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Why rural India is shunning farms, moving to jobs in towns

Agriculture is the mainstay of Munjurpattu, a village of 3000-people in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district. Tulasi Nainakan and his wife Dhanalakshmi, a middle-aged couple, have witnessed the frenetic pace at which the state has urbanised

delhi Updated: Jul 31, 2011 01:01 IST

Agriculture is the mainstay of Munjurpattu, a village of 3000-people in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district. Tulasi Nainakan and his wife Dhanalakshmi, a middle-aged couple, have witnessed the frenetic pace at which the state has urbanised. The declining viability of agriculture has forced the youth to move out. Their two sons – a civil works contractor and a police constable – shifted out and want nothing to do with farming. “Our sons visit us periodically,” says Dhanalakshmi. But she is upset with the government for denying them electricity for farming. “If this continues, we, too will have to move out,” she says

According to an estimate by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, the area under cultivation in Tamil Nadu has come down by 5% over the last 10 years. In this village alone, out of the 300-odd youth, more than 180 have moved out. Two half-naked septuagenarians wait for food outside the village temple. M Mannikam (79) and Mannu Gounder (70), both farmers, are victims of neglect from their children. Their sons have deserted them and are forced to fend for themselves at this age.

In the neighbouring Kurumbapalayam village, 120 of the 200 youth have left the village.

S Mannarswamy , a government councillor, says agriculture has become a loss-making prospect. “We get a return of R800 out of an investment of Rs 1000. People would rather be labourers in a town.”

Most villages in Tamil Nadu have a small town within 5 km. “People may have to travel lesser distances for

livelihood as compared to, say, in the case of a village in North India,” said Dr Rukmani Ramani of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.

— KV Lakshmana

‘Aspirations of the youth are rising’

village Jandrah
The urban population in Jammu and Kashmir has risen by 36% since 2001

From a small village of 2,000 farmers, a decade ago, Jandrah’s land owners today sublet their fields to others. The reason: four in five youth in the village have migrated to Jammu, Udhampur or towns in other states for better job opportunities. Those who have stayed back are not interested in farming either.

The exodus has hit the elders in the village the hardest. “There is a complete brain drain in the village as all educated youth have shifted to cities. There are few graduate teachers in the three private schools,” says Ajay Sharma (29), who runs a tea-stall in the village.

Ankur Sharma (23), who works with the village bank, says the aspirations of the region’s youth are rising. “Farming alone cannot suffice to the needs of present youth who demand better education and high-profile jobs in cities.”

Newly elected Sarpanch (village head) Anil Sharma (40), who moved to Jammu for a job 20 years back, is concerned over the rapid migration. “I set up a cable business in Jammu and now, I want to serve my own people. The massive migration to the cities has dented the village economy — agricultural output has come down drastically,” Sharma said.

— Arteev Sharma

‘Our living conditions are pathetic’

Balmukund ahirwar (26)
Moved to Ghaziabad from Madhya Pradesh. The urban population in MP has risen 25% since the 2001 census

Desperate for regular income, Balmukund Ahirwar (26), left Chamrola in Madhya Pradesh two years back and migrated to Ghaziabad, near Delhi. One of the few in his community to have passed high school, he is now the proud owner of a driving licence.

Chamrola Village, 200 km north-east of Bhopal, in the drought-prone Bundelkhand region, has a predominantly Ahirwar population. Migration is widespread, owing to drought, the

burden of loans taken from moneylenders and poor implementation of the government’s rural job guarantee scheme.

A domestic help in Ghaziabad, Ahirwar earns close to R8,000 per month. “Food and accommodation are also very expensive here,” he says.

Still he cannot afford to return to the village. “In Bhopal or Indore, I had to put in at least 12 hours every day and face a lot of pressure from the employers, who would call anytime. But in Ghaziabad, I am free after an eight-hour duty,” he says.

Ahirwar’s sons Rinku (22) and Golu (18), who work as labourers at a marble cutting factory at Jaipur, have sent him R35,000 over the past two years, he says proudly.

More than 300 people from the locality, mostly in the 25-40 age group, have migrated to cities in North India. A big pull for villagers to move to the national capital region is better matrimonial prospects. They get many more marriage proposals compared to the youth stuck in the village. Chotelal Ahirwar (38), who works as a plumber in Delhi, is now building a new house in the village.