On the road, but not at the end of it

-- Stella Paul

That Bhagwanpura village is just 100 km away from Ahmedabad - capital of the largest and supposedly the richest Indian state is hard to believe. For reason one, there is no running water, no toilets and no tar road. The only mode of transport for common people is Chakda – a strange combination of a cycle rickshaw and a push cart. There are so seats and no shed to save yourself from the blazing April sun, or pouring rain, if that ever comes.

Bhagwanpura has a population of about 10, 000, of which nearly half are landless. They are also Dalit or lower caste. April is the beginning of a tough time for these people. Because, this is when the village wells run completely dry. The fields, half baked in the sun, are not fit to be cultivated until the rain comes and with no work at the farms, the landless villagers have to face the eventuality: Leave their homes in search of work.

This year also several families are already on the move. Some are moving to Ahmedabad to work on the special road construction projects, while some will go to Surat, the city of textile factories. They will return after 3 months when the Summer is over and the farming is to restart. Apparently, there isn’t much to take except a few clothes and a few pieces of utensils. The doors will be locked, yes, but nobody fears looting or damage to their homes. No loss, save that of one academic year for their children.

The children follow their parents to wherever they go. This forces them out of school for 3-4 months. On return, either the school authorities decline to let them back in, or the students themselves refuse to go to school because they can’t grasp the lessons because of the long interval. Either way it’s an end of the road for them.

But this year will be different for people of Bhagwanpura, I am told. None of the children will have to drop out, they say. And why so? ‘Because now we have our migration cards’, they say. Explains Sejalben, a villager who will be leaving her village with 4 school-going children soon, ‘Apna Malak Ma people showed us a film where we learnt that government will provide special cards to migrant workers like us. If we showed these cards, the school in our new work place would admit our children in the same class. After seeing the film, we approached the sarpanch. The sarpanch formed a special committee and wrote our names to get us those cards, she said.

There was a smile on her face as she talked, and a sense of pride in her voice. I wonder if it was the pride of being able to protect her child’s future, or, empowering herself with information she never had before.

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