Since the onset of COVID-19, thousands of migrant workers in India found themselves stranded amidst a sea of uncertainty. Most of these workers who are daily wage labourers and belongs to the economically and socially backward groups travel many distances to different districts and states in search of work. The migration is particularly in large numbers during the months of February and March, every year, due to the harvesting season. With a meagre per day earning, these communities plan to save enough for the upcoming monsoon months. However, with the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, their lives changed drastically.
In Madhya Pradesh, many of such individuals belonging to the remotest of areas are facing a similar tale of desperation and uncertainty. People from Sheopur and Chhatarpur districts often migrated to the nearby districts and states like Rajasthan in large numbers to become agricultural labourers. But with the national lockdown being announced to control the spread of the deadly virus, these labourers lost their livelihoods; and with no work left they were forced to walk back to their native villages.
“I went to Rajasthan to work as a daily wager. But when the virus spread and the lockdown was announced, I along with others lost our jobs. With no income I had nowhere to go but to come back to our village to my family. I along with a friend boarded an overnight bus and reached the state border. From there, I walked for several kilometers to reach my village. The meagre earning that I had is almost over now,”, share Mukesh Adivasi of Babri Chapa village, Sheopur. Approximately, 2000 labourers of Sheopur are still stranded outside the district.
For Mukesh and many like him, Welthungerhilfe’s partner, Darshna Mahila Kalyan Samiti (DMKS) and Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram (MGSA), are tirelessly working to help them in these desperate times. They have been providing emergency relief support in the form of dry ration, hygiene kits, face masks, coordinating with the district administration in providing all possible support to prevent, detect, and respond to the pandemic in Chhatarpur and Sheopur districts. They are also helping the administration in identifying workers from the state who are stranded elsewhere.
In Sheopur, till date, MGSA has reached out to 1410 families largely belonging to the Sahariya tribe. 160 families were supported with dry ration kits and face masks were provided to 1250 families. In Chhatarpur, DMKS distributed soaps to 13,600 families and fresh vegetables were distributed through community support. They also facilitated government support for 400 migrant workers who returned to their native villages in isolation and quarantine centers.
Ensuring livelihoods under MGNREGS
With the central and state governments restoring services and work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Welthungerhilfe’s partners are ensuring that more and more communities who lost their job can get enrolled under the scheme and earn a basic minimum wage.
In Chhatarpur district, DMKS is supporting the communities across 35 villages in filing their application for demanding work under MGNREGS. These villages are part of the ‘Nutrition Smart Villages’ of Welthungerhilfe. Till date, application for 16 villages have been filed; and five of these villages – Pali, Raichour, Patan , Shivrajpur and Jharkua – have already been provided work for unskilled labour by the government. As part of this, 69 individuals received work for 10 days under the scheme with a daily earning of INR 203. Under this provision, one dug well, and a farm pond will be excavated, and field bunding work will be initiated.
Sheopur, MGSA are supporting the tribal communities of Dubadi village, who had
to returned to their villages amidst the lockdown. MGSA representatives requested
the administration to initiate water conservation work under MGNREGS. Following
the request, as on 22nd April, 2020, 50 individuals have been assigned work who
would be regularly hired for the next two to three months. The team also
prepared a list of wage workers who were willing to work in the villages,
following which development works were initiated such as construction of farm
pond, pond renovation and construction of new pond as part of the village micro
planning efforts. Currently, orders have been issued to start MGNREGS work in
17 Panchayats out of 24 Panchayats. Farm pond and pond deepening works have already
started in the nutrition smart villages like Dubadi, Karrai, Bawdi chapa and
The close coordination between the civil society organizations and governments at all level, gives a ray of hope to restore both lives and livelihoods in India. The sudden outbreak of the country took everyone off guard with poor and the marginalized being the most affected, economically. Although there is still a long way to be covered, organization are trying their best to bring back normalcy. There is hope that not everything is lost and life will get better again.