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Our days of migrating are behind us

OUR DAYS OF MIGRATING ARE BEHIND
US

We met Parbati Murmu under the eaves of the home of another Trickle Up participant, decorated in a typical style for the Santhal scheduled tribe—very smooth mud walls and floors, the inside painted in colorful blue, white and terracotta shades.

Ten didis (a term of endearment for women in India) were seated in a circle on a mat and invited us to sit. It was a typical meeting of the Chholagora Licher Sarna—The Poor of the Sarna Religion in Chholagora Hamlet—a self-help group, set up almost two years ago to bring these women together and build their collective savings and solidarity. During the meeting, I noticed one of the participants, Parbati Murmu, a particularly vibrant young woman, exclaim “Now, we don’t have to migrate ever again.”

A member of the Santhal Tribe, Parbati Murmu lives with her husband, son, and mother in the small hamlet of Chholagora in East Singhbhum in the state of Jharkhand. Parbati and her family own about an acre of land from which they used to cultivate solely for their own meals. As a source of income, Parbati and her husband were agricultural wage laborers in their own and nearby villages. The whole family was used to migrating annually in search of work, always backbreaking labor.

Parbati Murmu is a member of the ultrapoor, a subset of the “extreme poor”— a classification for those who are living on less than $1.25/day. What characterizes these 200-400 million people around the world are their insufficient and irregular income, chronic food insecurity, poor health, and minimal assets and savings. They are highly vulnerable to health or environmental shocks and live in remote, rural areas. As a means of survival, they prioritize consumption over investment.

The ultrapoor are disproportionately female, often members of indigenous groups and include people with disabilities, and are frequently underserved by government and international development program and policies.

One way for them to cope is to migrate to places where wage labor is more readily available. It is not uncommon for entire villages to migrate multiple times a year, anywhere from a month to the entire year in duration. Often times, they must leave their children behind in the care of one another or by other family members. They then send remittances back. Parbati and other member of the Chlolagora Licher Sarna are used to migrating to the nearest town, Bardhaman, where agricultural labor, like paddy farming is more readily available. However, as they say, “Migration is painful. It is very hard labor and the children also used to work, sitting in heat or the cold. What could we do? There were droughts in our area, leaving us with no food and devastating our crops.” So, how were Parbati and her fellow self-help group members able to put an end to their migrating days?

Trickle Up provides ultrapoor women like Parbati with the tools to build livelihoods that grow their income, skills and self-confidence.

When Parbati was selected in April 2009, Trickle Up, through its local partner agency Jamgoria Sevabrata, immediately began working with her and her husband to identify, train for, and purchase seed and fertilizer for tomato cultivation on their one acre of land. Parbati told us during her training that, the river has been running by our village forever, but we didn’t have the knowledge to utilize it for cultivation. Jamgoria Sevabrata (a partner agency who works with Trickle Up in the field to train participants) didn’t give us the river, but they did give us knowledge to use it for cultivating our crops.”

 

When she started, Parbati told us that, “If we could be successful at cultivating tomatoes, then the family would not have to migrate.” And successful they were. Not only did they make a profit off their tomatoes, they were able to add more nutritious foods to their family’s meals. Parbati was able to use her profits and with her sister, purchase a water pump, allowing her to cultivate during the summer season as well. She diversified into watermelon, potato and cucumber production – much more lucrative crops. And instead of migrating, her husband takes their crops to sell in bigger markets, as far as Asansole, 150 km away from Chholagora.

You will hear many of the same stories among the other members of Chlolagora Licher Sarna, and as Parbati comments: “We have capital so we are all able to do cultivation.” None of the members are now migrating. They are instead working together to bring what they need to their hamlet. Among other things, they petitioned the government to install a health care facility, and used their collective savings to invest in a tube well for safer drinking and irrigation water to the village. Most importantly, when they are in need of work and income, especially during the lean seasons, they are able to go to the Panchayat together and demand for it: “We didn’t know that we would get work if we put pressure in the gram sansad Panchayat meetings.” Whenever they are in need, the Panchayat now provides up to 50 days while before they only received 7 days, much better than having to leave their homes to find work every year.

Through their livelihoods and the self-help group, Parbati, her family, and the hamlet of Chholagora as a whole are able to move forward in their lives. They now have the stability they need to keep their businesses growing and families fed, all by being able to stay home 365 days a year.

Parbati Murmu of Chholagora, East Singhbhum in the state of Jharkhand, India
Diversified farmer, petitioner, knowledge-builder