RAATH ROAD, Hamirpur, at 10 pm. A rickety bus parked on the sideway is agog with noisy, tentative people in some great hurry to leave—on a journey that they hope will turn things around for them. Some more people and the bus leaves for its destination, Ferozabad.
That’s Bundelkhand today, witness to an unusual, possibly the biggest ever exodus, triggered by debt and hunger.
“Yes, it’s drought-like condition and we cannot deny that exodus is taking place,” says Jhansi district magistrate L Venketehwar Loo. A guarded yet honest comment on the prevailing situation in Jhansi, his district that is largely bearing the brunt of this exodus.
“Exodus from most villages is about 50 per cent. In some, it may even be 70 per cent,” says Pradeep Jain, MLA from Jhansi.
Four years of successive droughts have forced the population, mainly farmers both landed and landless, in Bundelkhand region comprising Jhansi, Lalitpur, Hamirpur, Chitrakoot, Jalaun, Banda and Mahoba districts look for alternatives.
Not that they have many—with most opting to work as labourers in better placed UP areas, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Jammu.
“I along with my wife entered into a contract with this brick kiln which paid us an advance of Rs 10,000. According to contract, we will work in the kiln till June, and would return with another Rs 20,000 that will be paid to us after this eight-month contract,” said Pappu from Rigwar in Hamirpur. No big money that.
Rs 30,000 in eight months— that is around Rs 60 per day per head..
At the Jhansi railway station, like at other railway stations in the region, the scene is no different. Radhey, a native from Maharajpur in Chhatarpur, restlessly looks for signs of the train that will take him to Jammu. “We have had no crop for the last few years. I went to Jammu and worked in a band for some time.
Then I worked as a construction labourer. When I left, I had to leave my family behind. This time, I am taking them along. As it is, there is absolutely nothing for them to eat here. They too can work now,” he tells HT.
Radhey, like other hapless people of the area, is, however, leaving his eldest son at home to take care of his elderly parents. Little wonder, most villages are now mostly left with elderly people, who can no more fend for themselves.
Bundelkhand region already is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the country. It, according to the last census, had a population of just 82,32,847 people. And approximately 82 per cent of it lived in rural areas. Its current population is estimated to be a little over one crore.