Most of my encounters seem to happen at the bus stop when I am on my way back to Bangalore from Sittilingi. One day, the sun was right above our heads, burning down and off the asphalt. There was an old woman sitting in the bus stop, if I remember right, she was there for the monthly old age scheme check up. A polite smile was followed by the usual barrage of questions that I have mentioned in these pages earlier.
Soon conversation led to Karnataka and how this old woman had worked there. Curious, I ask her where and she tells me ‘Mysore’. Now, I know from past experience that for the tribals, everything beyond Mysore is a generic ‘Mysore’. A little while later, she tells me that for a few months every year, she and a lot of others from up the hills go to Kodagu (Coorg) and work in coffee estates. She even knew a few words of Kodava, the dialect spoken by the Coorgis in my district. A thing like this is why they say that the world is indeed a small place, if you really look to your left and your right.
Seasonal labour migration is a huge issue in the hills. When there is nothing to do in their fields, a lot of tribals make a long journey to beyond Mysore and spend up to six months there. Then there are also the slightly more skilled, among the younger generation, that go to places like Tirupur and work in the cloth and cotton mills in Tamil Nadu. It is closer to home, and the pay good enough for them to be able to build houses back in their villages.
Migration of people in search of livelihood is what possibly leads to the expansion of cities, crowding the fringes of the town and making it bigger and meaner. But with migration there comes a host of problems. Most notable is the increase in HIV positive cases, the long separation from home and family leading also to a surge in alcoholism. The tribals get back to their villages at the end of the migration season and spread the killer disease in the region.
The world over, migratory labour, be it in any sector, is one of the top most high risk groups for HIV and AIDS. It is not possible to stop people from migrating in search of better work and better pay. What is needed is a sustained effort to create awareness among the tribals about the disease and its effects.