Migrant Labour – Sweating it out, Come What May…

The role played in the projects in Dakshina Kannada, be it private or government-funded, by migrant labour from the northern parts of Karnataka is significant.

The labour migration increases in the months of summer. It could be attributed to some extent to the scarcity of water during these months. A case study of these labourers provided a deep insight into their lives.

A group of 25 labourers from the northern parts of Karnataka are provided with shelter at a government primary school near Ujire. 

Manjaiah is in his thirties. He is working on asphalting some interior roads in several villages and towns of our district. He has come along with his wife and two children, both girls. His wife also works with him during day and cooks food in between. He has left behind his two other children, again both girls, at home in Bijapur, to the care of their grandparents.

Each of the labourers migrating towards Dakshina Kannada has his own story. Manjaiah has trouble finding employment throughout the year. “We practise agriculture during rainy season. What we earn through agriculture or by assisting as agricultural labourers is not enough to support our families.” he says.

As a result of advanced farming technology, farm labourers are forced to take such steps to earn money. “Those machines till the soil, plant the seeds and harvest crops. Big farmers do not employ us any longer. Machines do our job for the farmers,” he points out.

Speaking on how drought in North Karnataka has affected the livelihood, he says that water is a scarce commodity in the region. “We do not get water even after digging borewells for a depth of over a hundred metres. Here you have it in plenty,” he explains.

As his wife cooked dinner beside the school compound, Manjaiah laments the slump in the number of people engaging themselves in agriculture. Even though there is good soil for growing food crop, cereals and vegetables, youth are not interested in agriculture.

Asked on whether packages were provided for people affected by drought by the state government, he questions the utility of such relief packages if there was no water for people to drink.  

Rajesh, from Bellary, is also a migrant labourer. His parents too are into agriculture and it is hard for them to make both ends meet. “Even though we grow the crops required to feed us, it doesn’t bring much revenue. So, I started working here three years ago,” he says. He is 21.

These labourers do have issues concerning their meagre salaries, pathetic living conditions, lack of steady income and low standards of life that they have to endure here.

At yet another May Day passed by the other day, their worries continue to persist. These migrant labourers don’t have any demands. They just seek work. They aren’t even aware of their rights.

Author: Akram Mohammed