Kalavati Devi is five months pregnant. Badly malnourished, she can hardly walk properly, but with her husband having left for another state in search of employment, she has a lot of work at her home in Senwar village, Latehar.
“I have to look after the children and livestock, collect firewood for the kitchen and mahua flowers to supplement the family’s income,” she said. And if someone in the family were to fall sick, she has to travel at least 20 km to visit the nearest health centre.
Kalavati is the not the only one faced with this situation in this tribal heartland, which is infamous for parched fields and left wing extremism. Come March, and a majority of the men from these dry regions of Jharkhand, especially Lohardaga, Latehar, Palamu, Garhwa, Gumla, Simdega, Chatra and Khunti districts, pack up for the yearly seasonal migration, leaving their families, homes and hearth for at least the next 3-6 months.
In certain villages, the entire family migrates.
According to the Journal of Economic and Social Development, Jharkhand’s seasonal migration results in about 20% to 33% of family members remaining out of the village for four to nine months. The journal says females usually migrate along with the male in the area, with women comprising 43-50% of the total migration.
HT travelled to Senwar in the remote Garu block, where a majority of houses were locked, their families gone. Only old, pregnant and ailing women and the children were left behind.
“My husband has been migrating for work for the last 15 years. He migrates in early February and returns when the monsoon reaches its peak. There is nothing to do here — no water, no jobs and no alter native livelihood sources,” Kalavati lamented.
In the neighbouring house, Shanti Oraon returned home with a basketful of mahua and wild berries. Her husband Arjun left with six other men for Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh in February to work in a brick-kiln, leaving on her the burden of looking after their seven young children.
“We curse summers,” she said. “It’s vicious circle. My father-in-law was a migrant labourer, my husband is a migrant labourer and our children have no option but to migrate to other states for survival,” she rued. Twenty five men from this small village of 40 families migrated in March, while many are waiting to travel.
State women commission chairperson Mahua Majhi had recently highlighted how several young girls, who migrate at this time, fall into the hands of human traffickers. “Most of them even become bonded labourers and are sold,” she said.
State social welfare minister Louis Marandi said the government is seriously working towards generating more employment opportunities in villages to check migration. “We cannot check it completely but by ensuring that they are recruited through registered placement agencies, we can check exploitation of youngsters, especially women,” she said.