The pandemic has brought in, along with it many changes which are prominently noticeable and many others which we will learn in due time. Amongst others, one of the main changes, rather a crisis, is the availability of employment and job opportunities. There seems to be a rise in the “urban-rural migration” and not otherwise as used to be popularly discussed.
Migration processes have been in existence throughout, in all regions of the world. Migration is caused by a variety of factors such as marriage, education, lack of security and so on. One of the common reasons for migration in India is for employment purposes. About 450 million out of a total population of 1.2 billion, as per the 2011 Census migrated within the country. Of this, 78 million, or 15.6 per cent of all domestic migrants, moved from rural to urban areas. Covid-19 has caused major havoc in the economic sector globally.
India is a vast country, and every year a substantial number of people migrate to larger cities of different States in the country for seeking employment and to earn bread and butter for their families. Courtesy, Covid-19, the country is beholding the second largest mass migration in its history after the Partition of India in 1947, where more than 14 million people were displaced and migrated to India and Pakistan respectively, depending on their religious faiths (Mukhra, Krishan, Kanchan, 2020). The reverse migration from urban to rural is likely to hit the economy of the nation in a big way. It would not be incorrect to state that COVID-19 triggered massive reverse migration and is likely to have far-reaching implications for the migrants as well as the country.
While the pandemic has left us to introspect on many things around us, it has also left us with no choice, but to fight it instead of running away from it. In Meghalaya, the urban-rural migration is seen at large with the daily wages and individuals who have completed their studies in search of jobs. Anticipating that the pandemic will continue for a longer period of time, these individuals have initiated different means of livelihoods in their natives. Upon interaction with people who were in Shillong city, either working or looking for employment prior to the pandemic, there were mixed responses and all appeared to be more realistic with their decisions.
One of the respondents (TK, Res.8, age 26 years) said: “I don’t know farming or have any idea in relation to agriculture, and just sitting at home for so many months is also dead boring, hence I have started learning from my family members and I am regularly involved now”. Another respondent expressed “In Shillong, I have been working as a daily labourer for many years, I know only that trait . . ., here in the village also, I am involved in construction work only and I am getting employment easily” (BP, Res.2, age 40 years). “I have stayed in Laitumkhrah, in a rent house at the time when I was doing my studies in Shillong. I used to go to fast food joints regularly and now, that I am here in my village, I have started my own fast food joint because I like cooking and I have also got a lot of idea on what to cook – it is running very well”, he laughs – shared another respondent (CL, Res.1, age 25 years). Another respondent said – “I have a house in Polo, but I have let go. Even though I am a graduate, it was very difficult for me to get a job and now with this Covid-19, I don’t think I will go back to Shillong. I will work here in the village and I am beginning to like it here at home, with my family” (MK, Res.7, age 29 years). “Since my family has been doing the piggery business for a long time, I am now taking charge because of unemployment. We noticed that the profit is high but since my parents have given others to run the business, hence we didn’t know that we were being cheated. Now that I am there, no one can cheat us anymore” – says a BBA graduate who did not continue his higher studies because of the pandemic (LM, Res.3, age 25 years). “I am a photographer by profession, in the initial months I was just staying idle at home with nothing to do, but with the contacts of my friends, I am getting a lot of work now to do wedding pictures/shoots, birthday celebrations and others. The villagers are also copying the city people and I am busy as a photographer now” (SN, Res 10. age 38 years). “We have relocated back here to our village along with my mother and siblings. If things become better, we will return back to Shillong, otherwise, we are good here. We have started our farming activities already” (BK, Res 9. age 24 years).
The notion that only city life can provide one with a bright future has proved to be wrong in this context. The rural setup and its natural richness can in many ways provide a sustainable livelihood if one has to dwell into such opportunities. Unemployment and underemployment still remain one of the biggest challenges in any economy in this world. The situation is not very different here in India and in our North Eastern region. But, what is unique in our region is the practice of traditional occupations which is very much a part and parcel of people’s livelihood.
Although, residents of villages in North East India are accustomed to different kinds of occupations which have been in practice for generations together, sadly, few are dying off, because of the lack of expertise and the continuation of such practices are not there anymore. The reasons for such occurrences can be many, but one of the main reasons is the barrier that education has created, in particular with the younger generation. Their qualification(s) has made them have a superiority complex and unwillingness to work with anything beyond a white colour job. This is something that may have happened unknowingly, which is why it is taking time for policymakers and educationists to realise it.
Covid-19 and the subsequent years of 2020 will witness different approaches to employment, career prospects and career guidance as the shift will be from career planning globally to career planning regionally and or locally. Perhaps, this is something that is missing in our education system in the past – for decades together. Education has made us forget our roots, our land, our mother tongue or maybe we were never reminded that after attaining certain qualifications in life, one also has the responsibility that they need to go back and do something for their people and the community. Despite being educated, the youth needs to be told during their course of study, that there is a possibility of a good future even if they continue to work on available livelihoods that their ancestors have been involved with, in their respective villages.
The pandemic has come with a heavy price and has in many ways acted as a wakeup call on many practices that we have been following religiously without questioning. The hitting rock bottom reality has made one to grab any opportunity that would sustain them, either in the city or back home in their native land. By surprise, many innovations that have evolved during this short period have been remarkable in many sectors and these business plans are flourishing well. Coming back to rural-urban migration in our State and North East region, what could be the possible outcome if we are to relook at life in a village . . . is it easy to survive? Is it difficult? It is something that we have not thought about? Or is it something worth venturing before we could have a concrete answer to it?
Prior to the pandemic, there have already been good examples of how our educated urbanites have been shifting gears by going back to their roots to revive the dying cultural/traditional practices, either because of job saturation and or because they have realised that they can have a livelihood in such places as well. Besides, what was mentioned, identifying the potential and natural resources of the land and looking beyond what could be produced is the need of the hour, with or without the pandemic. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])