34-year-old Lalapa was driven out of his home in the village by hunger. Indian cities are bursting at the seams with millions of other Lalapas who are forced to seek refuge in them as villages can no longer feed them. “My crops failed, my children were hungry. I had to migrate,” are but excerpts from many such lives.
Crop failure, pending loans, drought, water shortage and electricity problems are a few of the reasons for this rural exodus. Small-time agents from the city offer jobs to weary villagers, who are left with no choices. For thousands of villagers, it is the relentless construction industry -- the very mark of Indian urbanisation, that their search brings them to. They arrive en masse and head to construction sites, where they find work as a cheap labour force. Shanties mushroom around every construction site. Often dismissed as an eyesore, it is here that farmers whose land feeds them no longer find refuge. Our cities need electricity to run industries and businesses, while rural areas require power to pump water for agriculture. In India the big cities experience only an hour's power cut, if at all, whereas rural areas face 8 to 12 hours of load-shedding a day, making work impossible for many farmers. Those that migrate from rural areas are different from the urban slum dwellers. Much more marginalised; they live and work in conditions worse than those in urban slums. Their tiny tents and shanties made of makeshift homes are lacking in basic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation and electricity. The authorities give the migrants no identification papers, or medical insurance despite the dangerous nature of construction work. They are not even counted during population census as urban dwellers because they are economically insignificant. Paid paltry daily wages, migrant labourers are unable to send their children to schools either. The government and NGOs have set up a handful of schools for migrant children. But since the nature of their work involves moving from one construction site to another, regular schooling is close to impossible for their children. Not only are children not able to receive education, but they are also blatantly employed at some sites as labour. These children more often than not are acutely malnourished and prone to several contagious diseases because of unhygienic living conditions. Women and girls sometimes seek work as domestic help in nearby houses. Despite efforts from several bodies, the condition of distress migrant labourers is one that offers many unresolved challenges.