A gen­der per­spec­tive on mi­gra­tion

Un­der­stand­ing the causes and ef­fects of sea­sonal mi­gra­tion vis-a-vis gen­der in Kho­har vil­lage of Ra­jasthan’s Al­war district

Governance Now - - MOVEMENT - Vrindaa Sharma, Aparna Rad­hakr­ish­nan and Niti Sax­ena

Kho­har, a vil­lage lo­cated in Al­war district of Ra­jasthan, nes­tled in the foothills of Aravalis, is home to 154 fam­i­lies, most of whom are farm­ers by pro­fes­sion. The vil­lage has a large adult pop­u­la­tion with 65 per­cent over the age of 18. The vil­lage ed­u­ca­tional lev­els are rel­a­tively low, with house­hold heads hav­ing only at­tended an av­er­age of 4.6 years of school­ing (Fig­ure 1). Out of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of Kho­har, 33.11 per­cent are medium farm­ers (1-4 bighas of land), 16.2 per­cent of them are large farm­ers (more than four bighas of land), and 50.6 per­cent of them are small farm­ers (equal to or less than one bigha of land). The small farm­ers are mainly mi­grat­ing farm­ers. The vil­lage faces a ram­pant prob­lem with wa­ter scarcity for all house­holds, rich and poor alike. Procur­ing wa­ter for do­mes­tic as well as agri­cul­tural pur­poses is a crit­i­cal is­sue they face ev­ery day. Lack of a wa­ter body in or around the vil­lage makes farm­ing a chal­leng­ing task, leav­ing the peo­ple hav­ing to rely only on rain to cul­ti­vate crops. The vil­lagers are mostly un­con­nected to gov­ern­ment pro­grammes and ben­e­fits, which mag­ni­fies their plight. A con­se­quence of these prob­lems is that at least 30 per­cent of house­holds ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in sea­sonal mi­gra­tion (Ta­ble 1),

trav­el­ing to the ru­ral belts of Pun­jab and Gu­jarat for cot­ton, rice, and wheat cul­ti­va­tion for al­most eight months in a year. Upon re­turn, they are mostly idle since no work is avail­able in the vil­lage. The as­pect worth notic­ing is that the vil­lagers mi­grate with their en­tire fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing their chil­dren, spouses, and even the el­derly in some cases. The vil­lage ap­pears de­serted most parts of the year with ev­ery other house be­ing empty and aban­doned for four to five months at a stretch.

As per the so­cioe­co­nomic pro­file of the vil­lagers of Kho­har, their de­pen­dency ra­tio in­di­cates an age-pop­u­la­tion ra­tio of those typ­i­cally not in the labour force and those typ­i­cally in the labour force. It is used to mea­sure the pres­sure on pro­duc­tive pop­u­la­tion. In Kho­har, the de­pen­dency ra­tio is very less, which is a pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tor. How­ever, due to child labour, the in­come earn­ers of the vil­lage be­came high that is a neg­a­tive in­di­ca­tion of the so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus of a vil­lage. The ill­ness yearly is found to be very high due to mi­gra­tory dis­eases, in­ad­e­quate ac­cess to qual­ity drink­ing wa­ter, lack of ac­cess to proper health fa­cil­i­ties, etc. The sources of in­come are two or more than two as there is di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion in the liveli­hood op­tions. The agri­cul­ture di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion in­dex is an av­er­age value as the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion is more only for the large farm­ers who have mul­ti­ple agri­cul­tural op­tions. The av­er­age land size is less than two bi­gah as only large farm­ers have more sig­nif­i­cant land area. Only large farm­ers own agri­cul­tural equip­ment. The av­er­age fam­ily size ranges from five to six. The av­er­age ed­u­ca­tion sta­tus of house­hold head is usu­ally up to pri­mary level.

Labour mi­gra­tion is a com­mon phe­nom­e­non seen in al­most ev­ery part of In­dia. Leav­ing one’s home and place of ori­gin in search of bet­ter em­ploy­ment and higher wages is a sig­nif­i­cant com­po­nent of the liveli­hood of many. Through­out his­tory, mi­gra­tion was pri­mar­ily seen as a male-dom­i­nated process where the men of the house­hold ven­tured out to other cities and towns to work. How­ever, this sce­nario is chang­ing fast with fe­males ac­count­ing for 70 per­cent of in­ter­nal mi­grants in In­dia (UN­ESCO, 2013). Data trends in­di­cate that fe­male labour mi­gra­tion is on the rise, with a 101 per­cent in­crease be­tween 2001 and 2011. Fe­male mi­gra­tion for busi­ness in­creased by 153 per­cent, four times more than the rate for men (GOI, 2017). In Kho­har, fe­male mi­gra­tion is typ­i­cal, with women par­tic­i­pat­ing equally and mi­grat­ing with men and chil­dren for agri­cul­tural work.

Women of Kho­har lead very chal­leng­ing lives as mi­gra­tion is a ne­ces­sity for them and the only means pos­si­ble

Women of Kho­har lead very chal­leng­ing lives as mi­gra­tion is a ne­ces­sity for them and the only means pos­si­ble for earn­ing a liv­ing guar­an­tee­ing sur­vival. They have been mi­grat­ing since they were chil­dren and saw their par­ents do so as well.

for earn­ing a liv­ing guar­an­tee­ing sur­vival. They have been mi­grat­ing since they were chil­dren and saw their par­ents do so as well. Their ed­u­ca­tion was in­ter­rupted be­cause of the fre­quent mi­gra­tion, and many dropped out of school at a young age and never went back. The cy­cle con­tin­ues with their kids be­ing un­able to go to school for sim­i­lar rea­sons. All fam­ily mem­bers who are healthy and can par­tic­i­pate in the fields work to­gether to earn max­i­mum re­turns from their mi­gra­tion.

The de­ci­sion to mi­grate is a rou­tine prac­tice as the adults have wit­nessed this since child­hood and ap­pear to be un­aware of any other source of em­ploy­ment. De­cid­ing when and where to mi­grate is al­ways the de­ci­sion of the hus­band or house­hold head, who is male in 93 per­cent of the mi­grat­ing house­holds. Mi­grat­ing pat­terns are rou­tine, and no one is will­ing to break the tra­di­tion or ex­plore novel oc­cu­pa­tion av­enues. A group of women ex­plained how ev­ery­one in their fam­i­lies is il­lit­er­ate, so no one will give a job to them any­way. Women also blame their hus­bands for be­ing too lazy to think about any al­ter­na­tives to this sit­u­a­tion, re­sult­ing in them trav­el­ing to the same places ev­ery year for agri­cul­tural work.

While work­ing on the fields in places where they go to, the women’s day starts at four in the morn­ing, cook­ing food for the whole fam­ily in ad­di­tion to other do­mes­tic chores, and then they be­gin work in the field that con­tin­ues un­til six in the evening. Many fam­i­lies have small chil­dren and in­fants they have to leave un­der a tree or in a pro­tected area near the fields where they work. Liv­abil­ity stan­dards worsen with no proper hous­ing, as they have

to live on the fields. They set up makeshift shel­ters un­der which the fam­ily sleeps on the floor, with no elec­tric­ity or wa­ter. One of the mi­grat­ing women, Silo Devi, de­scribed how snakes creep around near the place they in­habit es­pe­cially dur­ing mon­soon sea­son. Pro­tect­ing them­selves and their chil­dren from them is an­other task they strug­gle with. Cer­tain con­trac­tors pro­vide ra­tion for cook­ing, but the women need to fetch wa­ter for drink­ing and other pur­poses from the nearby canal or streams. Liv­ing in such sit­u­a­tions, one’s health is af­fected. Women are usu­ally found nu­tri­tion­ally de­fi­cient and anaemic. Malaria and fever are com­mon dis­eases that mi­grat­ing vil­lagers con­tract from their places of work.

Sur­viv­ing un­der such un­bear­able con­di­tions makes the whole process of mi­gra­tion ex­tremely hard for all mem­bers of the mi­grat­ing house­hold. More so, the sit­u­a­tion comes down harder on fe­males as they are ex­pected to per­form all house­hold du­ties and look af­ter the chil­dren as well as work in the fields for long hours even if they are un­well. A study by Sand­hya Ma­ha­p­a­tro (2013) high­lights how in­creased fe­male mi­gra­tion is a sign of em­pow­er­ment for women and that higher mi­gra­tion leads to an im­proved role of women in their house­holds and in de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses. Kho­har, how­ever, presents a dif­fer­ent side to this. Liv­ing in a pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem, mi­gra­tion trends of Kho­har women are not char­ac­terised by em­pow­er­ment but by forced and tax­ing sit­u­a­tions from which they can’t seem to find a way out.

Ta­ble 1 shows the dif­fer­ence be­tween mi­grants and non-mi­grants of Kho­har across a set of so­cio-eco­nomic char­ac­ter­is­tics. The av­er­age years of school­ing is higher for the non-mi­grants, but is still be­low sat­is­fac­tory. The av­er­age an­nual in­come of a non­mi­grat­ing house­hold is more than a mi­grat­ing house­hold by 8.5 per­cent. How­ever, if we were to quan­tify the so­cial costs that mi­grat­ing house­holds bear, the gap would be much wider. The non-mi­grants, on av­er­age, use more equip­ment and tools to cul­ti­vate their fields and have larger sizes of land as well. A non-mi­grant house­hold ob­tains close to three times more credit than a mi­grat­ing one, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to in­vest more in their agri­cul­tural fields for bet­ter re­turns.

Gen­der dis­ag­gre­gated per­spec­tives of youth on the chal­lenges they face due to mi­gra­tion re­veal stark dif­fer­ences be­tween boys and girls. When asked about one ma­jor prob­lem they find liv­ing in Kho­har, the boys cite un­em­ploy­ment and how tough it is to find a job in and around the vil­lage even af­ter com­plet­ing their grad­u­a­tion or skill train­ing pro­grammes. Girls on the other hand cite the lack of a proper school in

the vil­lage for them to com­plete their ed­u­ca­tion, as the cur­rent gov­ern­ment school is only till 8th stan­dard, and the clos­est higher sec­ondary school is about ten kilo­me­ters away. This is one of the ma­jor rea­sons that par­ents don’t let girls study fur­ther.

At­ten­dance records of a gov­ern­ment school in the vil­lage Ra­jkiya Uchh Mad­hyamik re­veal that out of the to­tal stu­dents study­ing till 8th stan­dard, 69 per­cent mi­grated in 2016–17. While the per­cent­age dropped to 39 per­cent in 2017–18, the ab­so­lute dif­fer­ence in stu­dents drop­ping out be­tween the two years was only thir­teen. Though the boys get a chance to com­plete their ed­u­ca­tion, their prospects are not that en­cour­ag­ing ei­ther. Re­gard­ing skills and ed­u­ca­tion, the state of Ra­jasthan does not present a pos­i­tive pic­ture. Only 1.7 per­cent of its youth aged 15– 24 have ob­tained any for­mal train­ing (Aa­jee­vika Bu­reau, 2014). Male youths in Kho­har are try­ing to break this cy­cle of dis­tress mi­gra­tion by try­ing to go to other cities for work, learn driv­ing, for in­stance, and pur­sue that as a pro­fes­sion. One of the boys, Chan­dan, does stitch­ing at home that he learned from his fa­ther. He planned to go to Jaipur for work. Though al­ter­na­tive liveli­hood op­tions are slowly open­ing up for boys, girls are still not able to move for­ward be­cause their proper school­ing con­tin­ues to be a dis­tant dream. Like the lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to them, their dreams are also lim­ited. They only aspire to ful­fill very ba­sic and fun­da­men­tal needs such as ed­u­ca­tion, get­ting mar­ried on their own terms or pos­si­bly go­ing to col­lege.

Sum­ming up

Mi­gra­tion should al­ways be a choice; how­ever, when it hap­pens out of ne­ces­sity, which is the case for max­i­mum ru­ral mi­grants in In­dia, it is re­spon­si­ble for some chal­lenges and hard­ships that mi­grat­ing fam­i­lies have to face that ul­ti­mately af­fect their liveli­hood and qual­ity of life. In­hab­i­tants of Kho­har are go­ing through this ex­act phe­nom­e­non, with very few of them find­ing a way out or work­ing in non-agri­cul­tural sec­tors to make a liv­ing. Women of Kho­har are strong and re­silient to be able to sur­vive these grind­ing con­di­tions. But their road to em­pow­er­ment is a long one. Ac­cess to proper ed­u­ca­tion is a ma­jor hin­drance in ad­di­tion to the other chal­lenges they face. There is a def­i­nite need for gov­ern­ment poli­cies and pro­grammes to be de­signed for such sea­sonal mi­grants and, more im­por­tantly, made ac­ces­si­ble to vil­lages like Kho­har. The vil­lagers con­tinue to thrive with no so­cial se­cu­rity, low wages, un­sta­ble jobs, and no le­gal pro­tec­tion against any of the un­fair prac­tices or dis­putes oc­cur­ring at their places of work (Aa­jee­vika Bu­reau, 2014). There is no check on the num­ber of vil­lagers mi­grat­ing yearly, where they mi­grate, or how much they earn. Sea­sonal mi­grants are al­most in­vis­i­ble en­ti­ties in so­ci­ety with very lit­tle to no at­ten­tion be­ing paid to them or the harsh con­di­tions they grap­ple with.

The road to a sta­ble and sat­is­fy­ing life for the peo­ple of Kho­har is filled with many ob­sta­cles. Yet it can be achieved with well-struc­tured poli­cies and pro­grammes. Wa­ter scarcity, a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor for many vil­lagers who opt for mi­gra­tion, needs at­ten­tion and re­quires a so­lu­tion. Ram­pant dig­ging of borewells has led to no per­ma­nent relief for the house­holds and is fur­ther de­plet­ing ground­wa­ter lev­els. This can be checked with proper reg­u­la­tions. The state can in­ter­vene with tech­niques like rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing to help the peo­ple of Kho­har have a proper sup­ply of wa­ter for their fields as well as their homes. Aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion re­gard­ing the right tech­niques and tools for agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion and in­form­ing them of ways to main­tain soil qual­ity and cul­ti­vate less wa­ter-in­ten­sive crops will lead to max­i­mum yields and min­i­mum losses thereby prov­ing ben­e­fi­cial. That way small land­hold­ers could also in­vest their hard work in their fields in­stead of cul­ti­vat­ing other farms in dis­tant lo­ca­tions un­der non-live­able con­di­tions. Apart from this, hav­ing a higher sec­ondary school in or around the vil­lage to en­sure that both boys and girls re­ceive com­plete ed­u­ca­tion would be a huge step to­ward break­ing this vi­cious cy­cle of poverty and dis­tress mi­gra­tion.

The au­thors are with SM Se­h­gal Foun­da­tion, Gur­gaon.

Pho­tos: sm se­h­gal Foun­da­tion

Fo­cused group dis­cus­sion with the mi­grat­ingwomen pop­u­la­tion in Kho­har

A gov­ern­ment school in Kho­har vil­lage

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