Migration Diaries

From hauling fishing nets to lifting cement bags
Authors: Gauri Behera and Purna Chandra Behera
Languages Known
Father, Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister
Migrated From
Ganjam, Odisha
Migrated To
Types of Work
Daily wage labourer at construction sites

“Lack of income from fishing in Purnabandha has taken me away from my family.” Purna Chandra Behera had taken up fishing in his village in the Ganjam district of Odisha. Like several other small-scale fishers, he too experienced the impacts of declines in fishing catch. Despite this being a family occupation of several generations, Purna Chandra had to leave his native land and family, to work in Chennai. He works as a daily-wage laborer at various construction sites. He has been working in Chennai since he was seventeen years old and stays there for roughly eight months at a stretch.

The adults in Purna Chandra’s family back in Purunabandha are all active fish workers. His father continues to fish, and his mother, a fish vendor, sells dried fish daily, traveling from village to village. His wife is a homemaker and raises their five-year-old daughter, who attends a local childcare center – the Anganwadi. Revathi, his sister, also migrated some years ago to work in a shrimp processing plant in Singarayakonda, Andhra Pradesh, where several other women from this village also work, such as Seema and Sujata Behera.

Purna Chandra at a construction site in Chennai. Photos by Jannath Bhuyan.

His living conditions are far from satisfactory and daily he worries about the sanitation problems and the vulnerability of the house to Chennai’s erratic weather.

Purna Chandra’s daughter at the construction site. Photo by Purna Chandra.

Being apart from his family makes him feel dejected. At the end of a day’s hard work under the hot Chennai sun, Purna Chandra has to care for himself completely. He needs to collect wood for cooking, fetch water, purchase rations, cook for himself, and ensure that the basic accommodation he has is kept livable. His living conditions are far from satisfactory, and daily, he worries about the sanitation problems and the house’s vulnerability to Chennai’s erratic weather. It becomes difficult to cook on stoves using wood during rainstorms, and he cannot afford gas or electric stoves. Clean drinking water is often unavailable. 

Last year he suffered from health issues due to food and hygiene. To take care of Purna Chandra, his wife came to Chennai along with her child.

When Purna Chandra falls ill, as workers like him inevitably do, he finds himself virtually alone. No one is around to take care of him, and the medicines are expensive. Working in cement all day affects his skin and his breathing. He doesn’t see a way out of it. Despite the slow violence of construction labor, it supports his family far away in his fishing village.

Names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals.

Purna Chandra’s wife at the construction site. Photo by Purna Chandra.

The story has been contributed with the full consent of the author(s), following ethical protocols as detailed in our ‘Contribute’ section. Migration Diaries takes no responsibility for the veracity of the information contained.


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