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What Is Forcing 80% Of The Workers From This Village In U.P. To Leave Their Homes?

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By Khabar Lahariya

KL Logo 2 (1)Editor’s Note: As part of Youth Ki Awaaz and Khabar Lahariya‘s collaboration, we bring to you this story from the hinterlands of the country’s largest state – Uttar Pradesh. This story explains just how big a problem unemployment in rural areas is, and how far families have to go to find work in order to sustain themselves. But does them leaving their homes actually help?

District Banda, Block Mahua, Pithaurabad. In this village, about 80% of the residents have either left or are planning to leave. They are going away to find work. People say that the Pradhan is finishing up five years, and to this day, she has not given them any work through MGNREGA. “Our job card has remained empty throughout these five years. If we ask for work, she stalls and says, there is no work that you’d like to do.”

Shamim and Fakruddin say that they go to Delhi, Punjab, Agra and Haryana to earn money – sometimes they are gone for up to four months. This is not a shocking amount of time to be gone, however; in this area, people often go away for a whole year. They go to do a variety of daily wage labour, but most often, they find informal employment in the brick kilns of Punjab (sometimes also in Delhi and Haryana). These kilns run the whole year, with the exception of the monsoon season during which they have to shut down. This is when labourers get to return home.

migrant labourers khabar lahariyaYou may have heard about the horrible, often backbreaking conditions these workers face through a recent campaign to free Pakistan’s bonded labourers that went viral. Migrant workers are often made bonded labourers – bandhak – on the basis of advance payments that then become debts that obligate them to work endlessly. The advance payment is impossible to turn down. The labourers have to make a choice between the whole family starving or being burdened by a debt that is near-impossible to pay off.

However, in U.P., daily wage labourers, who mostly work in agriculture, don’t even get the choice of being in debt – in serially drought-struck Bundelkhand, no crops grow. Even when the farmers make the effort to sow the crop, there is nothing to harvest. So there is no work to be found. “We don’t earn anything in Uttar Pradesh – our children go hungry if we work here. We don’t even have a single biswa of land [that we could earn money from]! If we had any income here, we would give up the one roti we get when we work outside, to have half a roti in our home, our village, with our families.” The dry earth and uncaring administration of Bundelkhand grudge them that half-roti. So Shamim and Fakruddin have become migrant labourers.

Migrant workers are largely not aware of the legislation drafted to protect them – the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979. Indeed, most of them are from communities and regions which are rarely approached by administrators – so how would they?

The Pradhan of Pithaurabad is a woman named Rukmin; but it’s her husband, Neeraj, who talks to us. He tells us that 80% of the villagers have migrated this year because of the drought. No work has happened in the village since the election started. For the past two months, if not more, all able-bodied labourers have been heading out of the village with their families. He argues that it’s not like work is not available – the labourers could work on the construction of the village pond, or the medbandis around people’s fields. “Labourers support their families through daily wages, but the administration sends their compensation too late. That is why they go outside to work – they can’t wait for their wages to come. Otherwise, the village has a budget of 80,000 for daily wage labour that needs to be done.”

Amna, Khatun and Hamidan, however, tell us that in this village, there’s no work for poor daily wage labourers. Nor do the benefits of government programmes like pension and ration card schemes reach them. Only when labourers migrate are they able to put together some money and feed their families.

migrant labourers khabar lahariya 1Studies on brick kilns in Punjab find that the majority of labourers are migrant workers. They’re young, illiterate, landless, poor, from Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities, and an overwhelming majority come from states like U.P., Rajasthan, and Chhatisgarh. U.P. is a massive source of brick kiln labour – multiple studies affirm that at least 30% of labourers arrive from these parts. Most workers from UP are moulders, also known as patheras. According to a study on the push and pull factors of migration among brick kiln workers, conducted by Gursharan Singh Kainth, patheras “are allotted a piece of land by the owner where the workers have to dig the earth and then wet it with water to make the mud suitable for moulding process. Generally for moulding, the whole family is engaged, including young children.”

People don’t travel alone – in Banda, and in the rest of the country, labourers are recruited by jamadars. These are agents who come looking for labour – and the whole family goes with them. It’s an attractive prospect – you’re allowed to take your family with you, everyone gets accommodation, and you get an advance even before you’ve started working. Kilns offer steady work and regular payments.

‘Advance payment’ is a thinly veiled term for debt, though, and accommodations are pitiful, where major health and safety hazards abound. Wages are low. Labourers, being Dalit, Muslim, and Adivasi, face discrimination and violence in the workplace. Women workers, especially, often face sexual violence in this unfamiliar place, and child workers are often not paid. In addition, only the male adult members of the family are enrolled as employees at brick kilns – that gives them a degree of legitimacy and empowerment (although they are still working within the unorganised sector) that women and children don’t get. Workers bear medical expenses themselves – unsurprising in a country which shells out minimal money on public or institutionalised healthcare, but exploitative because brick kilns are a massively unsafe place to work.

But it’s not like the Banda migrants don’t realise this. Most have been going to work in brick kilns in a few years. What is the option? Especially this year, when they are facing a drought the likes of which they have never seen before.

Brought to you in collaboration with Khabar Lahariya.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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