‘Bitter’ sugarcane workers from drought-stricken Marathwada hold little hope from Lok Sabha poll

Migrant workers are resigned to the reality that the cycle of seasonal migration and temporary financial relief will repeat, undisturbed by political seasons

Updated - May 09, 2024 09:44 pm IST

Published - May 09, 2024 09:01 pm IST - Beed

Residents of Vasanthnagar Tanda in Beed, one of the eight districts in the Marathwada region.

Residents of Vasanthnagar Tanda in Beed, one of the eight districts in the Marathwada region. | Photo Credit: Abhinay Deshpande

With the sugarcane harvest season coming to an end, seasonal migrant workers from the drought-hit Marathwada region, who spend months toiling in the sugarcane fields of western Maharashtra and neighbouring Karnataka, are back home, but hold little hope that the outcome of the ongoing Lok Sabha poll will bring any change to their ‘bitter’ plight.

Every year, about 12 lakh to 15 lakh residents of Beed, Jalna, Parbhani, Latur, Nanded, Hingoli, Dharashiv (previously Osmanabad), and Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar (previously Aurangabad) districts in the Marathwada region migrate to the sugar belt — Sangli, Kolhapur, Pune, Satara, Solapur, and Ahmednagar — driven by scant job opportunities in their villages and nearby towns.

The villagers leave in tolis, groups of workers, during the harvest season, which typically spans from October to March-April, and stay either on the sugar factory premises or in the fields. A migrant couple, called a koyta (sickle), earns between ₹300 and ₹500 a day. Once they return home, the men work as masons or cleaners, while women work as domestic help.

Migrant workers like Ganpa Dagdu Rathod, 50, from Vasanthnagar Tanda in Beed’s Majalgaon taluka, are resigned to the reality that the cycle of seasonal migration and temporary financial relief will repeat, undisturbed by political seasons. “Nothing ever changes. My father went to work at the karkhana (sugar factory). I started going to work in my teens. Now my son, Vinod, 25, has joined me,” he says.

‘Lives remain the same’

Seated at the Hanuman Mandir in his village, Mr. Rathod says “there is no ilaj (solution)”. “We are poor and will continue to remain so. We toil with little break to earn enough to survive, not to live. Politicians come and go, but our lives remain the same.”

Of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, eight come under the Marathwada region — Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded, Hingoli, Beed, Osmanabad, and Latur. While Hingoli, Nanded, and Parbhani went to polls in the second phase on April 26, voters in Osmanabad and Latur cast their ballots in the third phase on May 7. The remaining three seats of Aurangabad, Jalna, and Beed are scheduled to go to polls in the fourth phase on May 13.

Beed and Jalna were epicentres of the recent Maratha agitation for reservation in government jobs and education. In Beed, the BJP has replaced two-time sitting MP Pritam Munde with her sister Pankaja Munde. They are daughters of the late Gopinath Munde, a former Union Minister from the Vanjara (OBC) community. Ms. Pankaja is pitted against Bajrang Sonwane of the Sharad Pawar-led NCP (SP).

In Jalna, Union Minister and five-term MP Raosaheb Danve faces Kalyan Kale of the Congress, while in Aurangabad, sitting MP Imtiyaz Jaleel of the AIMIM will take on Shiv Sena (UBT)’s four-time MP Chandrakant Khaire and the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena’s five-time Paithan MLA Sandipanrao Bhumre.

‘Forgotten after polls’

“Every election, candidates discuss development, water schemes, and better agriculture policies, but after the elections, we are forgotten,” says Namdev Rathod, 75, a resident of Vasanthnagar Tanda. “I once went to Satara in 1975. It was my first and last migration. I can’t express the struggle in words. Now, my son and grandson, along with their spouses, go to work in some fields near Pune,” he adds.

A distance away at Godavari Tanda in Parbhani district, Balsaheb Pawar, a second-generation migrant worker, says if there were enough water resources and jobs here, villagers wouldn’t leave for six months every year. “We’re used to this now. Half the year, our villages are half-empty, with only the elderly and kids at home. Nothing has changed in the past 10 years, and we don’t have any hope for the future,” he says.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.