In Southern Nepal, lies a small village called Khairba in Mahottari district. Most young men have left this village to work as migrant workers in Malaysia and Gulf countries. Between December 2016 and January 2017, I traveled to Khairba village to speak to migrant workers who have returned. I spoke to Ratan Sah. He was the first one from the village to leave for Malaysia in 2002. Malaysia is the most popular destination for Nepali migrant workers.
Ratan worked for a total of eight years in Malaysia with a month-long break every three years. After returning to Nepal, he bought a motorcycle with his remittance earnings. Then, he bought a tractor for an astonishing Rs. 500,000. As his savings dwindled, he sold the motorcycle first, then the tractor. To add salt to the injury, when he got his daughter married, he incurred a debt in order to pay for the dowry. Dowry is a payment in the form of money or goods by bride’s family to the groom’s family. So, Ratan is considering returning to Malaysia again while he still has an able body for manual labor. He hopes to earn enough to pay off the debts and accrue some savings.
An Interview with Ratan Sah
I asked Ratan about his journey to Malaysia, the type of work he did there, and opportunities back in Nepal. The interview is in his local language Maithili. Maithili is the second most spoken language in Nepal. The interview was transcribed into English by Preeti A. Karna, included below.
Transcript of the Video Interview
RATAN: I went to Malaysia in 2002. It cost me 85,000 Rupees with the manpower agency Al Khali in Kathmandu. The Malaysian company was Nilex. The salary was basically 400. The manpower agency had told me it would be 485. But I was then told that I would only get 400 as salary even though it was supposed to be 485. They argued about it. I told them I will not go. They told me to take it back if I wouldn’t go. They told me that I would only be given 400 there, not 485. The agreement there was only for 400. Over here, it is 485 for the government. If the Nepali government sees that it is 485, only then it can send people there.
I came back for holidays after three years of living there. I took a month’s leave. After that I went back to Malaysia. Again after three years I came back on leave for a month. And again I went back. I stayed there for two more years. After 8 years, I returned home for good and am living here since. I am planning to go abroad again.
Q: Where are you planning to go?
RATAN: Let’s see where it works out.
Q: Why do you want to go again even after living abroad for 8 years?
RATAN: What will I do staying here? I’m wasting my time here. I have still a few years left. If I get old, I won’t be able to go abroad. That is the problem.
Q: You went for 8 years. What difference did 8 years away have?
RATAN: In 8 years, I build my house, bought some lands. I also bought a motorcycle from the Sethji (village merchant) for 72,000 Rupees. I bought a tractor for 5 lakhs. After that, I sold the motorcycle first. Then I sold the tractor as well. Then I entered local politics while at home. And that’s it.
Q: There’s no work here to do?
RATAN: No, there’s no work here.
Q: So the skills you learnt after spending 8 years, is there no chance to use it here?
RATAN: I used to fit pipes in those plastic tanks you see up there. There’s no such thing here. There is no work like that here, there’s no such company either. There were tanks for ten thousand, five thousand, two thousand, one thousand, five hundred liters there. Over here the tanks are made for holding 200 liters. There’s that. I also used to make plastic foams for seats that you see in buses. So I used to make those there.
Q: Have many people from this village gone out?
RATAN: A lot. From one house, more than 2-3 people leave for work.
Q: So you must have met a few people from your village when you were there?
RATAN: I met many people.
Q: From this village?
Q: What countries did you meet them in?
RATAN: I’m talking about Malaysia. I went only there. I did not go anywhere else from Malaysia. I met Sundev, I also met Suresh’s son, then there was Pukaar. I met a lot of people.
Q: How long have they been living there?
RATAN: I went there first in 2002. Six months after that, Phulwa also went there. Then Pukaar came. After that, gradually, people from Khairba increased there.
Q: How much have you studied?
RATAN: I have studied till matriculation.
Q: So is that enough for you? What about English language?
RATAN: I took two months’ training for English, okay? One hour English daily. English to English. First they trained me to read. It was quite a success. Over there, they considered me good. I worked well in the company, I was informed too. So they thought well of me.
Q: Have you ever been cheated?
RATAN: No, I haven’t been cheated yet.
Q: Anybody in the village then?
RATAN: Depends on the person. Who knows who went in what way. If they come back, then obviously get cheated somehow. Sometimes the person turns out to be a slacker. They don’t want to work and they go back home. So what can I say to anybody?
Q: Do you think that the village has progressed because foreign countries have opened to migrant workers?
RATAN: Yes, a lot.
Q: Is there is more happiness here than suffering?
RATAN: The developments in Nepal have happened mainly due to migration to foreign countries. Earning here in the villages would not be enough for such progress. And where in Nepal is a place to earn? Is there even such place? (Background: There are no factories in Nepal. There are no resources here to earn.)
I would like to sincerely thank Preeti A. Karna for transcribing the interview from Maithili to English. I would also like to thank Jeet Kumar Sah, a volunteer at Madhesh Relief Fund (MRF) and Er. Krishna Chandra Sah, the coordinator at MRF for extending their support during my field trip to Khairba village.
This work is part of a student media grant by the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University. I would like to thank The Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University (ConDev, condev.org) for its funding and support. ConDev seeks to improve the effectiveness of development programs and policies for conflict-affected and fragile countries through multidisciplinary research, education and development extension.
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