FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

They Take the Early Train

Revantabai Kamble has not spoken to her six-year-old son for months. They live in the same house in Tiroda, of course. It’s the same with Buribai Nagpure–though she might sometimes see her older boy if he’s awake. Both women are among hundreds in this part of Maharashtra’s Gondia district who spend just four hours a day at home and travel over 1,000 km each week–to earn Rs.30 daily [i.e. about 68 cents. Editors].

It’s 6 a.m. when we accompany the women from their homes to the railway station. Most have been up two hours already. “I’ve finished the cooking, washing, sweeping and cleaning,” says Buribai cheerfully. “So now we can talk.” No other member of her household is awake when we arrive. “Poor things,” she says, “they’re tired out.” Isn’t Buribai tired out, too? “Yes, but what to do? We have no options.”

At the station are many other women without options. They are also unusual in one sense: these are not migrants from village to city. They are footloose workers from an urban setting seeking work in the villages. This search takes them from moffusil towns–Tiroda is a tehsil headquarters–to toil as agricultural labour in the villages almost every day of their lives. [Each tehsil is part of a larger District within a State or Union Territory. Editors] Spending up to 20 hours away from home daily. There are no weekend offs and no jobs in Tiroda. “After the beedi industry went,” says Mahendra Walde, “it is impossible for them to find work here.” Mr. Walde is district secretary of the Kisan Sabha in Gondia. [ Beedi is an indigenous cigarette in which tobacco is rolled in a tendu leaf and tied with a cotton thread. Editors.]

Many of the women live five or more kilometres from the railway station. “So we have to be up by 4 a.m.,” says Buribai. “We finish all our work and walk to the station by seven.” That’s when the train comes in and we clamber on with the group that will go to Salwa in rural Nagpur. The 76-km journey takes two hours. On the platform and in the train are more women, weary-eyed, hungry, half-asleep. Most sit on the floor of the crowded train, leaning against the carriage wall, trying to snatch some sleep before their station arrives.

“We will reach home at 11 p.m.,” says Revantabai. “We sleep by midnight. And start all over again at 4 a.m. the next morning. I have not seen my six-year-old awake in a long time.” Then she laughs: “Some of the much younger children may not recognise their mothers when they do see them.” Their children have either dropped out of school because they cannot afford it. Or perform poorly there. “There is no one at home to watch or help,” points out Buribai. And some of the youngsters are themselves doing any work they find.

“Naturally, they do badly at school,” says Lata Papankar, a teacher based in Tiroda. “Who can blame them?” It appears the Government of Maharashtra can. The performance of these children is held against the schools, which might lose funds. And against teachers trying to help them, who might be penalised for poor results. An approach that will further erode their chances of going to school.

Seated on the rocking floor of the train, Shakuntalabai Agashe says she has been doing this for 15 years. The only breaks come during festivals or the monsoon. “For some kinds of work,” she says, “we may be paid Rs.50. But that’s rare. Mostly it’s Rs.25-30.” There are no jobs in their towns, say the women.

The money there is has flown to the cities. The industries there were have closed down. The moffussil towns are in decay. Almost all these women found work with the beedi industry in the past. “When that went we were finished,” says Buribai. “Beedi is a footloose industry, ever in search of cheaper labour,” says K. Nagaraj of the Madras Institute of Development Studies who has worked on the sector. “It shifts base quite quickly. The human consequences of such shifts are devastating. And have gone up these past 15 years.” A lot of beedi work “has gone off from Gondia to Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh,” says Pradeep Papankar of the Kisan Sabha.

“Of course we do not buy tickets to travel on the train,” the women say. “A round ticket would cost more than the Rs.30 we earn. Our system is simple: if we get caught, we pay the checker a bribe of Rs.5.” Ticket revenue has been privatised. “They extort it from us knowing we can’t afford it.”

“My older boy drops me at the station on his cycle sometimes,” says Buribai. “Then he stays there looking for any work, whatever the pay. My daughter cooks at home. And my second boy takes the meal to his brother.” In short, says Mr. Walde, “three people are working for the wage of one.” But all five family members together, including her husband, often make much less than Rs.100 a day. Some days, just two of them may have earned anything at all. They do not have a BPL ration card.

At stations along the way are labour contractors, waiting to pick up workers on the cheap.

Reaching Salwa around 9 a.m. we set out a kilometre to the village and a further three km into the fields. Buribai does that last stretch with a huge vessel of water perched on her head, yet outpaces all of us.

Those on whose fields they labour for a pittance are also in trouble. The agrarian crisis has hit landowner Prabhakar Vanjare badly. He owns three acres and has taken ten on lease. “Prices are terrible, we earn almost nothing,” he complains. And resident labour in the village has migrated elsewhere in despair. Hence the coming of these women.

This is eastern Vidharbha, away from the troubled cotton belt. Mr. Vanjare grows paddy, chilli, and other items. Right now, he just requires the women for weeding work. They work till about 5-30 p.m. and get back to the station an hour later.

“But the train only comes in by 8 p.m.” points out Buribai. “So we will reach Tiroda only around 10 p.m.” Their families are asleep when the women get home. And asleep when they leave in the mornings. “What family life can there be,” asks Revantabai.

By the time they reach home, they have travelled over 170 km. And will do that every day of the week–to earn Rs.30. “We’ll be home by 11 p.m.” says Buribai, “to eat and sleep.” Until four hours later, when they have to get up and do it all over again.

P. SAINATH is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be reached at: psainath@vsnl.com.

 

More articles by:

P Sainath is the founder and editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought.’ You can contact the author here: @PSainath_org

March 20, 2019
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail