workforce who keeps on migrating between rural and urban spaces to eke out a living. There is a growing influx of labourers who are employed in the ‘informal sector’ especially in head porterage of goods in Darjeeling hills. With little or no application of labour laws these labourers who works in the informal sector, are considered to be engulfed in the circle of precariousness (Vosko, MacDonald and Campbell 2009), both economically and socially.
A simplistic definition may be unable to explain the mobility of this group. As such one wonders whether one needs to revise the very manner in which certain terms and ideas are applied to understand this phenomenon. Breman (2013) argues labour mobility should be addressed as a type of labour nomadism. Hence, it should be seen as circulation instead of migration. Thus, influx and exodus are intricately related to each other in a perpetual pattern of circulation. Such phenomenon of circulation can be found amongst the bharias in Darjeeling hills. Therefore, the present paper tries to understand this very nature of mobility of people in the light of perspectives like ‘circulation of labour’ and ‘labour nomadism’ rather than considering them as a mere process of migration from point ‘A’ to ‘B’. Furthermore, one can find immense amount of research that have been conducted on the formal sector of this region especially on the tea industry and it is still continuing. However, there is a dearth of literature and vagueness on the informal sector in Darjeeling exclusively on the bharias. Therefore, the paper also tries to explore the informal nature of work around the question of insecurity and precarity among the bharias.
Keywords: Bharias, labour, informal sector, mobility.
 Breman. Jan. 2013. At work in the informal economy of India. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. p. 66.