At the Ballari bus stand in North Karnataka, a group of six — adults and young children – is having dinner sitting on the floor. Late tonight, they will take the bus to Bengaluru and reach the city early in the morning.
They are among several farming families leaving their dry fields in the village behind to look for work in the city that will carry them through the summer. In Ballari, the bus stand and railway station have many work migrants waiting for overnight transport to Bengaluru.
Gowramma, in her twenties, is dressed in a bright sari for her journey. “In years when there is no rain, we go to Bengaluru. There is no crop and no water for us here,” she says.
Muddappa, of the same group, says there was no choice. They will work as construction labour in Koramangala in Bengaluru.
On a bus to Bengaluru are Parvathi and Suma, from a village near Ballari, on their way to the state capital to look for work. Suma is leaving behind her two children aged three and two. “They will be with their grandparents. I don’t like to leave them but there is no choice,” she says.
At the Ballari railway station, people wait with children sleeping on the platform for the 10.40 pm Hampi Express to Bengaluru. It is still hot despite the late hour. Kenchamma and her husband Heeranna, both in their thirties, are also heading to Bengaluru to work as labourers. They wait with others from their family for the train.
Migration has a pattern in arid Ballari: If there is no rain for a second crop, villagers leave home for months at a stretch to work as labourers in a distant city.
It is a pattern repeated all over the country with 11 states reeling under drought.
The state government, however, is dismissive of the large-scale migration. Karnataka’s social welfare minister, D Anjaneya, tells NDTV, “There is no need for anyone to leave rural areas for work. Anyone who asks for a job will be given one.”