India: Drought, Cane, Child Marriage, Failed Policies

A commentary with notes from a friend

It is, unfortunately, a common situation. The Internet edition of the Times of India posted an article untitled “Drought & distress push 14-year-olds into marriage in Marathwada’s Jalna district.” Nothing new, unfortunately, in one of the largest sugar producer in the world, and in an industry that is a source of enormous economic and political power.

The article describes, unfortunately, nothing new. A 14-year old child is being married because she has become a “liability” to her parents. The larger context is a drought that has made even more difficult for people to find work and eke a living. She has some schooling, “fairly well,” the article says, and wanted to continue studying but, with the drought her mom and dad have to keep moving from place to place looking for work. They may not return to the village where their daughter is about to get married. This is the Jalna district in Marathwada, Maharasthra state, India’s second largest sugar producer, home to about 19 million people.

What made this specific piece of sadly common news of a very personal interest is that a friend of mine calls from Jalna. I thank him for his support and the time spent in e-mailing his comments. Below some of his comments:

“As per as news of cane cutters from Jalna (Marathwada region of the Maharashtra state) is concerned, I can brief you about that since I am also from the same district and worked in the sugar industry. In the last few years, Marathwada recorded a higher number of farmer suicides than Vidarbha region of the same state.

Drought affected areas [1]

State

Total Number of districts in state Number of affected districts in state Number of

Villages affected

Population

affected

Uttar Pradesh

75

50

72,014

9,885,4225

Madhya Pradesh

51

46

42,829

40,000,000

Maharashtra

36

21

15,747

36,877,505

Jharkhand

24

22

29,639

31,728,726

Karnataka

30

27

22,759

31,191,173

Andhra Pradesh

13

10

6,974

23,537,861

Chhattisgarh

27

25 16,878

19,945,901

Rajasthan

33

19 14,487

19,469,000

Telangana

10

7 5,519

17,833,289

Odisha

30

27 29,077

16,751,862

Total

329

254 255,923

336,189,542

 

Due to lack of employment opportunities in rural parts of Marathwada, thousands of families from the drought-affected are migrating to the western parts of Maharashtra state or to nearby states like Gujarat hoping to find jobs in sugarcane cutting. In many cases, their children also have to migrate with their family, which deprives them of their right to education and decent life. These cane cutters do not get any accommodation facilities from the sugar mills while staying at the farms, and keep moving from one field to another as per the availability of canes. Since these workers are paid on a piece rate basis (or the amount of cane cut), children also work with their parents to increase their family’s income. Because many of these cane cutters are concerned about safety of their children, especially girls, they consider that child marriage is the only way to protect their daughters.

Due to Koyta (sickle) system, meaning couple’s work, the parents also prefer that boys marry at an early age so that couple (the boy and his bride) can work together and bring more income to the family. Therefore, in this region, the drought does not only cause crop loss but also childhood loss for these children.

The situation is much worse than anyone could imagine like increasing migration, increasing child marriage, increasing farmer suicides etc.[2]

Some people may say that it’s a natural calamity, but I don’t think so, says my friend. It’s also a government failure: in the past decade, ministers were too busy earning money of the irrigation projects but failed to complete hundreds of projects putting millions of lives at risk. Very recently, during the monsoon season, my village was about to get destroyed because the increased level of river water but, now, after less than a year these villagers are struggling even for the drinking water.”

We are in the middle of mega water crisis because of failure of our own government, my friends says.

 


[1] Information submitted by states in Supreme Court, 19 April 2016

[2] It is reported that in 2014, 422 farmers in Marathwada killed themselves because of their inability to grow any crop and the pressure of debts.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.iuf.org/sugarworkers/india-drought-cane-child-marriage-failed-policies/