Kushalgarh, Banswara- Even today, the residents of Garadkhoda shudder at the memory of that fateful night on January 18, 2021. A group of workers from Vagad, who had ventured to Surat in Gujarat for construction labor, were sleeping on the roadside. The piercing sound of a speeding dumper echoed through the night, claiming the lives of 12 tribal laborers on the spot, with three more succumbing to their injuries in the hospital. These unfortunate souls hailed from Garadkhoda, Bhagatpura, and the surrounding villages of the Kushalgarh subdivision in Banswara. Their journey to Gujarat was driven by the dire need for livelihood, as Banswara stands as the lone district in the state where tribal families migrate en masse.
During the scorching summer, when water sources run dry, and fields yield no grains, the tribal communities find themselves compelled to seek sustenance in the bustling cities of Gujarat—places like Surat, Rajkot, Baroda, Ahmedabad, and Vapi. The struggle for survival propels them toward migration, a poignant reality that persists in the face of adversity.
The impending Assembly elections in Rajasthan, scheduled for November 25, have intensified political engagements in the tribal-dominated areas of Southern Rajasthan. Candidates from various political parties are actively reaching out to voters, vying for their support. Despite the promises of welfare for tribal communities echoed by both central and state governments, the harsh reality in these villages along the borders of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat remains marked by unemployment and struggles for basic amenities.
To uncover the ground truth about the living conditions in these villages, The Mooknayak ventured to ground zero, capturing the voices of the people and their hardships. One poignant encounter was at Hakra Meena's home in Garadkhoda village, situated in the Bhimpura Gram Panchayat. Sixty-year-old Hakra, visibly fatigued, rested in a corner of the field. His family had suffered a profound loss in the tragic Surat accident, where his young son and daughter-in-law were among the 12 lives lost. Now, the burden of caring for their three-year-old daughter has fallen upon Hakra and his elderly wife.
In the midst of this grief, Hakra shared the harsh reality of life in the village. "There is no work in the village. Though we have a small piece of land where we manage to cultivate a crop of maize and wheat, the yields from cotton, gram, and soybean are not enough to sustain us. There is a stark absence of produce to sell, even for our basic household needs. It's an incomplete struggle," expressed Hakra in a somber tone.
Kamla, Hakra's wife, shared the aftermath of the tragic loss of their son, daughter-in-law, and four other family members. The state government provided compensation of Rs 2 lakh per deceased, a sum Hakra used to purchase land for constructing a permanent house. However, the compensation could never fill the void left by the earning member of the family. Kamla expressed the struggle they now face, unsure of how to navigate life without him. Their younger son has resorted to seeking work as a labourer in Gujarat, reflecting a common trend among the youth in the village.
Ramesh, a young man from the village, highlighted the economic challenges that drive the youth to abandon their studies and migrate to Gujarat for labour opportunities. " While education until class 10th and 12th proceeds smoothly, financial constraints often hinder further studies like pursuing a B.Ed. Without job prospects, many are compelled to return to agricultural work", Ramesh told The Mooknayak.
Banswara-Dungarpur district witnesses a substantial migration of workers to Gujarat annually. Regions such as Kushalgarh, Anandpuri, Sajjangarh, Gangadalai see thousands migrating with their families for construction and other work in Gujarat cities. Despite earning Rs 200 to 300 per day, these migrant laborers endure living conditions in Gujarat worse than animals, as described by Kadvi Bai. She narrated the harsh reality of sleeping in roadside huts. Kadvi Bai stated, "There, we live and sleep on the roadside. Our cooking setup is basic – four bricks become our makeshift kitchen. We prepare and eat our meals there, clean the space to sleep. The challenges faced by women, particularly during menstruation, add to the hardships."
Kanta Bai, the secretary of a committee formed under the Van Dhan Yojana for empowering women, revealed the gap between intent and implementation. Despite the promising plan to process forest produce and create quality products, the committee remains inactive due to the non-release of funds. Kanta, a widow, emphasized that she has not received any widow pension or assistance from the government.
Social scientist Dr. Nidhi Seth underscores the grim reality that none of the schemes implemented by the central and state governments has contributed to the development of the area or brought about positive changes in the lives of tribal families. The absence of basic facilities such as electricity, water, roads, and employment opportunities compounds the challenges faced by the community. The arduous task of fetching water from a tube well forces women and girls to make several daily trips covering 2-3 kilometers. Additionally, the distance to schools contributes to high dropout rates among girls, exacerbated by the lack of paved roads within the villages. The sole mode of transportation available is motorcycles.
The district's population is in the throes of crisis migration, with over 50% migrating to neighboring states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In many villages, a staggering 90% of households have at least one member working as a laborer in Gujarat. Unlike other parts of Rajasthan, where migration typically involves men from a family, Banswara district witnesses entire families migrating in search of livelihood, as reported by the Livelihood Bureau.
The majority of these migrants are unskilled, seasonal laborers engaged in construction sites, factories, brick making, and agriculture. The primary drivers behind this inter-state crisis migration are entrenched poverty, a dearth of employment opportunities, and the depletion of natural resources in their home region. The profound challenges faced by these communities underline the urgency for comprehensive and sustainable interventions to uplift their living conditions.
Seasonal agricultural work, historically the primary livelihood for communities in Kushalgarh, faces significant challenges due to water scarcity, irregular rainfall, and a lack of irrigation infrastructure. These factors lead to crop failures and poor-quality produce, making it difficult to fetch good prices in the market. Despite a rich tradition of crafts and artisans in the region, limited opportunities to sustain craft-based livelihoods force the community to migrate in search of better prospects.
Migration becomes a seemingly inevitable solution for repaying loans, driven by weak economic conditions, scant employment opportunities, and a lack of access to financial services such as Kisan Credit Card (KCC) loans. Borrowing money at exorbitant interest rates becomes a common practice to cover expenses for weddings, funerals, celebrations, and local traditional rituals. Unfortunately, this cycle of debt becomes a major driver behind the migration of these tribal communities.
While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is intended to provide work opportunities, tribal communities often find it inaccessible due to geographical and social distance from the upper caste community, who tend to control work and salary distribution in the scheme. The available work is limited to an average of 100 days, offering a maximum wage of Rs 220 per day, which is insufficient even for general category workers.
Within Banswara, the Kushalgarh and Sajjangarh blocks have a high tribal population, with 88% and 85% respectively. The average literacy rate for women in rural areas is only 24%. A report from Rajasthan's Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department reveals that 50% of the rural population in the district lives below the poverty line. Women, constituting 35% of the total workforce, often migrate to neighbouring states for work. While workers return during the harvest season, individuals like Hakra and Rameshchandra find the earning potential from farming negligible.
With 61% of households having marginal land holdings and relying on rain-fed agriculture, tribal communities are compelled to migrate in search of work to repay debts, a situation exacerbated by the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic.