Once upon a time, a father was scolding his son “why you are not going out in search of bread and butter”. Her wife was also weeping, crying, shouting that he must go out to anywhere and do some work. This story is nothing new, at least in my village and my hilly state Uttarakhand where migration is very common and people move outside in search of employment. Earlier I did not know that we all are migrants (one or other way); few are by choice and many are by force. Conceptually we can say migration is because of pull and push factors. After getting theoretical perspective of migration when I started my career in Gujarat, the first impression was, Gujurati are least willing to leave their home for job. They want to be in Gujarat and work here only. This is a broader observation and I may be wrong also. Here I would like to share is the story of migration among tribal community in Dangs and it is truly based upon my past 8 month experiences. Before moving further, let me share in brief about our work area in Dangs as before I shared about SRI but not about our work area.
Dangs is a hilly district and the smallest district in Gujarat where more than 90% population belongs to tribal community. The major livelihood is agriculture and beyond agriculture only one option is left with community to earn money; that is migration in sugarcane fields. This area is highly sloppy so even after heavy rainfall (3000 mm per year) farmers are not able to grow any crop in winter season after paddy. So the common practice is, after paddy sowing family prefers migration for 6-7 months in nearby cities for cash earning. Here the story starts of migration and its impact. That impact we can see through different perspectives like impact on a kid, impact on a youth, impact on pregnant women, and impact on old parents. It is not that before I never felt the pain of migration in this reason, I did but today first time I had detailed discussion with women regarding migration and I could sense how much painful this migration is?
Whatever I am sharing here in coming paragraphs all based on my discussion with women farmers in Vasurna village during PRA and discussion with farmers in past.
Over a period of time Migration to sugar cane field become the major seasonal livelihood for poor tribal families; more than 50 % families in a village, practices migration during winter season. In sugarcane fields, tribal family works as a bonded labor for contractor and in pair of husband and wife they are known as Kotha. This way work in sugar cane field becomes destiny of these families for six month, normally from October to April. Sugarcane work is mostly done in group because contractors are paying on piece rate basis (starting from sugar cane cutting to truck loading).
To become a group member; it is compulsion to take advance loan (as for rest six months they need money for marriage, for other expenses) from sugar cane contractor and repay double amount. The only repayment method is to work in sugarcane field. Their wage is paid at the end of the sugar cane cycle.Here I would like to share all this experience from a woman perspective as women shared all the challenges with me. A Kotha (both husband and wife) normally harvest 1 ton sugarcane in a day and after loading it in truck they earns 250 Rs/ per day. The original amount is 300 Rs/day but 50 Rs deducted by company worker and agent who facilitated them from their village to sugar cane field. Family also gets 50 Kg coarse millet for feeding for all that they have to pay money. If due to some unavoidable reason, like pregnancy, any tribal family leaves work in between; sugarcane contractor do not pay them and also previous loan hike twice. These above mention conditions compel whole family to migrate and work in unbearable condition.
During migration season their kids help parents by taking care of young siblings and fetch water from distant source. They reside in nearby field because they have to work as per timing of contractor; generally they work 14-16 hours in a day and gets on an average Rs.100 per day. There is no timing for uploading truck; the moment truck reaches, they have to upload otherwise they punished (physically, mentally, or financially). If someone suffers with health problem during work and fails to work during that period then he/she has to pay Rs.20 and 2 Kg grains per day as penalty. These situations make life miserable, physically and mentally. This drudgery brings death closer to them as data shows that 90.1% of total tribal population (Kothwalia community) death happens below 50 year (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar). There is no any medical facility and many time women delivered their kids in field itself. The woman was discussing with me she herself had this experience. This is one dimension, economical dimension but beyond that there are other sides also. Literacy and education status is very bad and because of migration, children never gets proper education and many times they get married at the age of 15-16 year. During discussion women shared that for one bottle of wine, a father sells her daughter. Average age of marriage for boy is 18-19 year and for girl it is 15-16. A woman shared during discussion that I must have 4-5 kids at my age. During migration period they uptake unhygienic food and that is same for kid also. Even though they are poor and comes under tribal welfare related social program but because of continuous movement they could not enjoy benefits of those schemes. Very few families had regular access of PDS program. One thing I could understand after discussion that there is a deep concern about regular employment availability. As this region is highly undulated and no irrigation facility is available so families have nothing to do after October. MGNREGA implementation is a dream for them and even it implemented, than it is only for 4-5 days and after work, labours get only 50 Rs per day. That amount also they get after 6-7 month so they hate with the word “Rojgar Guarantee”.
Here families do mass migration and agent (locally known as Mukaddam) from village or from nearby village facilitates them. That agent gives advance loan for any type of financial need throughout the year and for that they charges 150 % interest rate. if one family Husband-wife earns 32000 Rs (as I calculated in a group) average than after deducting all past payments and other expenses they come back with only 8000-9000 Rs. Think 7-8 month hard work and they return with 7000-8000 Rs. That amount is not sufficient for all expenses so they take advance loan from Agent and again pay next year. It becomes a vicious cycle and they all are now habitual to that.
When we discussed further that do they enjoy migration than women shared that their husband or men enjoys migration as they get wine, non veg, and other toxic items their but it is a living hell for women. Women have to care for their family, they have to care for their kids, they have to care for their agriculture and so on but the tragedy is because they do not have any employment option at locality so they have to do migration and this is the only choice left with them.
After all this discussion, I understood the vicious cycle of migration cycle but at the same time frustration raised questions to myself that what we can do as a development organization. As a team we know our strength and our limitations and at the same time there are number of dilemmas for us and for our team. Exploring its answer, trying to work with local government for implementing MGNREGA so at least families will not do distress migration in long term and there will no baby born again in sugarcane field. If someone is reading it and can suggest anything, than please respond so we will get some idea to respond this situation.
Note- This is all based upon discussion with women farmers in Vasurna; – Jaywanti, Sati, Meru, Sangeeta. few male farmers also shared their experiences but I do not have their name.