The deserted village

July 26th, 2011

Why are women from rural Bengal migrating so rapidly?  Recently Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh was talking about states which deserve a lot of attention in terms of development funds and he left out Bengal, which prompted a  journalist to ask why it was left out from the group of other eastern states.  The matter ended in banter. But it doesn’t seem like an issue that should not be discussed any further,  especially when women are vying with men to flee the state in a migration rush, which is unprecedented.

Migration is today the magic wand for the poorest women and men in any part of the country. It most often improves their lot but the failures never come to light.  What it  also underlines is the failure of rural development programmes to keep at least poverty stricken and helpless women from almost forced migration.

Spending Rs 40,000 crore on national rural employment guarantee scheme for instance every year has not meant a thing for a divorcee like Jyotsna, a woman who has been rejected by her thrice-married husband for being unable to bear children.  She has never even heard of the programme that promises 100 days of employment.

Women don’t go and work in fields in our villages, not to speak of manual labour, says Saraswati her neighbour in the village of Jalangi from Murshidabad.  We may go to the extent of plucking chillies or working on ‘pat’ jute. But we won’t go dig by the road side, she says. NREGA offers no choice in terms of work, to the extent of making it anti women in states where there are cultural constraints for women to do manual labour.

The only work it offers is manual labour.

Another programme grandly called rural livelihood mission which offers assistance to take up income earning activity has not taken off yet in most villages in the country.

Jyoysna came to Delhi ten days ago in the hope of standing on her feet after the ignominious deal she got from her husband and the rejection by her parents. She is a waif, homeless and weak, without the strength to even shut a door.

I want to make money and get myself treated, she says. Though her husband has given her a divorce, she still wears her traditional white and red bangles, a red mark in the parting in her hair…My husband says that I should continue to do this as he is still alive. She is too timid and simple to defy such logic..

Now in Delhi she finds herself unable to find a foothold in any home as she cannot understand Hindi, cannot read or write , has not seen any modern gadget not even a knife, used only to peeling potatoes and cutting vegetables and fish with a `boti’ a curved  iron implement .

She is an instance of how totally untouched she is by the millions of rupees the government spends on development. There is no literacy programme, no livelihood programme, no food programme, no shelter programme….that has reached her.

There is no identifiable centre in the country where such people can just walk in and get help.

She was part of the consignment of women   from Murshidabad brought by a domestic workers agency in Delhi last fortnight.

Now with no training facilities, Jyotsna’s fate is to stumble from one house to another till she finally learns to survive, or returns home with broken dreams.

Meanwhile in her village of Jalangi in Murshidabad, the job cards of villagers show hardly any work done this year, and very little in the previous years.

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