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COVID-19: No grains, matchmaking for Saharias as lockdown gnaws away at harvest season in Madhya Pradesh

Workers of Ahera hamlet of Eswaya village in Shivpuri district who returned early from Morena district, where they went for harvest, as the lockdown kicked in.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

Surely, Neeraj Adivasi’s family lost out on wages and grains as the lockdown gnawed away at the harvest season. But the 16-year-old is unnerved for another reason, insoluble even if enough jobs are provided locally. “Now, I will have to wait until the next year to marry,” he said.

Each spell of migration in April-May to closer districts of Morena and Bhind in Madhya Pradesh and Kota in Rajasthan opens up the prospect of match-making for Saharias, a particularly vulnerable tribal group which marries outside the village. The enduring restriction on movement has denied them three-four months worth wheat they earn from the migration and frayed familial bonds, breaking in on a pivotal social function performed during the yearly sojourn.

Also read: Pandemic adds to the penury of tribal migrants in Madhya Pradesh

Neeraj Adivasi, who couldn't migrate this year for matchmaking, of Dangarve village in Shivpuri district.

Neeraj Adivasi, who couldn't migrate this year for matchmaking, of Dangarve village in Shivpuri district.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui


At Dangarve village, around 22 boys and girls are ready for marriage. But for the lockdown, clutches of workers, with only the old, infirm and toddlers left behind, would have set out for the fields having a high labour demand — but offering low wages — and where Saharias from other districts and States would also arrive. “Neeraj ka rang aa gaya tha shaadi ke liye. (Neeraj was ready for marriage). Putting it off will only dampen his prospects,” said Surendra Adivasi, 25, whose marriage was decided on a similar trip in 2014.

Usually, a common connect, most likely a relative, takes up the matchmaking. “They tell us if a boy or girl is good enough, match heights and maturity based on their appearance. And we trust them, and marry our children off upon return,” explained Mr. Surendra, idling with other men at the village square.

Also read: Migrant ice cream vendors returning home with broken dreams, rising debts

“I want to marry off my daughter as early as possible so that she doesn’t have an affair or does anything stupid,” said Parvati Adivasi, mother of Kavita, 15, who she believes is ready for marriage.

Barely anyone is sure of their date of birth, not even a factor during the matchmaking. Most within the tribe that is beset by alarming malnutrition levels are married off, only the lucky ones to a partner of their choice, before they turn adults. “We have to marry off our boys before they even develop a stubble, when they’d be considered a little older to marry,” said Ms. Parvati.

Girls in Dangarve village of Shivpuri district who couldn't migrate for matchmaking this year.

Girls in Dangarve village of Shivpuri district who couldn't migrate for matchmaking this year.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui


At Ahera hamlet of Eswaya village, 12 boys and girls are ready for marriage. “The boy must have land and should not make his wife do labour. A marriageable girl must be able to take care of the family’s needs,” said Sukhsingh Adivasi.

During the trip, a group of workers earn a quintal of wheat for each bigha they harvest, besides a nominal wage, which sustains families back home for months. “Not being able to go this year has caused a food security crisis. So, workers are living on wheat procured from the public distribution system and taking loans from moneylenders at an interest of 3-5%. In case of non-payment, moneylenders make them work on fields locally as payback,” said Ajay Yadav, a local social worker.

In addition, many stayed home and scores have returned during the lockdown which has created a labour supply beyond the demand locally. Rajesh Adivasi, of Ahera hamlet, was paid ₹250 a day in Morena district before he returned. “Here, we are paid ₹100 a day and there are no industries and alternative livelihoods. So, we have to work for any wage to feed families,” said Mr. Rajesh.

According to a survey of 50 returned migrant workers in seven villages, including the two, in Pohri block, 35 said they would not step outside their village for work any time soon. “Most said they battled hunger there and are left with no money,” said Mr. Yadav, who conducted the survey.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 5:44:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/covid-19-no-grains-matchmaking-for-saharias-as-lockdown-gnaws-away-at-harvest-season-in-madhya-pradesh/article31605976.ece

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