BANDA: It has been close to a year since Munni Devi has seen her two sons. Both have gone to Delhi to eke out their livelihood. They call regularly to know how the sahukars have been behaving back home. Munni Devi’s late husband Sohan had taken a loan of Rs 4.5 lakh a couple of years ago and invested heavily in a crop but severe drought laid waste to it.
Fed up of being chased by sahukars who wanted to auction his one-room house, Sohan hanged himself in January last year. In a suicide note, he begged for his house to be spared for his family. Now Munni’s two sons have gone to Delhi to earn some money to repay their late father’s loan. Abhay works as a security guard in Delhi and Sonu is a daily wager in Gurgaon.
We see a different kind of exodus in Bundelkhand. If it is lawlessness and zero development in Kairana that’s driving people from home, it is the drought which is forcing thousands of Bundelkhandis to leave their land. But since the drought-prone region does not have the Kairana kind of politics, it has hardly got any attention in the current election season.
The migration zone, in the heart of India, straddles UP and Madhya Pradesh. Seven districts of Bundelkhand lie within this zone. Of the 70 lakh voters in Bundelkhand, at least 35 lakh are below the poverty line. A majority of the wells in Banda, Chitrakoot, Mauranipur, Jhansi, Mahoba are completely dry with the summer still two months away.
Lakhs of people, a majority of them farmers, have left for good in the last decade. According to a report prepared by the UPA government in 2010, over three million farmers this region of 13 districts spread over UP and MP have left.
“These are old figures. If a survey were carried out, the number would be much more,” said Shiv Narayan Singh Parihar, a Bharat Kisan Union leader.
Most of the migrants from Bundelkhand are debt refugees, their flight brought on by a suicide of a father or ruin due to a ceaseless drought. The region is replete with stories of people absent, uprooted from their fields and scattered across the heart of India while their families in eternal wait for the money order.
Some 70 km from Banda is Chitrakoot, where Ram Sahay works in a wayside eatery and earns Rs 5,000 per month. Two years ago his father ended his life after two successive crop failures. The family inherited a debt of Rs 3.75 lakh. The banks began to get tough and so the family sent off the youngest boy, Ram Sahay’s brother, to Delhi, to work as a labourer in Gurgaon. The mother too was packed off to Delhi and Ram Sahay got himself a job at this hotel. The loan will be paid in another eight months. And then, Ram Sahay will move to Delhi. “There’s nothing to go back to in my village,” he says.