ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Children Robbed of Schooling

than actually working

Children Robbed

of Schooling

Locked Homes, Empty Schools: The Impact of Distress Seasonal Migration on the Rural Poor

by Smita and Prashant Panjiar; Zubaan, New Delhi, 2007; pp 174, Rs 695.


wo kindred souls Smita and her camera-companion Prashant bring out vividly by written word and photographs the travails of millions of migrant families and their children, especially from rainfed areas, who are pushed out from their villages for lack of work and earnings. As Amartya Sen points out in his foreword such migration is distress seasonal migration forced on whole communities for “survival” as different from migration of individuals for “accumulations”.

In Locked Homes, Empty Schools, the author recounts real life examples of such migration in selected states: sugar cane harvesting in Maharashtra; salt pan, roof tile and charcoal making in Gujarat; and brick making migration from Orissa to Andhra Pradesh. In sum, migrants lead an uprooted life belonging neither to their villages nor to the place where they go. Their children face a life of hardship and rootlessness right from infancy and the number of such children is awesome. As an example, an estimated 6,50,000 labourers migrate for sugar cane cutting in Maharashtra of whom 2,00,000 are children of 6-14 years.

This is not a new discovery but it is a gruesome reminder that little is being done to address the causes of distress migration, and mitigate its rigours and impact on children. This study tries to capture the macro as well as the micro picture of distress seasonal migration – covering the spread and scale of the occurrence, the seasonality factor, the differing contexts (geographies/sectors), employer-labour relationships, the working and living conditions of migrant families and children, and how this type of migration promotes child labour. It also highlights the condition of schools in the sending areas and the overall response (or lack thereof) of the education system towards these children. The impact that migration has on the lives of families and communities, year after year, has also been discussed. The study further explores the disenfranchisement caused as people find themselves stripped of their basic rights and entitlements both at worksites and in their villages; and the response of the state/ legal apparatus to their situation. This work deals specifically with migrations that are intra rural, and from rural to urban peripheries. Migration to cities and metros for work in the informal sector, however, is not covered here.

Sen points out that there are two distinct aspects of “distress seasonal migration” that need to be distinguished. There is, first and foremost, the issue of its magnitude and its causation. The phenomenon of migration is not in itself one of distress, but the result of terrible things that happen to people’s lives, sometimes with great regularity. The migration itself is really an attempt to cope with those terrible things, through the only way available to the poor and the underprivileged to deal with local deprivation, to wit, going elsewhere in search of a less grim set of possibilities. There will be no way of eradicating “distress seasonal migration” unless the causes of such distress, which apparently have a pattern of seasonality, are themselves addressed and overcome. We can think of this as “the foundational task” which needs to be more fully worked out, and then – on the basis of better understanding – appropriately addressed.

Fodder Banks as Likely Solutions

For instance, in drought-afflicted areas animal husbandry is the most common traditional occupation next to agriculture. Scarcity of fodder as a result of drought devastates the rural economy. It forces entire poor families to migrate from their villages in search of greener pastures. “Without migration there is starvation, but with migration their livelihood is disrupted, children’s education discontinued, communities torn apart and a great deal of energy is spent moving to find work rather than actually working” says a SEWA study. Milk yields are directly tied to the nutrition the cow or buffalo receives. Without ample fodder and water for the animals, milk production declines and the cattle breeders lose income. Lack of fodder leads to high debt among the rural poor who borrow money to sustain their lives and support their families in the absence of milk sales.

SEWA which works with rural families in Sabarkantha studied facts to understand the phenomenon and shape its intervention. It learnt that from the month of March onwards, the farmers start importing fodder from adjoining districts. As the summer advances, the cost of fodder escalates from Rs 125 to Rs 225 per 100 stacks by mid June. Fodder becomes scarce and unaffordable and the cattle breeders start migrating. Gramsabhas suggested fodder banks as solutions and details about the need for fodder were collected, including the number of milch cattle in each village, fodder required, cost, storage place and cost of storage followed by discussions as to how to make procurement and distribution transparent.

The impact of the fodder bank was swift and dramatic. The volume of migration of animals and milk producers came down drastically and stabilised the milk production. Assured supply of fodder to the milch animals strengthened the cooperatives in terms of milk supply and provided sustained income to the milk producers throughout the year including during lean summer months and early monsoon. SEWA is now operating 15 such banks serving 2,000 households having 5,000 milch cattle.

Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP) launched in the 1970s had envisaged that each of the 80 DPAP projects would organise a fodder bank and a pond for drinking water for cattle. Twenty years later, a national committee reviewing the performance of DPAP found that shamefully only one out of 80 such projects in the country had organised a fodder bank, the one exception being the DPAP project at Sabarkantha entrusted by the Gujarat government to SEWA.

Sen stresses on the long-term solution for distress seasonal migration: to create livelihood options in villages. Such creative and locally sensible solutions for livelihood security are a must for addressing distress migration at its roots.



Economic and Political Weekly April 28, 2007

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