Abner Manzar

22nd June 2020

Deepak Kumar Munda, a 19-year-old from the village of Khakhra in Jharkhand was working as daily wage construction worker in L&T company in Bangalore when the lockdown was announced. He along with a few others registered online for a pass and ticket to go back home. They kept waiting and finally 3 months later they got a call from the local police station. They went there and their medical check-up was done. Once it was all done they sat in a bus that took them to the railway station. They maintained proper distance in the bus and the train. They were fed well and they were satisfied. The journey was peaceful and when they reached Bokaro they were quarantined for 14 days. Once their term got over the officials informed them of the same and asked them to organise transport to their village.

He had left the village because there were too many loans on the family. It was taken to run the house since they weren’t able to earn enough money to survive. He wanted to stay in the village or at least in the state of Jharkhand and find some work. Before going out he would take tuitions for classes 1-10. If he had a choice he would have studied further.

He told us that he loves Maths and thinks Maths and English are the most important subjects. He said “I believe Maths and English are important to move ahead in life” in English. I honestly was surprised that he was able to speak English. His ideas were very forward. He said “if I didn’t have a money crisis I would have become a teacher and educated my fellow villagers. I believe in social work.” His parents however are unable to understand his dreams.

He now wants to stay in his village and help the villagers. “If we want to become Aatmanirbhar we have to stay in the village and be independent. I am ready to dedicate my life to children and their education if the opportunity comes” he said. He loves his village and doesn’t want to go out again. He likes the village a lot better than the city; he said “the village is purer.” He has about 4-5 acres land so when we asked him why he doesn’t start farming he said that he doesn’t have money to dig a well or find a source of water so that land is useless.

He doesn’t blame the government for the state his family is in. He said “the state government is trying to do what they can but some of the things don’t reach us. I don’t blame them.” He has a question for the government “can I get some help to study further and educate more people?”

Umesh Munda went to the city after his father passed away. He said “the environment in Hyderabad was very good. Everyone was nice to me. Over there the only drawback was that there weren’t open spaces and we had to be disciplined and careful since we were outsiders. The city was more expensive as well.” But he used to earn enough as well. He used to earn about 17,000₹ per month for an eight-hour shift. He used to save 14,000₹ since the contractor provided the shared room.

He chose to leave his studies and work since his siblings had decided to study further. He needed to provide for the family. He dedicated his whole life to his family, his siblings and his mother.

He returned to his village because he didn’t want to be separated from his family, not because he had a money crisis. He filled the form that the Jharkhand Government had released for migrants to return home. The officials were very polite, soft spoken and helped him a lot.

“If people don’t travel and work in different states the country won’t run. So if I get economic support I will go back again’ he said. He says that the government has several things in place but they don’t reach the common man.

After meeting Umesh we went to Dharmendra Kumar’s house. His employers didn’t give him the money he was owed. However, they fed him for a few days. When he asked them for money to go home they said “we can give you food for a few more days but we can’t give you money.” “I first came to know about Corona when I heard people shouting at each other to keep distance. They were wearing these masks and roaming around” said Dharmendra.

When everything had stopped the company had stopped so work had stopped. He said “since I wasn’t working they didn’t pay me either.” He was having one or two meals a day, he couldn’t afford more. “If we don’t get food we will die of hunger. We’d much rather die on the road or in our village of Corona.” So he decided to buy a cycle in Nellore and leave his village on cycle. He left at midnight to avoid riding in the hot sun.

He wouldn’t find a place to sleep or eat, the few places he found either had horrible food that’s inedible or the restaurant owners would chase them away in the fear of Corona.

In one place they were promised by the police that the next restaurant wouldn’t ask them for money when they ate. After they finished their meal they were asked to pay. Since they didn’t have any money they asked the restaurant owners to keep their cycles. At this point the restaurant owner thought for a bit and then allowed them to go for free.

At another place the police called them closer saying they will give them food but they lathi-charged them. As they started running without their cycles the policemen asked them to take the cycles along.

As they moved forward in a village the villagers asked them to leave and not stop as they’d spread Covid. When they didn’t move out of tiredness they were threatened. So they had to leave.

When asked if he will go back if he is called by his employers he said he will not go back until a cure for this illness comes. A man from the side passed a comment “we can earn money if we are alive. Not if we are dead.”

Rajesh Kumar was the next person we met. He gave all his money for the bus, 4,000₹. He didn’t have food for 24 hours. That’s when he sold his phone to buy some food. He walked from Andhra Pradesh to Maharashtra. He then found a bus that was taking people from Maharashtra to Jharkhand. At one point in the bus he was so thirsty that he bought a bottle of water with MRP 20 for 40₹. Finally, he reached Gola after a few days and then to his village. He home quarantined for fourteen days.

Meeting the people of Jharkhand was different to those in UP and Bihar. The people of Jharkhand narrated their stories in a calmer way, probably because their experiences were better in terms of management of the crisis.

Ravi Guria

23rd June 2020

Many migrant labourers complain that they are still facing discrimination, even when they have served stipulated time in quarantine. And villagers lament that some migrant labourers—especially the ones who have come on foot or bicycle, have escaped quarantine process and hence, not been dully recorded as safe. Both the cases are true, and inadvertently victimise even the sincere ones. However, maintaining distance is different from practising untouchability. Our society had to fight a hard battle over many centuries to eradicate the menace of demeaning attitude of one human being towards another on the basis of caste, creed and religion. Unfortunately, in some cases the present crisis has given way to the re-emergence of the same attitude towards migrant labourers, which has been the cause of stigma, hurt and psychological harassment.

To support the families of the marginalised sections of the rural society, Self Help Groups (SHG) driven by women are playing a vital role in Jharkhand. Every panchayat has one SHG.

An SHG is formed under National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) to provide guidance and community platform to regulate financial savings per household, seek small loans to mitigate emergencies, secure bigger loans from banks for starting a business, and get informational and institutional assistance in health, livelihood, education and governance.

Sikidhri village has 21 SHGs or samooh that collectively form a ‘Gram Sangathan (Village Level Committee))’ at the panchayat level. Each SHG has between 10-14 women members.

To help households cope with financial distress in the crisis, apart from timely informational and monetary handholding of the women of the households, the Gram Sangathan has also been assigned to provide meals to the suffering villagers, especially senior citizens and children. As a result, four elected administrators of the Sikidhri Gram Sangathan have assumed the role of ‘Kitchen Didi’ for the last three months to cook simple meal of rice, dal and sabzi—to feed 70-100 people every day. Earlier, the budget for the essential service was set at Rs. 18 per person, but later it was reduced to Rs. 10 per person.

Per day cost of organising meal comes to Rs. 4000, which is approximately Rs. 40-50 per person. So far they have received Rs. 40000 in three instalments, but the expenses have already exceeded the funds. The Adhyaksh (Head) of the Gram Sangathan shares, “We want to continue feeding suffering people, but hope that the government provides more funds, otherwise it will be difficult for us to sustain.”
The Mukhiya (Village Council Head) of Sikhidri also lamented that he needs financial assistance and resources from the government to be able to effectively meet mounting demands in his village arising from the crisis.

A young migrant labourer shares that he has land, but lack of resources to effectively undertake farming forces him to look for alternative source of income. His land is distributed in different places. Besides, the land is not even, which makes farming extremely challenging. Furthermore, they don’t have enough water for irrigation. In the summers, the water level drops very low, which makes farming untenable.

According to a local farmer, Subarnarekha Hydroelectric Power Plant can be leveraged to address the problem of water scarcity in Sikhidri. When the power plant runs to generate 135MW of electricity using huge amount of water—the used water collects in a canal subsequent to the operation. If this water is channelled into the village for farming purpose, then it will solve their water problem for the whole year. However, it is sent to Jamshedpur for the Tata industry. Even the mandate that the hydroelectric power plant should have adhered to of providing free electricity to the villages in the radius of 1km, is not being met. Sikhidri village is not reaping any benefits from Subarnarekha Hydroelectric Power Plant.

The Mukhiya acknowledges the struggles of the villagers. The government only operates in top down approach. It makes plans according to their understanding, and the local governance systems have to implement. He has no way to share his ideas and concerns with the government that are unique to his village. He should be able to represent himself through the MLA, which is not happening because the MLA belongs to a different political party.