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Blaming Migrant Workers Will Not Solve India’s Rising Unemployment Or Agrarian Crisis

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Kamal Nath’s tenure as the CM of Madhya Pradesh seems to have begun on high and low notes. As soon as his candidature for the position of CM was revealed, his alleged involvement in the 1984 riots were dug out and publicised. Then, as soon as he was sworn in as the CM, he delivered the pre-poll promise of farm loan waiver by waiving off farm loans of upto ₹ 2 lakhs. Next came his controversial comment about how migrant workers from other states are robbing locals of jobs in the state, and there needs to be a quota or reservation to employ local workers.

But this has not been a one-off remark on the controversial topic. It has come time and again in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena actively batting for restricting migration to Maharashtra and especially to Mumbai with their Maratha Manoos slogan. Politically charged comments against migrant workers in Gujarat this year created fear of persecution against them and triggered their mass exodus. There has been a massive upswing of migrant workers mainly from West Bengal and Assam to Kerala in the last decade. There are many reasons why this migration happens and the situation is far more complex than that which can be solved by reservations or “go back to your own states” rhetoric.

Migration is an essential and crucial aspect of the ecosystem of nature itself. All species can be broadly divided into two categories based on their habitats. The endemic ones or the local residents and the migrant ones. The most famous migration in nature is the Masai Mara migration. Every year, millions of Wildebeest move from Kenya to Tanzania and back across the Masai Mara river. It is one of the most amazing spectacles in nature. Birds fly thousands of miles to different locations during winter seasons. There is only one reason for these migrations in nature. Food.

Humans have also migrated to different places all over the world and that is how there is a human population on so many continents and islands. But human migrations have been far more complex. For example, according to mainstream history, the original inhabitants of north India were driven beyond the Western Ghats when Aryans came and occupied the north Indian plains. Those were the times when different cultures across the world wanted to spread their dominance to other areas, and conquest of other kingdoms was the chosen way to impose cultures and traditions. Then came colonialism where the objective was to conquer different lands to drain them of their resources rather than spread foreign cultures.

All of this changed with the increased usage of the concept of money. When money became the representative of wealth and the measuring yard of prosperity, the focus of migration shifted entirely towards it. Better remuneration for work and improved living conditions have become the pivot for migrations. This is how Indian diaspora has  strong presence now in all English speaking western countries.

When it comes to migrating to distant lands, the first Indian migrants who moved to the Caribbean and African countries worked in tea, coffee and sugarcane plantations. Migrants anywhere in the world have never got absorbed into the local diaspora and they never get direct access to the job market – no matter how educated or skilled they are. For example, only citizens and green card holders are eligible to work in US government jobs and projects, and there are thorough security assessments which need to get cleared. This can be perceived as one way of job reservation. Migrants usually take up jobs that the local people are not keen to work on and can be employed on a lesser pay than the local people.

Cut to the current situation in India and the migration of people among different states are endemic or local to India itself. Endemic migration of people in India is primarily for better remuneration. For example, Keralites migrate to the Middle East for better remuneration. Irony is, the work they do there is mostly what they hate doing in their homeland. But the money they send back to Kerala has helped the Kerala society prosper.

Semi-skilled and unskilled workers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and as far as from West Bengal and Assam have flocked to Kerala to fill the different needs of Kerala society such as domestic helps, construction business and restaurants. Recently the salon I went to had hair specialists who were from UP and have been in Kerala for the past 10 years. Why to Kerala? Because of better remuneration compared to other Indian states for similar professions and better living conditions.

So what is causing this imbalance among different states? Primarily it is the agrarian distress. There is a direct correlation between increasing lack of interest in agriculture and increasing unemployment in the country. The primary requisite of a prosperous society or country is to find the right balance among its different industry sectors. Two reasons have led to the sharp decline in the agricultural sector. Primarily it is the governments ignoring the duress of the farmers.

Failed crops, burden of loans and no profits from their crops have led to farmer suicides. The central and state governments have been showing little to no interest in addressing the concerns of the farmers. This has led the next generation of farmers away from farming and chase formal education or learn other skills, sell their agriculture land, and migrate to cities for jobs and business ventures. This in turn has created the swelling unemployment rate.

The central and state governments are culpable and should be held responsible for ignoring agriculture in a predominantly agrarian society, siding with capitalist business enterprises, creating unemployment that is ailing the country and making cities unlivable with burgeoning population pollution and shrinking natural resources. The recent election results in MP and Rajasthan were the direct result of central and state government’s callous approach to the rural farming community.

I have heard of a development policy of the Chinese government wherein every year a certain amount of agriculture land is allotted for urbanisation. But, a certain amount of unused urban land is also reclaimed for agriculture. Indian state governments need to strike a balance in a similar way between urbanisation and agriculture. If all state governments were working in equal measure for the development of their own states, worker migration would decrease phenomenally. Then there is the difference of wages in different states which can be addressed by fixing the same minimum wages across all the states. This would further decrease the migration especially of the semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

Skilled and highly skilled workers are more likely to migrate locally and to distant places according to the demand of their skills and experience. They also earn much higher income by getting opportunities to work in better jobs and also to upgrade their skills. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers rarely get any such opportunities. It is truly sad that they leave their families behind and travel long distances to do the same work they could have done in their own states itself if the remuneration was on parity. Add to this sometimes their propensity for crimes also increases when these workers migrate from an economically weaker area to an economically prosperous area.

It is high time state governments stopped complaining about people’s migration and started working towards focusing on agriculture, creating employment and making peoples lives better. As long as we are united by a Constitution, a federal governance structure and judiciary, all states should be treating the people of other states without discrimination. The onus is on the central government to ensure and safeguard the basic rights of all citizens of the country.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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