The parents of Jamlo Madkami don’t have any picture of her; just a cowrie necklace that she liked, which they have hung at the community shrine in Aded village of Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. However, there is a lot now to remind Aded of the 12-year-old who died walking 100 km home, after a chilli farm she had gone to work in shut following the lockdown — like ration cards for all the villagers, free rice from a PDS shop 7 km away, and Rs 1 lakh for her family.
“For days after we had cremated her, people kept coming,” says father Andoram, 35. Everyone offered advice on how to handle the Rs 1 lakh they received as compensation. “I have opened bank accounts for my other three children with Rs 30,000 each and spent Rs 10,000 on Jamlo’s funeral. My wife and I have no use for the money, we don’t want our children to have to work.”
The second of Andoram’s four children, Jamlo left for the chilli farm in Telangana in February. A small paddy farmer, he barely makes ends meet. Andoram claims they came to know Jamlo had left for Telangana after she had gone. “She went with other girls, women from the village. Since they do so every year, we didn’t pay much heed.”
Villagers who went with Jamlo say the owner who hired them as farm help, in Peruru village, turned them out once the work stopped. They waited a month before deciding to leave, without getting paid. They had been walking three days when Jamlo collapsed on April 18 morning. A postmortem blamed electrolyte imbalance and malnutrition.
Andoram says, “The villagers told us Jamlo had grown very weak and had hurt herself in a fall.” He and his wife Sukhmati, 32, reached Bijapur District Hospital two days later to bring Jamlo’s body home.
Aded is a difficult 45 km trek from the hospital. The closest pucca road is at Toynar village, with 30 km and at least eight streams in the middle. Aded is yet to get electricity or a school. Once in two months, a mini-truck drives up to a kuchcha road nearby, bearing items like soap and tobacco that the villagers buy.
The Madkamis live in a one-room cement house with a thatched roof. They have put a metal asbestos sheet on it and are trying to repair the house as the rains pelt down.
Their eldest child Budhru, 14, is working on the roof of a cow shed, that now holds two cows and an ox, donated by some following Jamlo’s death. Of the Makdamis’ four children, only Sarita, 8, is in school. The closest school is 5 km away. Sukhmati clams up at any mention of Jamlo, holding her youngest, Somaru, 4, close.
As officials descended on Aded after Jamlo’s death, it was realised that the family didn’t have a ration card. A special camp was then organised to get everyone a ration card.
Since the lockdown in March, 8,500 migrants have returned to Bijapur alone. Collector Ritesh Agarwal says, “We have provided them ration and other necessities. Officials have been asked to alert us if anything else is needed.”
But, even if Aded is now on the government’s radar, it still doesn’t figure in many schemes, such as for paddy farmers and cow owners, or the malaria eradication programme.
Sukmati says they have never thought of leaving. “We were born here, we know this land, the jungles, where can we go leaving all this?”
However, one thing has changed. Says Andoram, “I will never forget the day we heard Jamlo died. But in dying, she ensured her siblings lead a better life. We want only that.”
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