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Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

How a drought shapes the choice of livelihood

There are over 25,000 (female) sex workers in the city of Hyderabad, higher than any other city in India. Of them, 60 percent are women who migrated from villages and were forced to enter the sex trade as they had no other earning alternative.

Women and children are forced to migrate to the city from districts (names) after facing successive droughts. Initially they survive on the streets through begging and petty jobs. They form the invisible class of population, most vulnerable to exploitation. Homeless migrants thrive as rag pickers, daily wage workers, domestic workers, etc. most of them are intra-state migrants. Drought is a classic push factor that affects a number of rural people. The rural economy already characterized by surplus labour, scarcity of arable land and small size of land holdings, drought conditions exacerbate the distressed livelihood further. Nearly two-thirds of the arable land in India is rain fed and low potential, and this is where the effects of drought are most severe. Natural drought is exacerbated by manmade drought: groundwater exploitation in western and southern India has reached unsustainable limits. A majority of the villages in the dry areas stretching across eastern Maharashtra, eastern Karnataka, western Andhra Pradesh, and southern Madhya Pradesh have very high rates of migration.

According to the Andhra Pradesh Human Development Report, 42 percent of the state’s arable land (2.15 million acres) is degraded, with recurring drought one of the main causes. The worst-hit district is Anantapur, where as much as 70 percent of land is degraded. It also has the highest number of farm suicides of any Indian district Рover 4,000 in the past decade alone. Children from drought-prone areas are forced into slavery or domestic work by agents (contractors), who lure them into decent paying jobs in the city. The situation is worse for a girl child.

Similarly, sex workers in the red light areas of Mumbai are increasingly sourced from the drought-prone areas of Vidharba and Marathwada regions of western Maharashtra. In 2013, the state of Maharashtra faced its worst drought recorded since 1972 during which almost five million people had no work owing to crop failure. Out of the total 225.6 Lakh hectares of land under cultivation, only a small 39.67 Lakh hectares are under irrigation which is only 17.5 percent. However, in the case of Maharashtra, the drought was man-made due to shoddy management of water resources, lack of proper policy on distribution and misuse of funds allotted for irrigation purposes. What was ironical is the fact that the state has most number of dams in the country-25-30 percent of total dams in India. Households had no other option but to migrate to cities to pay off their debts. The lure of women in sex trade is helped by the income it generates which will be higher than going for wage labour. The amount a male member of the household will earn, if working as a daily wage or construction worker is far less than that received by the female for her services in the city.

Climate change induced migration is an established truth-people are forced to move out of their origin places due to severity either recurring floods or severe droughts. What needs to be documented is the new trend of how drought is forcing rural women into sex trade in the cities. Hyderabad has established itself as the leading destination for rural women, who are either trafficked or voluntarily take up this occupation. Accepting that migration has become a way of life for the poorest sections to escape hunger and poverty, our framework should devote more than a thought to provision of alternative livelihood opportunities. Situations which force a person to enter sex trade can and could be avoided.

Aritra Chakrabarty

Aritra Chakrabarty

Anchor, SHRAM (Till Dec 31st, 2014)

As a social researcher, I believe in knowledge-based policy action. With a postgraduate degree in Development Studies, I've been associated with social issues in my professional space. As a part of SHRAMIC initiative, was involved with data creation, sourcing of resources that will become the knowledge bank of this project.
Aritra Chakrabarty

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