Labour Migration: A Shadow of Poverty in Orissa

One Sunday evening, we were enjoying the evening coffee at the ETV canteen. The live telecast of world famous Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra had pulled us there. Suddenly we heard someone softly humming Jagannath Bhajan. Such a beautiful coincidence! We tried to locate the source and discovered some people from Orissa were busy with ‘Trinath Mela’, a typical devotional Oriya get-together, in an under-construction ETV corporate building. The ambience was typically Oriyan, for a moment, we forget that we were in the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, far away from the epicenter, yet feeling the Orissa fragrance. After the completion of Trinath Mela, we were curious to know the reason of their presence in Hyderabad. Unfortunately under the façade of celebration of joy and ribaldry there lay a sad story, which is known to all of us but forgotten by all of us.

Rather than the soul of India, Orissa is more known for many wrong reasons. Whether it is starvation death or selling of small kids, Orissa has always sited at the front page of any regional, national or international newspaper. This needy state becomes a laboratory for the international organizations to experiment with poverty, hunger and deprivations. When we are rich in our resources, minerals and manpower, then why are we pointed out only for shameful reasons? Again winter season entered the state with the migration storm. Every newspaper and electronic channel got an issue to arise. Again the major headline in the primetime news of every electronic channel is covered from Orissa with this sensational issue. Do you think only Oriya people are migrated from their state to other state for job? If not, why do we get so much unwanted publicity. What are the main reasons of migration? We have made an effort to carve some facts about labour migration in Orissa.

How can we define migration? Migration denotes any movement of groups of people from one locality to another. But there is considerable conceptual difficulty in defining a migrant. Migration of labourer takes different forms. In one end, the place of working and residence of the labourer may be different, and the distance covered by daily commuting. At the other end, the worker’s may move permanently from their places of birth or usual place of residence, maintaining little or no contact with their places of origin. Between these two ends, people move away for differing periods of time. Based on how long they are away from their place of origin, the migrants are distinguished as ‘permanent’, ‘semi-permanent’ and ‘temporary’. Labour migration belongs to temporary migration, which is likely to stay away from their places of origin for more than a few months in a year. The temporary migrants are also known as ‘short duration’ migrants, ‘seasonal’ migrants or ‘circulatory’ migrants.

Face of Orissa

Poverty and migration have always been interrelated in Orissa. The poverty profile shows that income poverty is higher in Orissa than in the rest of India. Although poverty has been falling over time, all data sources indicate that the gap in incomes and between Orissa and the rest of India has widened over the last twenty years. Whereas in 1980 per capita income in Orissa was 27% lower than in the rest of India, in 1997 it was 70% lower. The proportion of people below the poverty line is estimated at 47.13% compared with 26.1% in the whole of India. And there are wide disparities between coastal and southern regions. It is because of high concentration of Scheduled Tribe population in the southern region. Scheduled Tribe population in coastal area is 7.2% as against 39.7% in the southern region. So, poverty ratio in coastal region is 64.0% as against 85.5% in the southern region. If we see the overall trend, we find that 80% of the rural families are leading a painful life in the state. And we lost many investment opportunities due to non-availability of basic infrastructure in our state. It is a dead state for outsiders and it is the real worry for investors to start something new in Orissa. State’s economy has incurred huge losses to the extent of Rs 13,230 crore due to natural calamities from 1998-2003. More than 90% of the state plan outlay is being financed from borrowings.

The Issue

Seasonal migration has become an important livelihood strategy for many Oriyas. Lakhs of people migrate to the other states for working as wage labourers. The Adivasis, Harijans and backward class villagers are always struggling for their basic need (i.e. food). After the harvest, the villagers who are engaged in paddy field become jobless. Hardly they will get any opportunities in their villages to maintain their daily expenditure. How many days, they will sit idle? Some of them get an opportunity to work in brick-kilns within the home state. What about the millions of farmers after the harvest season? They need work; they want money to fulfill their minimum requirements. Without second thought, they have to leave their villages and their homes in search of ‘work for food’ and start their journey to the neighbour states for working in construction, in weaving, in hotels or as rickshaw- and cart pullers. This is not a new story, it is being repeated every year since 1965. This trend was started by the Harijans, who could not get any work once the harvest was over.

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