Two reporters, one bike and a 500-km ride across Bundelkhand. For Gaon Connection reporters Jigyasa Mishra and Pragya Bharti, these seven days were a mix of fun, adventure, learning and some serious journalism. They visited many villages and tried to understand life from women's perspective. This journey was about understanding struggles, hopes and aspirations of women living in villages.
Edited by: Swati Subhedar
We left on our bike from Chitrakoot, which is on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, early in the morning. Our first stop was Lokhariya village in Madhya Pradesh's Majhgavan tehsil, 22 kms from Chitrakoot. When we reached Lokhariya, we saw scores of women filing water from a pipe in their colourful plastic tins.
We started talking to them and realised that migration of youth from villages in search of jobs is a bitter truth that many villages in Bundelkhand -- which covers 14 districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh -- are grappling with. These handful of ladies we met in Lokhariya showed us the larger picture and gave us our first story – migration -- not for better prospects, but because there are no jobs in most of the villages.
As per the 2011 census, 14.7% people -- 1.44 crore -- people in the country are migrants. This number keeps going up. According to an economic survey conducted by the government, between 2011 and 2016, more than 90 lakh people have migrated each year. As per the March 2018 numbers of Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, seven labourers out of 100 are unemployed. And this number too keeps going up.
We – city folks – step out of our comfort zone for a better life. But youngsters living in these villages don't have an option but to move out to an alien city leaving everything behind – their home, family, friends – just to do random jobs and earn meagre salaries. Most of them are not even sure whether they would be able to return.
It reminded me of the time when I had left home. I had a choice. These people don't.
"Don't think my sons would come back…ever," said a woman while filling water in her blue plastic tin.
Next stop: Majhgavan village
Most of the women in this village live alone as their husbands and sons have migrated to different cities. "You will find only old people in this village," said a woman, 65. Her husband passed away many years back. Both her sons are in Kolkata. They work as labourers. When I asked her about her sons, she didn't respond. She stood blank, staring into nothingness.
We met another woman, a mother of two. Her one son has migrated to Delhi, another one is in Kolkata. "They send me some money – Rs 100, 150 or sometimes 200. But I am not sure if they would want to come back," she said.
This reminded me of the time when I was pursuing my graduation away from home. I used to live in a hostel. Once, I visited home for holidays and asked my brother to buy some utensils which I needed back at my hostel. He bought an unnecessarily big tea pan, much to the dismay of my mother. My father tried pacifying her saying I would get it back. To this my brother replied, "Forget about the tea pan. I don't think you are going to come back ever."
It has been five years that I have left home. I visit them occasionally, but I have not had the opportunity to stay there for long. Now, things like home-cooked food, family gathering on festivals and dinner table discussions have become occasional luxuries.
"Not coming back" is a bitter truth that Bundelkhand is dealing with. The region has been cut-off from any kind of development. There are no jobs and people have been migrating because of lack of water, frequent droughts and unemployment.
Since 2010, there has been a consistent rise in number of cases of mass migration, starvation deaths, farmer suicides and even mortgaging of women in Bundelkhand. There is no water in this region and for many women, the essence of their survival is finding water to drink.
During the course of our journey, we visited many villages like Chota Lokhariya, Bada Lokhariya, Majhgavan and reached Panna via Satna and Mahkona. On our way back, we visited many tehsils and villages in Uttar Pradesh's Banda district. Mass migration was a reality in all the villages. Most of the men are gone. Women keep themselves occupied in household chores while their children loiter around aimlessly. Those who have stayed back have absolutely nothing to do.
Ataraa tehsil is 34 kms from Banda in Uttar Pradesh. There are many haunted villages here. Entire villages have migrated. Only a few senior citizens and women are left behind. Not too long back, there were many rice mills here which used to provide employment to 5,000-6,000 people. But the mills are shut now and there are no jobs.
There are a few families who had migrated, but now have come back. Maya Yadav, her husband and two daughters living in Manjha village had migrated to Baddi in Himachal Pradesh where the parents used to work in a factory. But they came back after a year and now run a tea shop. We met their daughters. The elder one has left studies, the younger one wants to join the army.
Around 25 families live in Manjha village. Keshkali Yadav, who runs a small grocery shop, said: "There used to be mines here, so there were jobs for us. But the government shut those mines saying they were encroaching upon forest land. Now we don't do anything. Women of the house stay back, while men have migrated."
We met scores of such women. If only there were employment opportunities in their village, these women would never have left. They should at least have a choice, like we do.
On my way back, I couldn't stop thinking about what that elderly lady living in Lokhariya village had said, "Those who have left would never come back…ever." Those were painful words.