I met Sushila (changed name) while working on a corona relief campaign with the Tarun Bharat Sangh team in the village of Banjaro ki dhani. She is a beautiful 24yrs old woman from the Banjara tribe. She was 8months pregnant and waiting eagerly for her husband to return as soon as possible. Her husband had gone to sell cattle in a market which is far away, to collect money for his wife’s delivery. When I went to her house to give her the kit, she seemed very happy. She came close to me and asked me from behind the veil “didi lockdown kab khulega”(sister, when will the lockdown end)
She was sad to hear that It might take another month. That was my first day in the field for corona relief and I met hundreds of women like Sushila in the coming weeks. Every woman I met had a story to share. Stories about their physical health and mental stress. It felt like each one of them wanted to say something. I saw their eyes asking when things will go back to normal. I got the opportunity to talk to a few of them as they were alone at home and my eyes misted over as I listened to their stories.
Covid 19 has made us all face many challenges but it was the first time I realized it was nothing compared to the women of urban areas. The women who live on the edges of their life. Rural women who are the backbone of India’s agricultural workforce but still find themselves outside the ‘circle of development’.
Rural women have always received woefully little attention. Given the recent large-scale return of men back to rural areas, it is important to think of what long and short term impacts this reverse migration will have on the village women.
The infection is not as high in villages as its impact is.
Girls are dropping out of school
Pooja and Payal love to go to school. Their father is a sweeper and works hard to pay their school fees. But the dreams of an education for many girls like Pooja and Payal seem to fade. The education system is not prepared to address the needs of marginalised girls. Sharing a phone with siblings who are in different grades is not possible because they have different classes at the same time. It is not easy for girls in villages to get a personal smart phone with internet connection. As a result, a huge population will remain deprived of their basic right- Education.
Women are losing their jobs as a result of reverse migration
It took rural women years to break all the cultural restrictions and start working but with the large no. of men returning to villages, it is difficult for women to get jobs or even work on their own agricultural land. And the work load at home has increased. Even if they get a job, they face a lot of gender discrimination in the form of unequal pay.
Lockdown measures in India have sparked a spike in domestic violence. For many women, who are in an abusive relationship, their lives have come to a halt. Thousands of men who lost their jobs and returned back to their villages are taking out their frustration on their family, especially wives. Various domestic violence helplines and organizations are working constantly to help women deal with this issue but a lot of rural women who experience domestic violence do not seek help.
Reduction in deliveries in hospitals.
Lockdown has led to a lot of unwanted pregnancies. Many women, in rural areas, don’t have access to midwives or support staff. Immunisation and family welfare programs are also at risk. Along with all this, family members are also scared to take the mother to the hospital instead prefer doing deliveries at home which is again a big risk to the health of the mother and the baby.
While the focus right now is to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus, one aspect of men losing their jobs and being at home for long periods of time is the rise in incidences of child abuse. There are silent tears of women & children who are bearing the effects of aggressive behaviour patterns from men with low self-esteem.
Generally, workers migrate to the cities because of lack of water in the fields making it difficult to grow crops. Subsequently, their land remains fallow for the whole year and totally dependent on monsoon rain. If water was made available for farming, then those families who migrate would instead priorities farming on their land. In the lockdown, a huge number of workers have returned to their roots in villages. This influx has suddenly increased the population in the villages creating a food and water crisis in the villages. The villages have never seen reverse migration in such magnitude at once. The impact has been devastating.
Pooja Bhati is a management professional, an organizer, a young person at heart, a photographer a traveller and a social voice. In 2011, after joining Tarun Bharat Sangh an nongovernmental organization working on women, water and river issues, she began her development journey. Pooja is the mother of two children and dreams of transforming the lives of millions of underprivileged women and girls positively.