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The Painful Story Of The Seasonal Migrant Workers In Madhya Pradesh

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Every year after Diwali, Sunita Singh (name changed) along with her family members, which includes 6 male members, 4 young boys, 6 adolescents girls and 6 women, travel all the way from Raipur, Chhattisgarh to Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh for a period of roughly six to seven months. They stay in makeshift houses with a few basic necessities.

They are seasonal migrants and the reason for their long-distance travel is to earn their livelihood. Their main source of livelihood is by selling brooms made out of a special plant found in abundance in the forests of Madhya Pradesh, which they call a ‘Jhadu Plant‘.

Sunita Singh and her family members are from one of the sub-castes of the Gond tribe. In the morning, they go to forests, collect the plants and come back to make brooms. Once they have made enough brooms, they go to local markets to sell them off. Further, the male folks of the family travel to other places to sell it off. While women head back to their native villages in Chhattisgarh. 

By the month of April, they were supposed to be back at home. Alas, this lockdown and the pandemic has forced them to stay put. 

Representational image.

Makeshift Houses And Issue Of Sanitation 

They all stay in tents, which are made of plastic and bamboo. These houses are without toilets and are built on the government’s land. They take permission from the police station of the area before setting up the makeshift houses. These family members defecate in the open farm behind the house. The farm at the backside of their tents belongs to a local individual. Now, that sowing season has begun, they have to cross the farm or use the open sewer to defecate. To take a bath, women of the family have to take permission from the neighbours to use their bathing space. 

During menstruation, they dump the sanitary pad or used clothes in the nearby farm along with wastes in the open. The solution lies in the safe disposal practices, mobile toilet vans and government’s accessible washrooms. Safe disposable measures and practices are quite missing in rural areas. For the community and migrant seasonal workers, mobile toilet vans and government’s run toilets can help to solve the problem of sanitation. 

During the rainy season, it becomes much more difficult to defecate in the open. In addition, the safety of the woman is always a concern while defecating in the open. Snakebites, harsh weather, risk of non-partners sexual violence and clogged field make it difficult during rainy seasons. 

Current Situation And The Issue Of Menstruation 

As these people were supposed to head back to their homes, they got limited clothes to wear and to make sanitary pads out of it. Therefore, they have run out of clothes to make sanitary pads out of them now. Now, they have started using their wearable sarees to make cloth pads. In addition, due to the pandemic, they weren’t able to sell off their brooms, which has taken a toll on their income and savings. Therefore, they are not willing to spend the money on sanitary pads. The money they are left with is spent on buying ration. 

Even the government officials and few individuals, who reached out to them provided them ration but no one provided them with sanitary pads. This has been noticed that the relief materials often missed out on sanitary pads for women which is a basic necessity and a need every month. The ration is supposed to be the need for survival whereas, a sanitary pad is not even considered a basic need. How can one forget, in 2017, when the government imposed 12% tax on the sanitary pads and termed it as a ‘luxury item’. Often, women’s needs and developmental goals go unnoticed. 

Seasonal migration is the truth and it is a source of livelihood to many. The seasonal migrant workers are often denied dignified living. The individuals do not get access to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). It is the need of the hour to include seasonal migrant workers and their families under PDS and ICDS. Additionally, women seasonal migrant workers should also be provided with sanitary pads for low costs through Anganwadi.

In addition, they should be covered under all the provisions of the schemes. Further, mobile incinerators should be put up at government-run toilets and washrooms. Incinerators do not release foul smell and smoke.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program.

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