Disadvantaged Rural Communities
'Farming is becoming an unreliable livelihood. Failure of crops shattered my hope. Could not repay the loan; instead interest and interest-on-interest increased which came to a point where I could not at all repay it. Gone are the olden days where there was mutual support and concern in our villages. Now no one can help anybody during distress. This economic orphanhood combined with social orphanhood pushed me to Bangalore - the only option for the survival of my family', this is the statement of 45 year old Parasappa who has migrated to Bangalore and is now working as a construction worker here.
Parasappa - A Case or Symbol
Parasappa migrated from Gulbarga district which is around 660 kms away from Bangalore. Some 25 families joined with him in his search for a means to survive in the mega city. Many of them are living on the streets ofBangalore as construction workers, and exposed to all sorts of insecurities.
Bangalore's sky scrapers rising all around the city are the only witness to their blood and sweat and the inhuman conditions they are living in. These people get up at 4 am to perform their morning ablutions, under cover of darkness. Thus the risk faced by the women starts very early in the day. They need to depend on public taps for water for drinking, bathing, washing clothes - all within short period of one hour amidst challenges of cursing from local 'mainstream' people, irregular water supply, etc.
Parasappa and his group stay in a vacant site belonging to private owners. Each family has made a small hut out of waste plastic sheets and coconut leaves etc. Each family has to pay from Rs 150 to Rs200 per month to the land lord of the vacant site.
Local residents comfortably forget the fact that it is these groups that help construct their shining houses and easily brand these migrants as lump en elements and want to get rid off them from their vicinity. The major problem the local residents face is the noise from quarrels and fights among these migrant groups. Local residents do not really care to know the cause for such fights and quarrels. Hard work, twelve hours of exposure to wet cement and dust and heavy insults at the work site by the supervisors force the men to use alcohol as a psychological and physical pain reliever! Making use of the deep alcohol induced sleep, local rowdy elements enter into the huts of these workers in order to have sex with the women there.
When women get conscious of what is going on, they get horrified and scream desperately. Then starts the messy scene which becomes a troublesome night for local residents. If local elders and police enter into the scene, again the women are targeted and usually beaten mercilessly with the consensus of her husband.
In a year these migrants stay in (he city for eight months and go back to their villages during the monsoon season to tend to their dry land farming. Whatever they have earned is usually enough for them to repay mainly their previous debts in the village. The remaining portion is invested in farming activity for that season.
Urban India and the way forward
According to a Report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, by 2017 the number of people living in urban areas will outnumber those in rural areas. In India the percentage of people living in urban areas has increased from 18 per cent in 1961 to 28.5 per cent in 2004. This is estimated to increase to 32 per cent by 2015. Traditionally, urban growth is associated with increased economic opportunities and economic growth. This is combined with push and pull-factors that make the understanding of migration complex and multi-faceted. The pushfactors are, i.a., decreasing access to agricultural production options, water supply, and cultivable land. The pull-factors include the opportunities for employment in industries such as construction, manufacturing, in special economic zones, etc. Distressed migrants normally lack the necessary documentation and identity cards for inter-state asset building. As a result, they face difficulties in accessing formal services such as health, education and insurance. Given their informal status within the system, they are particularly vulnerable.
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The Pull of Great( er) Bangalore
Most of the informal sector workers have insecure and erratic access to potable water, sanitation, and shelter. In many cases, makeshift accommodation is set up next to construction sites. According to the study carried out by Svaraj/Oxfam India, women workers in the informal sector can expect to earn between Rs 50-80 per day, whereas men can earn between Rs 60-120. In many cases, entire families migrate looking for work. Children have no access to education nor are there provisions for their care and safety during the workday.
Despite these difficulties many workers are happy to have found employment in a city like Bangalore that is believed to be the best city in India.
Although urbanisation is an age old phenomenon fuelled by prospects of better standards of living, migration caused by distress is not a healthy indicator of any society. Migrants to urban cities are often left with small insecure incomes that allow for subsistence living. The actual prospects of a better life are seldom met. This is especially true for children of migrants, without access to education or opportunity, subsistence poverty is perpetuated.
It is estimated that in 2003-04, there were four farmer suicides per week in Karnataka. The plight of the Vidarbha region ofMaharashtra has been widely reported by the media both nationally and internationally, culminating with a fact finding mission lead by the Prime Minister of India in June 2006. Reasons behind suicides are now well known; crop failure, high debt, falling agricultural commodity prices and low crop insurance. Widows take on the debt burden and are left to deal with moneylenders, often resorting to desperate measure to repay loans. With this backdrop, migration becomes a necessity in the battle for survival. Another problem is that the high levels of male migration lead to an increased 'feminisation' of agriculture. However, due to land ownership regulations and strong social norms, women cultivators have little access to assets needed for land development.
Existing Policy and Failing Practice Recommendations Construction workers have been recognised as an especially vulnerable section of society. The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Working Conditions) Act, 1996 "aims to provide for regulation of employment and conditions of service of the building and other construction workers as also their safety, health and welfare measures in every establishment which employs or employed during the preceding year ten or more workers". The Act is applicable nationwide and has provisions for pension funds, maternity leave, identity cards, and accident coverage of all workers. However, in the covered during the survey, none of the individuals interviewed were aware of the Act and were not benefiting from the provisions it contains. Protests have been held by activists in Karnataka, to ensure the provisions oftheAct are upheld.
This is not the first time in India that regulations are worth little more than the paper they are written on. However, the question really becomes how, in an urban setting, characterised by community fragmentation, and indivualisation can you implement successful protection that requires strong local will. NGOs, CB Os and civil society need to unite around the cause of workers' security in order to ensure existing regulations are adequately enforced.
David Satterthwaite writes about the need for the aid agenda to be reconstructed according to the new urban realities. In order to do this, donors must realise that local processes need to be boosted at a grassroots level. Further, Satterthwaite makes the salient point that, in order to effectively address urban distress, we must understand rural conditions and the rural-urban connection.
Attention has to be paid to the exponential rise in rural unemployment. Farmers who are unable to cultivate their land in north Karnataka and have chosen to migrate for livelihood have no access to skill training or alternative rural employment. As a result, they are fit only for unskilled work and low wages in urban areas. Many real-estate ventures in Bangalore city are dominated by migrant workers who are seen as cheaper and less troublesome than local workers.
Migration is a poverty reduction activity and therefore should not necessarily be controlled or restricted. Rather, energy should be spent in understanding the best ways to enhance the productive capacities of migrant workers .
SIDA Programme Officer Delhi Primary Data Collection - Gundappa Gudadanal Translation - Rajkumar