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Rajasthan Elections: Grim Livelihood Conditions, Forced Migration Key Factors in Dungarpur

The uncertainty around finding work compels hundreds of young individuals to move to Gujarat’s Ahmedabad and Banaskantha from Dungarpur.
Rajasthan Assembly Polls

Image for representational purpose. Credit: The Hindu

The tribals in Dungarpur constitute the majority; however, they face challenges such as migration to Gujarat, health crises, and more. The emergence of regional tribal parties brings hope for most, but many are doubtful whether the grim reality of the village can be altered anytime soon.

In the Southern district of Dungarpur lies a village called Pal Padar. In this village, people, to date, have to travel kilometres to fetch water that they carry on donkeys. The area is arid and makes it difficult for its residents to pursue farming. Those who attempt it can do it only for only one season.

Every morning, between 8 am and 12 pm, one can find hundreds of workers outside the new bus stand of Dungarpur, attempting to secure employment for the day and make ends meet. Many fail at finding work as a majority of those seeking to hire labourers look for a single worker. The high number of workers available for the job means a vast scope for bargaining. A day’s work can be bought for as low as Rs 200 and this exploitative wage is all that is on offer sometimes.

The uncertainty around finding work compels hundreds of young individuals to move to Gujarat’s Ahmedabad and Banaskantha. Every day, one can observe jeeps and buses filled with labourers heading to another city in search of employment. Some migrate after Diwali, returning home only before Holi.

“There is little opportunity for us to work here. Those who offer employment pay us very little. Our safety is compromised, and the prospect of moving to another state terrifies us to the core, but we have no option,” said a worker from Pal Pada, speaking to NewsClick.

According to locals, public transport is either unavailable or the frequency of the buses is quite low. Therefore, private vehicles are the only means of transport for many. People can be seen sitting on top of buses, standing behind the jeep holding onto the vehicle, and travelling hundreds of kilometres, risking their lives.

The low incomes of families – owing to the raging unemployment – translate to a lack of a proper diet resulting in malnutrition and other health problems. People reside in far-flung areas, 15-20 km away from the marketplace, hospital, and every other means of livelihood. Their diet includes dry vegetables that can be preserved for days and help them survive. There are complaints about the government ration they receive as well. “It feels like we are being given the leftovers after the others. Just look at it, and you’ll see pieces of stones in it,” said a woman from Lolakpur, pointing to the grains she had received.

Inaccessibility to drinking water is a significant challenge for the people here. In Lolakpur, there's a dam meant for the urban population right next to the village, but the villagers said they don't get water from it. There are no central government schemes, and although some areas have poles installed for the Har Ghar Jal Yojana pipelines, they've been there for two years without bringing water to people's homes.

In this election, as tribal leaders gain prominence, the Bhil population hopes for better prospects. Shubham, a resident from a village in the Deval block, said, “Major parties make promises but don't follow through. They claim to be our leaders but only listen to city people. We've always been marginalised. This time, candidates must come to our doorstep and make promises.”

The political landscape in the district, according to some locals, is being transformed by parties such as the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) and the Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP). These parties have instilled hope among the villagers. However, their impact goes beyond that—they have compelled larger political parties to visit every village in pursuit of votes.

In Dungarpur, there were few or no big rallies or roadshows. Instead, meetings were organised in every few villages, where the candidates and other party workers visited and engaged in discussions with the locals. Following this, candidates were forced to face direct and pointed questions from the citizens. All parties adopted this pattern, according to villagers, and this marked the first instance they had the opportunity to question their candidates and understand their promises.

The locations where these meetings or sabhas were held are also noteworthy. They took place on a farm, on the main road, and, in one case, even on a small bridge. There are no stages or elevated platforms for the leaders. They sat on the ground with the villagers and stood up when called upon to speak. The candidates are welcomed traditionally, with two villagers playing the dhol, and others offering their greetings.

In one of these villages, a specific party leader arrived considerably late and under the cover of darkness, the plight of these villagers became evident. The entire area was enveloped in pitch-black darkness due to the absence of electricity. The scheduled meeting was meant to take place on a farm. Party workers eventually activated their vehicle lights, while villagers held torches and mobile flashlights to facilitate the meeting.

A resident named Shankar told NewsClick: “When [CM] Gehlot promised us 100 units of free electricity, we were initially pleased and anticipated saving some money. However, what we were unaware of was the bargain we were signing up for. The price we paid was prolonged power outages, preventing us from even reaching the stipulated 100-unit threshold.”

It's also notable that every family has one or two members who have moved to Gujarat for work. Pointing to this issue, a young person said at a meeting: "If job opportunities and better living conditions aren't created, we won't allow anyone into our village," garnering applause from the crowd. Regardless of the election result, the people of Dungarpur's tribal community are actively participating, aspiring for a better future.

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