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In Pics: Meet These Odisha Migrants To See The True Face of The Lockdown

In Pics: Meet These Odisha Migrants To See The True Face of The Lockdown

They received no support to come back, nor did they have any money. Once the lockdown ends, many may not go back. The fear of being left alone to fend for themselves in a distant land has scarred them.

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Ground realities captured from across Odisha give us insights into how communities perceive the pandemic.

Philip Sabar is a 20-year-old from Tala Tapanga, a village in Rayagada block, Gajapati district.

In February, Philip left for Chennai to find work, as there was none in his village. He managed to find a job in construction, which paid him Rs 4,000 a month. A recent migrant, he had high hopes of earning money to send back to his family. However, due to the lockdown, he returned to his village on March 15, along with seven others. They received no support to come back, nor did they have any money. When the lockdown ends, Philip may not go back. The fear of being alone to fend for himself in a distant land has scarred him.

Photograph and text by Varun Namineni.

***

The Jagannath Prasad block in Ganjam district is severely affected by the pandemic and lockdown.

A survey by Gram Vikas showed that more than 100 men from 22 villages had migrated for work, mostly to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Families are worried about their sons and their futures. Questions such as “When will all this end? What will happen after this?” occupy their minds.

As one of the blocks with cellular connectivity, families in Jagannath Prasad can stay in touch with their children. However, with the lockdown extension, they are unsure where the money for medicines or agri-inputs for the upcoming farming season will come from.

Photograph and text by Jaison Thomas.

***

It’s been more than seven months since Mohan left his family in Dholpas, a village in Thuamul Rampur block, Kalahandi district, for Thrissur, Kerala.

Just when he left for work in a cement brick company in Kerala, his son, Prabhas, was born.

Mohan had debts to repay, and his earnings in Kerala also helped meet his expenses and save money to send back home. Since the lockdown, he has had no work, and cannot fund his trip back home to see his child. His mother, Kunji Majhi and wife, Bijitra Majhi, hope that the government helps Mohan return as soon as the lockdown lifts.

Photograph and text by Aravind A R.

***

In early March, Sulaman Sabar migrated from Odisha to Chennai, Tamil Nadu for work.

He was one of 11 people to move from his hamlet—Upar Tapanga, in Rayagada district. He worked for a week or two but had to come back home due to the lockdown.

All 11 people went together and had a contract, which is still ongoing. But Sulaman wants to stay back with his father and try to find work in the village. He didn’t explain why he does not want to return to Chennai, but he has made up his mind on staying in the village.

Photograph and text by Naina Lahoti.

***

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Kanchana Sabar is old and lives alone in her village, T Landusahi in Gajapati district.

She received four months’ worth of old-age pension from the government in advance. Her major expense is healthcare. Although she does not know how long the Rs 2,000 will last, she is relieved the money from the panchayat can care for her health as it did before the lockdown.

Photograph and text by Naina Lahoti.

***

Ramaswami’s son, Sashidhar, had gone to Raichur, Karnataka, for construction work.

Like many others, he could not come back. He used to earn Rs 15,000 per month, but now there is no work and no income. He has been left to fend for himself in Raichur, without any support from the company or the contractors he worked for. Sashidhar wants to stay back in Raichur and work for another year, but Ramaswami wants his son to come back home as he is worried about him.

Photograph and text by Varun Namineni.

***

Babita Bhuyan, a resident of Landusahi village, Gajapati district, is the president of the local self-help group, Mukteswari.

Until the lockdown came into effect, her collective made ragi laddus for Adivasi children who attended school in Koinpur in Gajapati district. People in her village have been well-informed about the pandemic through awareness drives by local organisations. However, there is a shortage of masks as local markets are now shut.

Recognising this, Babita has been making masks which are now being distributed across local shops. She feels content that she could help people in her village, but hopes that the situation normalises soon, so that she can go back to preparing laddus for school children.

Photograph and text by Yashika Malik.

***

A few years ago, Ram Singh Majhi, a farmer from Sindhipadar village, Kalahandi district, shifted from traditional slash-and-burn farming to environmentally-friendly techniques.

He was recognised for growing paddy, mango, banana, and sugarcane. But for the last two months, he hasn’t been able to harvest or sell his produce due to the lockdown. Markets are closed, and even his attempts to reach intermediaries have not helped—they cannot reach his remote village. Ram Singh was expected to earn a profit of Rs 10,000-14,000 from the sale of sugarcane alone, but now, due to the harsh summer, his produce has begun to rot.

His family is dependent on farming, and these profits would have seen them through the summer and bought investments for the next farming season.

Photograph and text by Rufus Sunny.

This story was first published on India Development Review.

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