In Haveri: ‘We work hard, but we can’t save’

Women agricultural labourers like Mangala Harijan, who migrate to work as hand-pollinators in Karnataka’s Haveri district, earn meagre sums of money despite toiling for the billion-dollar seed industry

Mangala Harijan remembers every village she has travelled to for work. “Kunchur, Kuragund, Kyatanakeri … I had also gone to Rattihalli one year,” she says listing the names of villages in Hirekerur taluk of Karnataka’s Haveri district. An agricultural labourer, Mangala commutes about 17-20 kilometres every day from her remote village to work on farms for a daily wage.

“I’ve been going to Konanatali since two years,” she tells me. Konanatali and Menashinahal, Mangala’s village, are both in Haveri’s Ranibennur taluk . Hirekerur taluk is about 35 kilometres from there. Mangala and other women from her neighbourhood in Menashinahal’s Madiga keri – a colony of the Dalit community of Madiga, to which they belong – travel for work across Haveri in small groups of 8 to 10.

They each earn Rs. 150 a day, but, for a few months in the year, they get Rs. 90 more, when they work as hand-pollinators. For this work, they travel across the district, and are picked up and dropped back home in autorickshaws arranged by the farmers on whose land they are hired to work. “The auto drivers charge Rs. 800-900 for the day, so they [the farmers] deduct Rs. 10 from our wage for it,” says Mangala, adding, “Before, there were no autos to travel. We used to walk.”

Of slight build and visibly underweight, 30-year-old Mangala lives in a one-room thatched hut with her husband – he is also a daily-wage labourer – and their four children. An incandescent bulb glows in their hut, where a corner is designated for the kitchen, and another, to stack clothes. A broken steel wardrobe is pushed to a wall on the other side, and the space left in the middle of the room serves as the dining and sleeping areas. Outside, a raised stone is where she washes clothes and vessels….