Monday, September 8, 2008

Looking for dry ground and a better life: Bihar Flood drives migration in India

Source: World Vision - Asia Pacific
By Kitkupar Shangpliang, World Vision India
Website: http://www.wvasiapacific.org

Born 20 days before floods ravaged the eastern Indian state of Bihar, baby Sabrun is already an object of migration and so also, are thousands of others trying to escape poverty and the floods. Her family travelled 20 kilometers on foot for two hours to reach the nearest relief camp in Madhepura district.
Sabrun's father is a *rickshaw puller, landless and earning a mere Rs.40 a day, equivalent to a dollar. "I don't want to leave my village", said this worried father. But he may not have a choice. Without job and food security back home, families such as this may be forced to move elsewhere in this migration prone zone.
Even in times when there is no flood, migration is a grave concern in this poverty stricken state of India. New-Delhi bound trains are always packed with migrant laborers from the villages of rural Bihar. And when they reach the towns and cities - they end up as daily laborers who are forced to live a tougher life in the city.
"All the trains were running fully packed and railway stations were overcrowded, indicating that people were migrating on a mass scale", said a government official from the Additional Disaster Management Cell. Official sources in the three districts said, that thousands of people, mostly poor landless labourers, were migrating by train as far as Mumbai and other major cities in southern India.
World Vision Relief staff of the first assessment team, J.L Franco observed, "People are rushing to board any vehicle - from bicycles, rickshaws, carts and trains - to escape to safer places".
For now, baby Sabrun and her family are taking shelter in a relief camp run by the DL College Authorities and assisted by World Vision. They are getting three square meals a day, they have a class room-turned dormitory for shelter but they are running short of clothing. Somehow, the situation is under control but for how long? As the families go back to their village or decide to detour - real agony will begin.
There will be no crops left, land owners and farmers will not be able to offer jobs in the fields for the next six months and women who typically cut the crops in exchange for a share of food , will be left hungry and without work. "Then people will be forced to send their children as young as ten or eleven to work in the towns as domestic help or in tea shops", said Kaushal Kishore, Secretary of DL College governing body.
Kishore has been instrumental in setting up the relief camp and allowed the usage of space at his college in the midst of opposition from his other colleagues. "We have used this college campus as the camp during the flood in 1984, but that flood is nothing compared to this one", said this soft spoken but determined middle aged man.
Kishore and his other active colleagues, at their capacity, have done their best to educate people not to fall into the force or temptation of migration. While migration looks like the better option, people face dire consequences when they leave their village and live in foreign lands, "Some of them cannot come home even if they want to, because they have nothing back home", Kishore said.
The solution: Proper housing for the poor
Digging deeper into the matter, Kishore's colleague Divender explained: The State's Housing Scheme is not working here as it should. Before the government would channel housing money through the village committee, which monitors how people use the money for housing. Now that money goes straight to the family. Most of the families then end up spending the money repaying debts or spending it on a marriage celebration. Had people used the money for building concrete homes, they could have minimized their loss during this flood.
"As you can see, all homes are thatch-made, so the water destroyed everything. If concrete homes had been built, the structures would have survived, lessening the chance for migration because families would have had their houses even after they have lost everything else", said Divender. The Bihar context is not something any one can understand easily. The State and NGOs are attempting to do their best but the gaps are huge and the problem big.
History of Migration
Historically, people left Bihar due to the loss of land, recurrent famines, and land infertility. Now they leave because of flooding. There were about 195 million migrants in India according to the 1981 census, and a large portion of that number comes from Bihar migrants.
In the past, most migration was short-distance, from one rural district to another, female-dominated, or for marriage reasons. When rural-to-urban migration trends increased, it was primarily within one's own district, male-dominated, and employment driven. The last ten years have seen a completely different pattern: people of both sexes are now going away to other states and cities across the country to find work.
Human Trafficking another possible consequence:
The issue of people being trafficked, especially children, is of great concern in this disastrous situation. Bihar stands at the helm of India's human trafficking zone. Economic poverty, food insecurity and now flooding will push more people from rural to urban areas, complicating the already complex Indian urban problem.
Civil society and media reports indicate that a large number of cases like this explained how girls and women are being promised a better job in the cities but finally end up as daily laborers, domestic help and even forced to prostitution.
Could this flood add to the human trafficking problem that already exists in east India? Village leader Murli Yadav fears, "In the past only men or women left their homes, today the entire family is moving along".
*rickshaw: two wheeler cart pulled by one personaidnews
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