A Life Changing Journey
Lockdown caused by Covid-19 crisis has resulted in reverse migration of unprecedented nature and scale. The situation has given rise to social and economical challenges that has impacted all sections of the society in urban and rural India, and will lead to further deterioration if it is not understood well and addressed collectively.
Hence, to understand the ground realities, Digital Empowerment Foundation set up a road trip to conduct an ethnographic study across three most affected states of India—UP, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Ethnography is a qualitative research methodology, which is immersive.
In a journey that lasted a little over two weeks—we visited three villages in Barabanki district in Uttar Pradesh— Saidanpur, Bansa, Rampur; six villages in West Champaran district in Bihar—Gonauli, Awharshekh, Siswa Bhumihar, Dhanauji, Bhitiarwa—and a semi-urban town, Sherghati, in Gaya district; and five villages in Jharkhand—Khakhra, Dundigachhi, Hesatu, Dublabera and Hesatu, in Ramgarh and Ranchi district.
All the villages were chosen on the basis of number of migrant labourers received during the lockdown. We spent quality time with over 200 migrant labourers in their environment—and in the process observed, interviewed and documented their stories and experiences to gain valuable insights. The idea was to record diverse return journeys under various circumstances and challenges faced thereof during the journey and upon arrival to the village. All the outcomes will come together to form a comprehensive ethnographic report on the impact of lockdown on migrant labourers.
The process also involved shooting of a documentary film that will give an exclusive first hand visual perspective into the plight and predicament faced by the most affected section of the society in this crisis, who are upholding crucial social and economic balance of our country.
‘Bhim Munda in Dublabera village, Jharkhand—had to put his education temporarily on hold because of a loan that his family had to take, but his self-respect wouldn’t allow him to speak openly about it. He had a plan to work for some time until he repays the loan and then he would pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. Lockdown has hampered his plans.’
‘Harinder Paswan in West Champaran district, Bihar—is unemployed since he has returned under trying circumstances. They are forced to take a loan to support their family. And they are prepared to take another loan and then another—just to keep their heads above water, if situation doesn’t improve.’
‘Shivani wanted to become a doctor and her mother Asha Devi was working hard to fulfill her dream. The lockdown has interrupted her studies, and thereby put paid to her dream. Now she wants to join Army, which may also remain unfulfilled if hardships continue, since livelihood options are few and far between in her village in West Champaran district, Bihar.
‘Nandlal from Bansa village in Barabanki district, Uttar Pradesh—undertook a difficult journey to be amongst his family and loved ones because he did not want to die alone. However, he faced further misery when his own village folks shunned him for allegedly being a corona virus carrier.’