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Opportunistic Migration in Bundelkhand

Among all social groups in rural areas, scheduled tribes (STs), followed by scheduled castes (SCs), are more likely to migrate for work than people from any other group.

Members of landed Thakur and educated Brahmin households also migrate, but their reasons for leaving the village are opportunistic - driven by the desire to have a better life. 'Opportunistic migration' is generally permanent or semi-permanent. However, the migrants usually continue to maintain close ties with the families left behind, and contribute in a big way to family income, as the following case study shows.

Ravikiran Tiwari moved to Pune in 1992 from his village Nandi in Pahadi block of Chitrakoot. Located in a plain area, the block has black soil and groundwater at level of less than 50 feet.  In this productive zone, Tiwari's upper-caste (Brahmin) family has a total of 50 bighas, or around 9 hectares. A variety of crops are grown: wheat, rice, channa, masoor, arhar, mustard and vegetables. The produce meets the food needs of the family through the year, and there is surplus for sale. However, production was entirely dependant on good rainfall, and there was no scope for raising income substantially.

Hence, after he completed his college studies in Allahabad, Ravikiran moved to Pune. He had come to know about the city from some families living around his married sister's house in Varanasi. Some members of these families had already migrated to Pune, and with their support, Ravikiran tried to find his feet in the city.

The initial years were very difficult, he said. Then, working as a casual wage-earner, he acquired glass-cutting skills from one of his employers. Pune was experiencing a construction boom, and Ravikiran soon got jobs on his own from builders. In a few years, he became a multiple service provider, taking up a variety of contracts, for metal fabrication, furniture-making  and internal and external wall finishing, and getting them done through hired labour.

As an established and successful contractor, he also helped new migrants from the region of his village, providing work and useful information. He estimated that he had helped around 250 migrants till December 2008. Most of them, like Ravikiran himself, live without their families, which are left behind in the village. The migrants keep in touch with each other and organise a Ramleela celebration every year.

Married, and with three children, Ravikiran goes to his village once or twice a year, or even once in two years, according to need, and time available. His wife and children come to Pune more regularly. Nevertheless, he said, '60% of my mind is always on the village'.

His father and younger brother manage the family land, with the help of paid labour.  Ravikiran's savings helped the family buy a tractor and drill a tubewell. With assured water, they grew sugarcane, a rarity in the region. Ravikiran once took good quality seeds from Pune, and motivated the family to cultivate onion. He has also contributed to many public works in the village, he said. It was people like him who have contributed more to the upliftment of living standards in the village than the government, he said.

Compared to the 1990s, when there were very few pucca houses in the village, in 2008, around 25% of the houses in the village were pucca and most people were wearing better clothes, he said. Families could afford to buy medicines and send children to other cities for higher education. All this, he said, was only because of income from migrants. Around 60-70% of households in the village with around 1000 households had at least one male working somewhere else, he said.

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