When you talk about Odisha, the one thing that’ll come to your mind is, Bhubaneswar. You’ll probably think about Cuttack and Puri, maybe Sambalpur and Rourkela too. But we keep forgetting that Odisha is more than just these five places. More often than not, we tend to ignore our southern and western borders. The beautiful Koraput, the mesmerizing Rayagada, the artistic Ganjam and the hospitable Bolangir. While most of us take offence to the fact that people do not recognize Odisha, we smile embarrassed when one refers to a Nuapada or a Hinjili.
We do not know our state.
When you talk about Odisha, the one thing that’ll come to your mind is the heat. While we sit in our AC rooms complaining about the heat, we tend to forget about the vendors we meet in the evenings, the traffic police we ignore on the street. The construction labourers who’re out in the sun, building roofs which we so desperately need during summers, the farmers in the field working for the food we eat.
More than the places, we do not know our people.
When you talk about Odisha, the one thing that’ll come to your mind – it is one of the most under developed states of the country. Our kids complete their education, find fancy IT jobs and move out-of-state with the belief that we don’t have enough jobs for everyone here. Odisha is an agrarian state where the majority have a rice-based diet and with a populist subsidy by the government that is Rs 1 per kilogram of rice scheme for the marginalized, why would one want to work anyway?
More than the people, we do not know the problems of our state.
We move out of the State to study or earn money and these short visits home bring us nothing but delight. While we laze in our beautiful homes where our parents pamper us like royalty, somewhere in our state, people are packing their meager belongings, readying themselves for a final goodbye to their homes.
The one thing at the back of my mind when I think about Odisha is Migration. My work took me to Bolangir, a district that had a migration of 200,000 people on the last count. With no rain, fields lay barren and young men my age are moving to Andhra Pradesh that now looks like the greener other side of the border. What is ironic is, ours might just be one of the few states with both drought as well as floods every year.
Most people depend on their small patches of land for income and after the harvesting season they find themselves jobless for the rest of the year.
The false promises of money, better life and ‘social security’ lures them to adjoining States for work in the kiln factories, ship yards and construction sites, often exposing them to dire work conditions and multiple health hazards. Young girls also fall a victim to this, having to work as domestic help in cities.
The government schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) that provide 150 days of work look less charming when you earn Rs. 20,000 in five months whereas you get paid the same amount just as a down payment by the contractor (middle-man) if you sign a contract to work as a labourer. Even worse when the Sarpanch himself acts as a middle-man.
Well, it’s just the tip of the not-so-hush-hush iceberg. Labour trafficking and migration are one of the biggest reasons why our state is still poor. Of the 28 states hit by the droughts, more than 2/3rd suffer from migration. You can contemplate, if migration does give the poor man a chance at a better life, then why not? Think twice, migration leads to problems like bonded labour, increased rapes, child trafficking, lack of education, physical disabilities and ironically, poverty.
Our state’s inability to improve financial access for farmers, provide emergency response to erratic rainfall patterns and lack of better implementation of MGNREGA – can be highlighted as the few of the many root causes of unchecked migration.
Unless, the problems are addressed at the ground level with a bottom-up approach – the trains will continue being packed with our people who are shipped off like human-packages from a walmart store.
[Story & Illustration: Deepsha Dhal & Dibyush Jena]