Tag Archives: migrant

Pehlwan: The Migrant Warrior

Our latest story at Virtual Bharat is one from our own city—Mumbai. The city of dreams. The city of warriors. The city of migrants. This story is dedicated to the unbreakable spirit of the migrants who make Mumbai the city that it is today. The bustling financial capital, made up of 22 million, that runs on the strength of its migrant warriors. 

Milind Kuber Patil, Nilesh Baban Madale, Shailesh Rangrao Maske, Raju Baban Jadhav, Omkar Kisan Pawar, and Amit Shrirang Ghadage are a few among the migrants who come to Mumbai to make a living, a future, and a name. They have left their families and come a long way from home to fulfill their dreams. And they choose a path of their own making. What sets these migrants apart is that they not only take on the dream and struggles of Mumbai but dedicate themselves to training in the ancient Indian art form – Pehlwani. An intensive sport involving over 8 hours of practice a day, and an intensive daily regime. Their training begins at a young age, presenting hard work and determination as fuel for both the mind and the body. They worship the soil they train on, tending to it every day, nourishing it with honey and minerals before stepping onto it to train.

These pehlwans moved to the Mahatma Phule Vyayam Mandir, an akhada (training centre) located in Chinchpokli, Mumbai, in their teens, with a dream to become the greatest pehlwans of India. They work in the city as coolies, laborers, security guards, and various other daily wage jobs to earn their living. What keeps them going, is their love for their art, and their determination to keep growing.

“Everybody has a desire, and I do too. I want to keep moving forward in life. I am never satisfied with my body, because then I would settle for this,” says Milind. 

Pehlwani or Kushti is an ancient Indian art of combat, thought to have been around in its early form (Malla-Yuddha) since the 5th millennium BCE. The art of Kushti has been evolving for centuries. It came to take its modern shape in the Mughal and colonial eras. Despite this, the core values of Kushti have continued to remain its true fuel. The men who are trained as pehlwans take an oath – stop a blow, never strike. They use their strength and prowess to defend the weaker sections of society.

The pehlwan plays the role of the protector. The training of Pehlwani echoes the wisdom of ancient traditions that aimed to create an aspirational figure for society. A role model for the traditional Indian male. The pehlwan. The pehlawan (the first guardian). As we shoot with the pehlwans, we see not only their incredible training and willpower, but their kindness, diligence, and sheer inner strength, honed by their practice. The film shows the journey of the pehlwan in the city built on the dreams of migrants. With the lyrics of Dopeadelicz ringing in your ears, “Fight like a warrior, win like a champion,” this film is about Mumbai’s own migrant warriors. Watch the film now. 


Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel

A Tale of Two Valleys

Whew.

For the next year, my ability to Google will be ensured by the fact that roughly 200,000 people across 50 countries are working from home.

And, I can like your Facebook posts for, well, forever, because Mark Zuckerberg “guesses as much as 50 percent of the company’s 45,000-person workforce could be working entirely remotely in the next five to 10 years.”

These may be private sector decisions. But they impact the public’s understanding of immigrants and immigration. And that leads policymakers to value the Googler much more than the farmworker.

Look, as COVID-19 cases keep growing across California, the state’s tech industry and its nearly 1.8 million workers in 2018 — with over 805,000 of those jobs in San Francisco and San Jose — is doing fine. Their companies are growing, their bottom lines look great.

And, with the exception of those on the sector’s retail or gig front line, most are working from home.

The breathless media coverage leads us to think that this is the new reality for most workers. It is not.

Among U.S. workers, 11 percent are employed in the agricultural and food sectors — almost twice as many as those who work in tech. Of the approximately 22 million full- and part-time jobs in the ag and food sector, about 2.6 million are direct on-farm jobs, and nearly 13 million are jobs in food service, eating and drinking places.

These workers are not earning six-figure salaries. And they definitely are not working from home. (If they are working at all.)

In fact, go about two hours east of the work-from-home Silicon Valley and you find yourself in the hot fields of the Central Valley where more than 250 different crops, with an estimated value of $17 billion per year, are grown. In total, the Valley supplies 8% of U.S. agricultural output (by value) and produces a quarter of the nation’s food, including 40% of our fruits, nuts, and other table foods.

Over 675,000 people work in the agricultural industry up and down the Central Valley.

In California, like across the country, these are the jobs that require workers to go to the “office.” But, for these workers, the office is a field, a farm, or a ranch where something needs to be planted or picked, cared for, or caught.

Everything surrounding these jobs puts people at risk. Sharing a ride to work, close quarters at the workplace, homes that do not afford any modicum of social distancing. As a result, the rate of positive coronavirus tests in the Central Valley could be as high as 17.7% — more than double the 7.8% statewide average over the last seven days.

While California works to get financial and medical resources directly to these agricultural communities, the federal government turns a blind eye. Under the CARES Act, both parents must have Social Security numbers for the family to receive relief. This makes entire families, including U.S. citizen children and spouses, ineligible for much-needed COVID-19 economic assistance.

This is a dynamic playing out in communities across the country. Immigrant families, even those with U.S. citizens among them, are going without any sort of relief.

These are trying times that require all of us to sacrifice. For some, the sacrifice is social distancing and working from home, while raising a family. For others, it is losing your job altogether.

And, for others, it is doing a job that is essential to the health of the country — but detrimental to your own health.

As we approach six months of this national crisis, it is easy to lose perspective and think that our own reality is the reality of others, to believe that our protection from COVID-19 is the same protection others have.

We begin to think COVID-19 is a disease “they” get. “They” did something to put themselves at risk. “They” were not healthy enough to fight off the disease. “They” live somewhere else, do something else.

Well, more than we probably realize, “they” are putting food on our table. And, “they” are most likely to be people of color and/or immigrants.

This lack of perspective leads the nation down a slippery path where economic and social divisions widen, where moral leadership is replaced by transactional leadership, where the bottom line is more important than people.

It’s a dangerous path that leaves the least among us without support — left to fend for themselves without health care or financial relief.

There is still time for the country to get off this path, and for Congress to ensure that all of us can access the relief and support we need.

The fact is that the skilled farmworker, documented or not, putting food on our table is just as, if not more, important to our lives and livelihood as the skilled engineer putting Google on our screens.


Ali Noorani is President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of Only in America. And, terrible golfer.

Featured Image by Coolcaesar and licence here.

Original article can be found here.

8 South Asian Men are being Force-Fed or Force-Hydrated in Detention Right Now. Here’s what you can do.

As I write this, five men from India are on hunger strike in a detention facility in Jena, Louisiana and are being subject to forced-hydration by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And in a detention facility in El Paso, Texas, three South Asian men on hunger strike are being force-fed by ICE. 

Here’s what that looks like: In El Paso, the men are undergoing naso-gastric force-feeding, which means a tube, nearly twice the size of the tubes that were used in Guantanamo, is being inserted through their noses, past their throat, and down into their stomach. In Jena, where the forced-hydration is occurring, a team of five to six people hold down the person while the IV is administered.

Force-feeding is a practice that has been denounced as torture by the United Nations, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Association, and the World Medical AssociationAnd yet, it’s been been occurring in the El Paso facility throughout the year. Since January, at least 16 people have been or are currently being subjected to force-feeding practices at that detention facility alone.

This keeps happening and will continue to happen unless we raise our voices.

The number of South Asian migrants apprehended at the border tripled from over 3,000 in 2017 to over 11,000 in 2018. SAALT and our partners have tracked patterns of abuse towards South Asian migrants in detention since 2014 that drove many to hunger strike including: inadequate or non-existent language access, denial of religious accommodations, use of solitary confinement as a form of retaliation, gross medical neglect, and high bond amounts resulting in prolonged detention.

We have to work together to ensure these men aren’t suffering in detention cells alone, with no one caring about what happens to them. Will you join us?

Here are three things you can do immediately: