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Migration as a Coping Strategy

  One of the several locked homes of migrants in Jatara, Tikamgarh (pic by Aditya Malaviya)

For people from SC and ST groups in rural areas, migration is usually an unavoidable 'coping strategy', driven simply by the need to survive.

As in most predominantly dryland areas of the country, coping migration in Bundelkhand starts after wheat is sown in the rabi season, generally after the Dassera or Diwali festivals. The destination, it seems, is largely determined by precedents set in the village.

Hence, one finds that in some villages all migrants head towards Delhi, Pathankot or Jammu. In a few other places, migrants head westwards, towards Gujarat or Rajasthan. Regular migrants work their way through contacts; others simply try their luck. Journalists Aditya and Sushmita Malaviya, who recorded migration patterns in some villages of Jatara block of Tikamgarh district in 2007, reported:

For most migrants, the journey starts with a phone call from people who have been to Delhi, Gurgaon or Jammu before and already have the phone numbers of contractors who need labourers to do manual work… Someone calls up a contractor in, say, Jammu, who then tells him the number of people he can take on, the travel destination and the kind of work available. He instructs the villagers when and where to arrive, and who to bring with them. These are the lucky ones. Others just book themselves on the first available train to Delhi, where they camp outside Nizammuddin railway station waiting for contractors to pick them up.

For those travelling by road, the journey usually begins around 4 pm in the evening, when the contractor arranges for a truck or bus to pick them up directly from the village through a local contact. They reach Delhi at around 6-7 am the following day; throughout the long journey they have to fend for themselves. Therefore people pack puris…When people make puris in Jatara block, it’s not because they have something to celebrate. When a woman starts makes puris, it is clear enough indication that the family is about to move, and neighbours chip in silently….

In times of crop failure, the proportion of migrants shoots up to over 50% of the working population of many villages. A survey carried out in 2007, after four consecutive years of poor rainfall, in 10 villages of Chhatarpur district, Rajnagar block, by Kamlesh, a volunteer working with an NGO called Sambhav, found that of the 3,265 households in these villages, working age adults from 59% of the households had migrated to places as far away as Delhi and Jammu looking for work;  44% of the migrants were female. Broadly, 70% of the migrants belonged to SC groups, 20% were from ST groups and the remaining 10% were from other social groups.

In years of crop failure, villages that have a population composed entirely of SC or ST marginal farmers and landless labourers become deserted. In 2007, 33 of the 200 villages in the Naraini block of Banda district were deserted, reported Raja Bhaiya, chief functionary of Vidyadham Samiti, an NGO associated with ABSSS and working in Naraini block. A graphic picture of a deserted village in Jalaun district was given by Pankaj Jaiswal in a Hindustan Times report dated November 1, 2006.

Just as you enter Unchaa, resembling the ruins of a died-out civilisation excavated from the womb of mother earth, a swirl of dust carried by an ominous gust of dry wind welcomes you.

Inhabited till February 2006, this 150-year-old village, just a kilometre from the Pahuj river and 10 km from Jalaun's Madhogarh, now exists only in government records. In reality Unchaa is 'no more'.

Once the most prosperous village of the district, Unchaa simply could not withstand the successive onslaughts unleashed on it - dacoits, floods and four years of crop failure in a row–and gave in, triggering what is being termed as the worst case of exodus (100 per cent) in the Bundelkhand region.

Today it presents a perfect case for study.

Right at the entry point of the village stands a school building. Hindi alphabets written on the blackboard have not yet faded. Signs of how recent everything must have been.

The roads to the village are full of wild shrubs and hedges. Most of the electricity poles have collapsed. Wires stand pilfered.

Some houses still have doors which seems to have been locked forever. Signs of how unbearable it must have been.

Also there is an MMR telephone tower in the middle of the village. It was a kind of wireless telephone used much before the advent of mobile telephony. Tell-tale signs of the village's prosperity.

It was a pretty well off village, says Bhoopat, former gram pradhan of Bhimnagar, situated next to Unchaa.

'The exodus from Unchaa began with the drought of 2002 and 2004. Most families gave up between 2004 and 2006. Three families - a Prajapati, a Pandit and a Vishwakarma - were the last to go', says Devendra Gandhi, a youth who used to do social work in the village.

Over time, and especially for people with skill or experience in a particular industry, 'coping' migration can become 'accumulative' - apart from meeting survival needs, it can help improve the economic condition of the family. At around 9 pm, at Manikpur railway station, in Chitrakoot district, one can see almost through the year, scores of men from Chitrakoot, Banda, Jalaun and Hamirpur districts waiting for a train bound to Surat, where they work in textile units. The social and economic status of their families and the work they do at Surat sets them apart from 'opportunistic' migrants. But their attire, and the occasional cellphone, sets them apart from 'coping' migrants. Accumulative migration has been badly hit in the current economic crisis.

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