'Television had promised rain'

RAMESH YADAV, migrant auto driver, converses with NITIN SETHI on drought, media, politics and migration

Published: Tuesday 15 October 2002

Part I: Untapped data
Part II: Lessons learnt

How long have you been driving an auto in Ahmedabad?
Just about a fortnight now. I came about 25 days ago from Lucknow.

You live in Lucknow city?
No. Who lives in the cities? People come to the cities to work, not to live. I am from Dadara Bhadod, a village close to Lucknow. It is in district Sultanpur. You wouldn't know the place so I mentioned Lucknow instead.

What made you leave the village and come so far?
The monsoon failed in Uttar Pradesh. Things were getting bad in the village. There was no work and nothing could be sowed. We waited for a while, hoping it might rain. It didn't. Finally somebody from the family had to go out and earn some money. I am the only son in the family, and it fell upon me.

Your family...
My wife, paternal uncle and aunt (chacha and chachi) are in the village. My parents are in Ahmedabad. My father is a driver in the secretariat.

Oh, so your family is not completely dependent on agriculture?
Certainly not, we are much better off than many in our village. Uncle and I work the fields. Anyway agriculture is such a gamble. Who knows when you fall into the trap.

Debt trap. Farmers always need loans. So you go to the lala. He charges exorbitant amounts. If the harvest is good, one can pay it off, else you have had it. One would think people in cities would know all this.

How bad is the drought this year?
Depends on whether you have irrigated fields or not. In my village about 30 per cent of the sowed area is irrigated. But agriculture on my land is rainfed. Thankfully we didn't sow too much, so we did not lose too much. The television promised it would rain. Some who listened to it have lost their entire labour.

Has the government helped?
Not yet. They have not declared our village drought-hit. So we will not get any special funds. I don't know what criteria they have for declaring a district drought-hit. But, please tell me, is this the way you manage a country -- relegate people to mere percentages? We do not expect any help. Whatever is to be done is to be done by us.

What do you mean?
How long can we wait to be rescued. I have to live; I have to feed my family. Should I wait till I become poor enough or hungry enough to qualify for help?

So I migrate. Everyone does. And please realise, my family is much better off. With father sending money from the city, we are not in as much of a fix as many others. Yet, people don't wait till they are in dire straits. At the first inkling that it could be a bad season, I migrated; got myself an autorickshaw.

How is your earning here?
I manage. Am able to earn about Rs 150 to Rs 200 daily. That is not bad because I stay with my father. I can work here for three or four months and then hope to get back. My wife is there, you know.

How many others have migrated from your village or its vicinity?
When a village is on fire, you scamper, not stay to count the huts burned down. Who knows, who wants to count? Thirty per cent men, 40 per cent of them must have moved out by now. Why are you asking such questions, are you a journalist?

Ah...I see. The government and the newspaperwallahs like numbers, right? But misery is not a slave to large numbers. It's acute when it befalls even one person or one family. And, poverty is not just about hunger. Depravity and loss of esteem is also poverty. Waiting interminably for rains is poverty.

So are you going to publish all that I have said?

If you permit.
Please do, please do (laughs). You didn't tell me earlier you were from the media else I would have given you your kind of information?

My kind of information...
I used to work for the Samajwadi Party in our village. I know some politics and something about the newspaper business. Coming to Ahmedabad, I might have left it all behind me but I am not unfamiliar with how news works.

Anyway, where are you from?

No. Originally where are you from?

See, we are all migrants. You weren't poor when you moved to the capital, I am sure. Poverty is not about lack of money alone. That is the most drastic form of it. Poverty is also a lack of opportunity. Look at the market in Ahmedabad on C G Road. You will see many guards and doormen clad in white dhoti and kurta, all moustached and wearing earrings -- they have all moved here from Rajasthan in search of work. The drought there is worse. These people are on the run. Write on them. Their story has more masala than mine.

Sorry, I love to talk. Can I have your card please, some phone number to contact you at. If I come to Delhi, can I call you?

This interview was recorded in August 2002

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