Chronicle of Barkha

by the Policy and Development Advisory Group (PDAG)

For the Jharkhand Migration Survey (JMS) 2023, Barkha recounts her journey, while facing gender bias and finding her entrepreneurial spirit as she set up her small business in the Gumla district of Jharkhand.

Courtesy of Jharkhand Migration Survey 2023

Twenty-one-year-old Barkha is a proud, garment shop-owner in the Palkot Block of the Gumla district of Jharkhand. She had migrated at the tender age of 15 to Punjab to be employed as a domestic worker. Six years and three jobs later, she had amassed enough savings to open her own shop. When asked about her almost surreal journey, she quips “People here say that too… I have not done much, just what needed to be done.” On another instance she recounted, “I don’t have much of a story to offer… I had stayed away from my home for around 7 years, which is why I could manage all this… We were very poor, so the only thing I had in mind was that I had to earn enough money… I don’t have much formal education but I had to do something, so I started working as a domestic worker.” Barkha belongs to the Lohra community, in the Lotwa village of the Palkot Block of Gumla. Lohras consider themselves Adivasis. Despite possessing land, the community is not able to produce much. During our study in Palkot, we were told that predominantly, the women from the Adivasi communities migrate as domestic workers. Other communities in the block do not look upon women’s migration favourably.



Gumla also happens to be one of the districts with highest rates of trafficking of women, where the line between voluntary migration and trafficking is often blurred. But that’s a story for another day. While taking us through her journey Barkha reminisced, “My parents had land but my father had a chronic illness and my mother too had a back problem. My brothers would go to school, so my father had no help when it came to farming. They could not produce much. They worked odd jobs—like carrying and crushing stone from nearby hills whenever houses were being made in the village… I was a child then… I couldn’t fathom how I could help, but today I have understood, so I am trying.”



However, there are several layers to Barkha’s story. She mentions, “At that point, I used to go to school but there were a lot of problems at home, so I decided to quit school… My elder cousin was visiting us then, and I told her I wanted to go to Punjab with her…My brothers did not want me to go but my parents agreed… I was a child back then… When my cousin asked if I would want to go with her, I simply agreed… The only thing that was going on in my mind was whether I should write my matriculation examination or leave before that… but eventually I just demanded that my parents allow me to leave…”



When talking about her experiences in school, she remembered, “There was a strict teacher… As a punishment he had made me stand out of the classroom… The aunty who prepared mid-day meals in the school had asked for some help and when I was helping her the teacher had seen me… He then told me ‘You should quit studies and start cooking’… 


On hearing that I left school.” She added later, “My cousins here fell in love and eloped at a very young age and then got married…Sometimes, I wonder if I had been here, I might have done that too… It was good that I left.



Once in Punjab, she did mention feeling very lonely and sad, but her mother fell severely ill and her treatment involved a huge expense, so Barkha decided to stay and send money back home. She took a loan from her employers and therefore, could not leave before she had repaid it. It took her three years to repay the loan. Barkha mentioned that she had come back home after the first COVID-19 induced lockdown like many other migrant workers, but the conditions at her home forced her to return as soon as the first lockdown was lifted.



Once back in Delhi, she had gone shopping one day. While returning on a bus she heard someone behind her talking in Sadri. She turned back, hearing a familiar language. Thus began her friendship with a woman who hailed from Ramgarh in Jharkhand and worked in a boutique in Delhi. It was through her that she landed a job in a boutique—a significant shift from being a domestic worker. The job paid her approximately 30,000 INR per month, apart from taking care of her food, lodging and travel expenses.



Barkha worked as a boutique attendant for about two years, before returning home. It was there that she learnt the tricks of the garment trade which led her to open her own shop. Her mother had warned her against opening the shop but she was adamant. With the help of a friend, she started setting up the shop; eventually her family came around too. She noted that she had started planning to open the shop in March 2022, even before returning home from Delhi in June that year. She had sent stocks for the shop from Delhi, and had used her connections to order more from Jamnagar and Gandhinagar.



Eventually, she had decided that it would be better to sell shoes along with clothes and thus, her shop today is a one-stop fashion solution in Palkot. Barkha has already invested almost 10 lakh INR—her life’s savings—to set up the shop. Barkha confessed that initially she was doubtful of her decision. On the one hand, she had wanted to have her own business, but on the other, she was sceptical about being able to earn as much as she earned in Delhi. But now she earns more than her previous salary. Her brother, who was a migrant worker too, has now bought a car and rents it out as a business. The family’s fortunes have now turned and Barkha is in the search of a partner with whom she could start a family, who will nonetheless continue to help her to run her business.


Women’s and men’s migration as labourers from Jharkhand follow different patterns even though the root cause remains the same. While men might migrate to gain financial independence while providing for their families, they enjoy their visit to a new place, and are able to be with their friends. However, women almost always migrate when there is a financial crisis in the family. Women also migrate to sectors primarily conceived as feminine, such as domestic work and textile work.



Unlike men, women are almost always provided for, in terms of food and lodging, which results in the latter facing extreme surveillance of a gendered nature at the place of residence. Men are often able to cope with the hardships of living away from their homes in alien cities by falling back on their peer groups with whom they migrate. However, women working alone, in a domestic set-up do not have access to such support and often feel lonely and isolated. 



Barkha observes that working as a domestic worker is particularly challenging. She joined the workforce at a young age and did not have much knowledge about the responsibilities she was expected to undertake. Even as she learnt to cook, take care of infants as necessary and tend to a thousand other minutiae of daily chores, certain challenges persisted, such as: 


  • No fixed working hours: 

“Kabhi kabhi night mein bhi dekhna hota tha jab woh log kahi party mein gaye hote the toh.”

(Sometimes, I’d have to be on duty till late night when they went to parties.)


  • No fixed work contract with defined job roles:

“Kabhi kabhi wahan ke maid log nahi aate the to kuch kuch kaam karna padta tha.”

(Sometimes, I’d have to work extra when their other household help did not come.)


  • Many women domestic workers are not allowed to possess and use cell-phones or to leave the employer’s residence unattended:

“Haan main phone nahi li thi. Jab bhi ghar me baat karna hota tha to mai unka telephone se baat kar leti thi aur kabhi kabhi unhi logo ke phone se hi baat kar leti thi. Man to karta tha ki main bhi phone pakdu lekin waha rakhne hi nahi dete the. Unlogo ka phone ka he showroom tha main bolti bhi thi phir bhi nahi dete the.”


(Yes, I did not bring a phone. Whenever I needed to contact my family, I used the employers’ telephone or personal mobiles. I wanted to keep a phone, but it was not allowed. They had a phone showroom, but they did not buy me a phone even when I asked for one.)



Barkha worked in one of the most exploitative sectors of work in the country, i.e., domestic work. While Barkha was fortunate enough to be able to leave the profession behind and begin again with her own shop, not many women from Gumla can boast of such success. Yet, for Barkha, the success is not unequivocal. She continues to face questions for the same from society:

Illustration by Harshika Tripathi

Also read: Caste on the Move

About the organisation

Policy & Development Advisory Group (PDAG) is a social enterprise headquartered in New Delhi, working at the intersection of public policy advisory, research, and strategic communications. Under the Jharkhand Migration Survey, they initiated a series titled “Montages of Migration”. Through this series, they aim to spotlight inspiring individuals who have faced adversities with courage and grace during their migration journeys.