Pusa diaries: “You left Delhi, for Pusa!”

Somil Daga shares with us his initial experience of staying in Pusa at Samastipur, Bihar.

After 4 weeks of rigorous travelling [Delhi – Pune – Mumbai (transit)- Ahmedabad – Sayla –Ahmedabad – Delhi – Patna – Sakra – Pusa], I have finally found a room to stay in, into my 6th week of the rural development fellowship. Having lived out of the suitcase since September, I was eager to finally empty my bags and shift all my clothes into a closet.

So I bought a ceiling fan day before yesterday evening and started searching for an electrician to have it fixed in my room. As I started my approach towards what appeared to be an electronic goods repair shop, the shopkeeper saw me coming towards his store. By the time I reached, I could tell that he had already formed a perception about me, probably misconceived, having glanced at what I was wearing (simple jeans and a t-shirt, much different from the traditional lungi and banyan , or pant and shirt worn here). Anyway, it turned out that the electrician had gone somewhere and would be back in 15 minutes. I decided to wait and was offered a seat. What began as a casual conversation ended as an interrogation- I was bombarded with questions- starting from my educational background, to my family history, to my salary (by now I’ve become quite used to people here asking my salary directly without any hitch. It forms a major part of what your status is in the society and also determining to some extent how you are to be treated).

However, what stood out in the conversation was the look, not of shock, but of horror on his face when I told him that I lived in Delhi. “Aap Dilli, DILLI chhod ke yaha aaye ho? Bihar, who bhi Pusa? Kya soch ke aaye ho yaha?” He now had a smirk on his face, probably thinking what a half-witted person I must be! But I do not blame him for his misguided notion. For people living here, living in big cities is the dream and no wonder Delhi witnesses’ in-flow of a large number of migrants from Bihar every year so much so that I could not get a train back to Bihar from Delhi after Diwali, and had to fly back! Nevertheless, I was successfully able to convey to him my viewpoint, telling him that there is an increasing number of youth today striving to work in the development sector, and that it is not long before he will see more and more people like me coming and visiting his store. ‘A far-fetched dream?’, I thought to myself as the electrician arrived. I bid the shopkeeper farewell to get my fan up and working. It’s been two days since then, and my fan hasn’t started working yet! But let’s reserve this story for another time.

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Meetings Worth a While: Kripa & Kamlesh, Udaipur district, Rajasthan

As Simren goes around her project location trying to understand the underlying forces and issues, she finds rural migration to be a chronic problem. Here is an extract from her diary where she pens down her thoughts from a couple of such interactions.

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“I thought I would be able to earn some money by going out to work. My mother worked as a NREGA worker in the village but was not paid her due wages. I wanted to make up for the loss. I worked for a month and half on a BT cotton field in Gujarat. I don’t want to go back. I want to study. I dropped out of school and I want to rejoin it.” (Translated version)

Kripa is a twelve year old girl from Sagwada village, Udaipur District, Rajasthan. Having worked as a child migrant in Gujarat for a while, she’s back home now and wants to rejoin school. Her story depicts the plight of many other young children from the village who are forced to drop out of school and migrate to nearby towns and cities in search of work to be able to fend for their families. While her story is engulfed with some light of hope for she may actually be able to continue with her studies from next year, the decision that the young girl had to make speaks in magnitude the kind of life that the people of this village are conditioned to live. Lack of non-remunerative and unsustainable agricultural practices along with no other alternative means of livelihood available in the village make men and young children migrate to cities on large scale. There have been incidents in the past when families as a whole have migrated, leaving behind locked doors with silent walls and shuddering tales of economic misery and impoverishment.

Kamlesh, a child migrant from Sagwada village has been working in Ahmedabad for the past two years now. Having completed school till 7th standard, Kamlesh and his sister Sangeeta had to leave home for work to be able to feed a family of nine. Kamlesh earns about 250 rupees daily and lives in a rented room in the city, shared by ten other children like him. Having switched jobs a couple of times in the course of two years, Kamlesh now works as a borewell worker. Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for either him or many others of his age. One has to work overtime to be able to bear the expense of living in a city and simultaneously save a miniscule amount of money to send back home. Despite facing difficulties at work place in terms of coercion to work overtime or possessing no bargaining power against the contractor, Kamlesh has accepted his fate and will continue to work in the same manner. However, on being asked whether he would like to receive training for a more decent work he confided in with his approval.

(Kamlesh will be off to work after Diwali whereas his sister Sangeeta would now stay back to do household work. She is 15 years of age and has studied till class 7th).

The only way to make these young children opt out of migration is to help them build their capacities to be able to take up alternative livelihood practices, hopefully in their own village. Please share with us your ideas/suggestions of any such training/skill that could be imparted to them, something that is viable and sustainable.

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Excerpts from a Fellow’s Diary – Sweet Memories

Excerpts-Pruthvi

During my early days as a SBI Youth for India fellow, I was staying at the Kannivadi office of the Partner NGO, MSSRF, before moving to the nearby town of Oddanchtram which was 25 kms away. Searching for accommodation armed with just one Tamil phrase – Veedu Kedikuma [House available for rent?] was a challenge. The universal answer was ‘No’ for bachelors. My companion Bala, another SBI Youth for India fellow and I, began to look around for someone dressed in a shirt and trousers, in the hope that he might understand or speak either English or Hindi.

One day when Bala and I were roaming the streets, much like nomads, I finally spotted a man dressed in the attire we were so desperately looking for. The next moment, I found myself beside him, asking “Veedu Kedikuma?”We thanked God that he was able to speak in English and he agreed to help us get a room. He walked around with us and finally guided us to a complex, where he guaranteed we would find accommodation. We managed to get the room only by lying to the owner that we were SBI employees.

From then on, each day I travelled 25 kms from Oddanchathram to get to Kannivadi, and then walked for another 2 kms. Lunch comprised of rice and rasam every day. By now, I was totally exhausted with the travel and food. On one occasion, I needed to stay at Thonimalai hills with my assistant for three days, for work. After getting down at the main bus stop, I realized that there was an additional 10-kms walk required to reach the place where we were to stay – a place occupied by the supervisor of an abandoned farm. After we finally got there, we found a man who could understand Hindi, with whose help I was able to visit the farms for a preliminary survey in order to identify the problems and determine the project objectives. However, the ground reality was that I had to walk for 10 kms each day, to get to different farms. Once I was back in Kannivadi, I felt like I had fallen into a trap. I realized that I was not going to be able to contribute anything during the fellowship year, unless I was first able to settle in myself.

After staying at Kannivadi for two months, I was able to shift to the Wayanad centre of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF ) in Kerala.

This time around as well, life there began with house hunting in a place that did not trust bachelors. I think they were just old-fashioned. Many-a-times, this experience made me consider starting this as a business venture, as it was so tough for bachelors to get a place on rent. In fact, my real transformation, rather my interest in the inclusive development of society began here, as I learnt from this experience.

After spending some time in the fellowship, I was deeply influenced by the importance of development. Things which seemed mundane earlier now become interesting.

People have often described this fellowship as meant to expose the Fellows to rural India and for them to contribute to rural development in India. But I would say that it teaches us a lesson in humanity and to make it a part of our daily lives.

The fellowship program was an enlightening experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I admit that this experience has dominated all my previous experiences and views. I am indebted to the State Bank of India for launching such an initiative.

My learning from this experience will surely be tested in the future, but I am confident that I will draw from it and add a bit more humanity to all that I do. During this fellowship, I was lucky to experience happiness from helping others without expecting any returns.

-          SBI YouthforIndia Fellow, Pruthvi Raj. His project was on ‘Revitalising Traditional Coffee Agro Forestry System’

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Parveen Shaik – What is she doing now?

Shaik Parveen

Shaik Parveen

Working as a lawyer in the District Courts of Aurangabad, Maharashtra for close to 5 years, Parveen noticed that 80% of the people coming to court were from rural areas. They were usually illiterate and would travel long distances, spending time and money, simply to be told that they need to come again at a later date.

There was a flicker of anger in her eyes when she said, “There is a lot of corruption. Everyone is out to make money; no one is willing to help.” This was the primary reason why she quit. Continue reading

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Excerpts from a Fellow’s diary – A home away from home

SBI Youth for India alumni Vineet, adding manure to a field.

SBI Youth for India alumni Vineet, adding manure to a field.

In this write up, I wish to share my views about migration, especially related to the youth, from the little experience I have in this area. What does “migration” really mean? During my school days, my understanding about this term was just as much as the next person. Continue reading

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Ankit Walia – What is he doing now?

Ankit Walia -SBI Youth for India Fellow

Ankit Walia

Ankit had worked with Capgemini in Mumbai and on location in Abu Dhabi for 4 years before he joined SBI Youth for India. It was his previous experience of working with under privileged kids that drove him towards joining the fellowship program.

Ankit was on a sabbatical from his company, and hoped to explore and contribute to rural India while understanding the intricacies of traditional life and technology. His larger aim over time was to bridge the gap between rural and urban India. Continue reading

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Excerpts from a fellow’s Diary – Farming Needs Improved Techniques

Taher's Excerpt

Ever since my maiden visit to villages, one scene stands out in my mind. The sight of burnt trees forming hedgerows, the result of a tradition of burning forests before sowing seeds. The sight of those leafless, burnt stumps still standing was a shocking reminder of how we have damaged our planet. Continue reading

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