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Battling Climate Change, The Resilient Women Migrants in Bhubaneswar Work in Construction Sites

For the past few years, Bhubaneswar, the vibrant capital city of Odisha, has witnessed an inspiring surge in women migrants from districts like Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Ganjam, Khandhamal, and Rayagada. These courageous women have left behind their agricultural roots and ventured to the city, driven by climate change’s harsh impact on farming in their native regions. With water scarcity and decreasing rainfall making agriculture increasingly challenging, these women have displayed remarkable resilience, seeking better livelihood opportunities to secure their families future.

Women workers waiting at the Labour Haat at Nayapalli, Bhubaneswar

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Bhubaneswar’s labour haat, 35-year-old Sarita stood with a glimmer of hope in her eyes, eager to secure a construction job. Originally from the picturesque district of Rayagada, Sarita migrated to Bhubaneswar four years ago, becoming one of the many courageous women who ventured to the city seeking a brighter future. For Sarita and these women, the journey was not just a search for better livelihoods but a battle against climate change’s devastating impact on their native farming communities.

Like Sarita, one could see scores of women standing in the labour haat in the morning hours to get hired for construction sites.

Sarita standing in the middle with fellow workers at the Labour Haat at Nayapalli, Bhubaneswar

Despite her dedication to work on various construction sites, Sarita’s heart still yearned for the lush green fields she left behind. “In our village, we cared for plants as if they were our children. Working in construction sites is tough, and missing even a day’s work leaves us famished,” Sarita revealed, her voice tinged with nostalgia as she reflected on her deep passion for agriculture.

“The decision to migrate wasn’t easy for any of us. We loved our homeland, but excessive heat and insufficient rainfall made farming nearly impossible,” Sarita explained, her eyes revealing the emotional toll of leaving behind cherished memories.

However, life in Bhubaneswar was far from idyllic. Forced to live in slum areas, the women faced unhygienic living conditions, with cramped rooms and limited facilities. Jhunu Nayak, another woman who migrated from her village Khuntapada in Mayurbhanj district, shared her struggles during monthly periods. “Proper disposal of used pads is difficult. We bury them in a pit near our rented house,” Jhunu said with frustration and resignation, revealing their daily hardships.

Jhunu Nayak standing near her house in a slum in Bhubaneswar

With a heavy heart, Jhunu and her husband left their ancestral agricultural land behind, as climate change rendered farming unsustainable in the region. Initially, Jhunu found work as a labourer on construction sites, earning a decent income. But the memories of tending to her lush vegetable gardens, filled with brinjal, bitter gourd, long beans, and chillies, along with rice, haunted her. The lack of water and reduced rainfall had severely impacted their harvest.

“We had fertile farming lands in our village, but farming became an uphill battle. The decreasing rainfall and longer summers made it impossible to sustain ourselves,” shared Jhunu, her voice reflecting both determination and longing for her former way of life.

Recently, Jhunu transitioned to working as a safai karamchari under the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation. Her new job as a street sweeper allows her to earn a monthly income of Rs 9000, which helps support her family. Despite the challenges she faced, Jhunu’s resilience has been unwavering, as she navigates a life far from her agricultural roots.

Sumitra Bindhani in front of her rented house

While Sarita and Jhunu battled the challenges of construction work, another resilient woman, 38-year-old Sumitra Bindhani, stood beside them. A widow with children in her village in Mayurbhanj district, Sumitra migrated to Bhubaneswar five years ago, determined to provide a better life for her family. Working daily on construction sites, she earned around Rs 400 per day, supporting her children’s education and well-being back home.

“Leaving my children behind was the hardest decision I ever made, but I knew I had to do it for their future. I miss them every day, but there is no other choice,” expressed Sumitra, her eyes reflecting the sacrifice she makes as a mother.

Living in a cramped slum, Sumitra shares a single room with three other women, all of whom are fellow migrants. Despite facing exploitation and receiving less pay than deserved for their labour, the women stoically accept the circumstances, fearing retaliation from contractors if they were to protest.

Manju Nayak’s story echoes the struggles of many women migrants. Hailing from Tigiria village in Athagarh, she and her husband decided to migrate to Bhubaneswar in 2012. They had no choice but to sell their once fertile farming land, as climate change wreaked havoc on their crops, leading to decreased yields of rice and moong dal.

Manju Nayak

“I and my husband had a farming land where we used to cultivate rice and moong dal. But gradually our production decreased due to less rainfall and harsh climate. Leaving our village was a difficult decision,” shared Manju, her voice tinged with both sadness and determination.

Manju initially worked on construction sites before transitioning to becoming a housemaid in the city. Like many others, she and her husband sought a better life for their children, even if it meant leaving their village behind.

The challenges these women face in Bhubaneswar underscore the complexities of migration driven by climate change. While the city offers opportunities for better livelihoods, it also presents its own set of trials and tribulations, leaving them torn between the nostalgia for their agricultural roots and the need to adapt to urban realities.


Note: The author is a Laadli Media Fellow. The opinions and views expressed
are those of the author. Laadli and UNFPA do not necessarily endorse the views.

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