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Their India has No Borders

by Anja Kovacs last modified Oct 05, 2015 03:08 PM
Bangalore felt far for them, they would mark it outside the country. India, for migrant labourers, is different from the India we know
Their India has No Borders

From left: Yashaswini, Ekta and Paromita

To 30-year-old Shankar, a migrant worker in Bangalore who came from Jharkhand, Mumbai is near West Bengal and Bangalore is in the North-East. If someone were to travel to Mumbai by Shankar’s map of India, he would land up in Kolkata.

Shankar’s map was part of an installation art show that concluded in the city on Wednesday, showing the maps of India as seen by migrant workers in Bangalore. The installation was a 14ft-by-18ft space enclosed with asbestos sheets. Wires crisscrossed the tiny room, and from the wires hung maps of India, drawn according to the perceptions of the migrant workers.

Shankar is only one among thousands of migrant workers in Bangalore who have a very different perception of where the cities where they work are located. Their India is a world away from the maps of India that educated Indians know of. It has none of the directions, orientation or location of places as we know it.

Start Thinking

“We want Bangaloreans to stop and think about migrant workers, who live amongst us,” says Ekta. Along with Yashaswini and Paromita, she spoke to 70 migrant workers on Old Madras Road before tracking their journeys on the maps. While Ekta has founded Maraa, a collective that looks at art and culture in the public domain, Yashaswini and Paromita are independent film makers.

 “Our perception of location is meaningless to migrant workers,” says Ekta. For them, locations, distances and directions are all very different from the true picture. Their ideas of places are all drawn from their lives, as they travel from city to city to earn their livelihoods, she adds.

For instance, if Assam was westwards from his home, a migrant worker would mark it in West India. And if Bangalore felt far for him, he would mark it outside the country. Borders hardly came in the way and distances are measured by the time spent in a journey, including train delays and stopovers at transit points, they say.

When the workers say long distances or far way, they mean places such as Jharkhand, Bihar, Nepal, Punjab, Andhra, and North Karnataka.

India in a Room

 

While they work here, their families are in villages back home, even as far away as Nepal. Many workers live in asbestos shanties that are as small as 10ft by 10ft. They live huddled within the small space, creating a mini India right here in Bangalore, says Ekta. Spluttering rai (mustard seeds) mingle with the smell of Andhra chutneys in a room adorned with photos of Amritsar’s Golden Temple in the same tiny space.

As the group spoke to the workers, the latter also shared their stories of the weather, people, smells, cultures, personal, nostalgic and fantastical, of places — by their memories of what they saw, felt and remembered. They go beyond the geo-political maps of India and present a new, spatial experience of places.

The project is part of a workshop called Maps for Making Change, which was started by Centre for Internet and Society, to examine ways of using maps to help social causes.

Read the original in Bangalore Mirror

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