Every week, two buses depart from a village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district and trace a wide arc across the country to Kerala’s Ernakulam district.
The travellers on these buses are an unusual group – they are “climate migrants”, forced to move by factors related to climate change. In their case, rising sea levels in their home villages forced them to relocate to new villages; and harsh economic conditions there further forced them to seek work thousands of kilometres away, leaving their loved ones behind.
For Common Ground, Vaishnavi Rathore tracked families that had been split between Odisha and Kerala. While those who travelled struggled to adapt to their new lives in new locations, those who were left behind also faced economic and social hardships.
“I was particularly amazed by how the phenomenon of sea-level rise had somehow made its way into oral folktales that generations of residents in a coastal village in Odisha had grown up with,” Rathore said. “Generations ago, when perhaps the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘sea-level rise’ were not even in common discourse.”
She added that visiting both Odisha and Kerala gave her “a peek into the lives of the climate migrants who live in both places simultaneously – video calling their families back at home in Odisha, planning out the next round of construction, while sitting in small accommodations of their plywood factories, having finished 12-hour shifts”.