Nos. 70 & 71, April 2018

Nos. 70 & 71 (April 2018)
India's Working Class and its Prospects

India's Working Class and its Prospects

Odisha Government’s Cynical View: Migration Is a Solution

-- Kshetrabasi Naik1

We have read about the migration of birds from one place to another. Some birds move from here to there to avoid extremes of cold or heat, or in search of food and shelter. Some birds visit other places for some other reasons also. These migratory birds fly across countries. By giving a nest to migratory bird, a place feels worthy. It increases the beauty of nature also. But just the opposite is the case in people’s migration from western Odisha to other states in search of employment.

Take the case of Balangir district of Odisha. Here, it is called ‘distress migration’. Lakhs of people are migrating to other states to work in brick kiln. Most often they are being exploited also.

A 13-year-old girl child labourer was allegedly beaten to death by a brick kiln owner in Telangana in last March, 2017. The incident came to light after a labourer of a nearby brick kiln informed a volunteer working on migration issue. The name of the deceased girl was Rashmita Tandi. She, along with her parents Bhimraj and Reena of Kapani village under Belpara police station, had migrated to Chetanguda area of Telangana in November of 2016 to work in a brick kiln. They had taken advance money from middleman Kalia Barik of Belpara to work there. After two months of work, the owner of the brick kiln started torturing the family. On the fateful day, the owner allegedly beat Bhimraj with a stick and  Rashmita came to the rescue of her father. The owner then attacked the girl and she died on the spot.

Later, the owner threatened Bhimraj with dire consequences if he disclosed the matter to anybody. The matter was not reported to police and no postmortem was conducted. The owner also took away Bhimraj’s mobile phone.
Another dadan tragedy of 2017 was the death of two earning heads of two poor families from Sarmuhan village, Belpada Police Station, Balangir district. Nabin Dharua, son of Bibhisan Dharua, aged about 41 years, and Hari Dharua, son of Iswar Dharua, aged about 37 years, died in Gandhi Hospital, Secundarabad, last july. Both were working in brick kilns. Nabin was survived by his wife Urmila, his son Dilip(13), elder daughter Bimala (10), and younger daughter Dhanmati (3). Hari was survived by his wife Laxmi (31), elder son Ranjit, and Rudra (2). Both the families belong to the Scheduled Tribes. They neither have any homestead land nor agricultural land. For the last 15-20 years they have been migrating to other states for a minimum livelihood. Last year they went Telengana to work in a brick kiln with all their family members, and they also returned safely. But thereafter Nabin and Hari again travelled to Madhapur, Nalgonda district, Telengana to work in the fuel transportation to the brick kiln after taking Rs. 10,000 each from the middle man. Suddenly on 12th July both Nabin and Hari were admitted in Gandhi Hospital, Secundarabad. Both of them died on 18th of that July. The reason of sudden death of these two migrant labours, is unknown to date to anybody. The brick kiln owner was named Bichhapati, and the middle man was Purandar Bag from village Khutulumunda, Balangir. After the deaths of the two young men, the owner made arrangements to send the dead bodies at his own cost, and also gave a sum of Rs. 25,000 to each family. An extra sum of Rs. 10,000 was also given to each family for the rituals for the dead. The middle men or sardar also gave a sum of Rs. 45,000 to each family. But to date the death of these main earning people of two family is completely in darkness. The price a labourer’s head is Rs.80,000. Not just of one person but also the whole family.

Both Urmila and Laxmi are crying in silence for Nabin and Hari. Who listens? Nobody. The amounts they received have already been exhausted in subsistence expenses and and performing rituals. Now, both the families are running against a heavy stream of darkness. No death certificate was issued from the Hospital. The original voter identity cards of both the deceased labourers were also taken by the owner.
Both of the above families fall in the very very poor category, but only Hari’s family has a ration card. A numbers of welfare schemes run by the state government (Basundhara, Food Security, RTE and MGNREGA etc.) fail to address the distress families.

These stories are small drops in a deep ocean. Every year lakhs of people from Balangir, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bargarh, and Sonepur leave to work in different brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and other states. They go to earn a minimum livelihood by virtue of their labour. Most of the labourers go with children and women, as there is need of small children during the making of bricks. Women work to prepare the mud and children help in the drying process of bricks. They reside in a very unhygienic environment within polythene tents. They mostly eat broken rice. What they earn is not sufficient considering their hard labour. As a result, some labourers raise their voice in relation to their problems. The owners and managers of brick kiln don’t solve these problems; rather they start attacking the workers with physical torture. In a number of cases, kiln-owners and managers rape women workers. In some instances, it culminates in murder, the dead body is thrown elsewhere, the local police remains silent, and children’s cries fade away in the air.  

When the MGNREGA scheme was launched, there was a big hope that rural migration would  reduce. But the scheme failed to eradicate poverty as well as migration. Often it is seen in the newspapers that deceased persons, government employees and aged persons are shown as engaged and received wages. A report shows that 61 percent of the beneficiaries are not even aware of their rights under this scheme. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India also reported about irregularities in Odisha. Whenever a new scheme or programme is implemented, its benefits are looted by a particular section only. This is happening easily, as the people for whom these are designed are compelled to stay away from their homes and villages for eight to ten months in a year. Political leaders are not much interested in the fate of migrant workers, as these workers don’t cast their vote very often, due to their absence from their villages.

A large numbers of non-governmental organisations are working in the field of migrant labour, but nobody works to eradicate it. Most are working to help the distressed and exploited workers after the problem comes to their knowledge. Some NGOs are working well for rescue of workers bonded in other states. The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, is quite incapable of providing safety and justice to the workers.
There are some basic reasons for larger migration from Balangir District. The major reason for distress migration is poverty. Only three percent of agricultural land in the district has irrigation. At regular intervals Balangir and neighbouring districts face heavy drought due shortfall of rain. Agriculture is a losing proposition for small and marginal farmers.

Another big factor is discrimination against people of oppressed castes in the villages. Even now caste feelings are very high in rural India. A­ number of traditional professions are being abolished for various reasons. For an example, some folk artists were earning their livelihood by producing music during marriage ceremonies; nowadays DJ sound has already replaced them. For the last many years, those landless oppressed caste people and artists started migrating to distant places in search of earning. There is a long gap to connect them with our systems and the so-called mainstream. Some other important reasons for migration are health expenses and the burden of daughters’ marriage. In Belpada, Khaprakhol and Turekela blocks of Balangir, even now malaria is a very dangerous hazard to life. Health expenses and the marriage burden lead poor families to brick kilns, as they have taken advances from sardar earlier. The middle men are from their own areas, they are moving door to door in villages, giving advance money during Nuakhai (the harvest festival of western Odisha). After the Nuakhai celebration, they all go with the middle men. During each and every step of migration there is scope for exploitation. Women and girls are most exploited. Even if pregnant, women are also forced to work in kilns. 
As per a Government report, 13,081 persons had migrated from Balangir district in the year 2016. 167 sardars were registered and 1,150 persons were rescued by the Government and police during illegal trafficking. Unofficial sources say that from Balangir alone more than one lakh people had migrated out of the state by taking advances from sardars. Thousands of big, small and medium sardars are working to transport people from Balangir to other states without any registration. There is a nexus between brick kiln owners, sardars, politicians, administration, police and the media.

Due to the activities of NGOs, news about the exploitation of migrant labourers is getting publicised, and some rescues are also being carried out. But the situation is developing in such a way that migration is becoming mandatory for the labourers. There is no means to check it. As lakhs of people are migrating, it is now out of control. If it is controlled, who will give them bread and butter?

The Odisha government cynically thinks that migration is emerging as a solution for the poor. The government’s poverty eradication schemes have no teeth to check it. We wish that no child’s dead body be thrown into a burning kiln, no woman worker be raped, no migrant worker return to his native village as a dead body.




1 Kshetrabasi Naik won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2013 for his collection of short stories, Dadan.  He is now working as a journalist with the Odia daily Sambad. Email: [email protected] (back)



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