‘Mountains are calling’ read a friend’s Facebook update. Are they? For most people in Uttarakhand, it is the cities that are calling. While the mountains are luring city dwellers for vacations, the natives are finding it difficult to imagine a normal life here.
This is the first article of the series concerning migration from hills. The article will touch upon various factors that contribute to this grave problem and where some are the expected perpetrators, we’ll gradually talk about some hidden ones as well. I remember my childhood days when I waited eagerly for winter vacations to begin. Apart from the freedom from school, it also meant a long visit to a well thought-upon holiday destination which, unlike today, was not chosen from a curated list in a travel magazine or website, but from a list of villages my relatives resided in. My favourite among them was my father’s village which was 6-8 km away from the nearest road during those times.
We had over a dozen other villages connected to that road because of which the bustle was such that the bus carrying people to the last stop, predisposed its roof as another carrier was flooded with not only the luggage but by the passengers too. The same road has now been extended and is at stone’s throw away from the village but the dedicated bus service has stopped because the number of commuters has gone far too less for economic feasibility. Who could’ve guessed that it’ll turn into a one-way road that would take people only from and not to the village?
The vivid picture of the now-defunct bus stop is still alive in my mind. My uncle sometimes couldn’t come to pick us up but one who wouldn’t miss our arrival was Sheru, our beloved dog. After 2-3 hours of walk in the hilly terrain, led by Sheru of course, we’d reach our village. Welcomed by the affectionate hugs and pecks of my grandparents we would sit in the veranda before gorging on the delicacies prepared for us. Electricity still eluded the villages but it never seemed to create any discomfort or void in the lives of people. The taste of the food, especially the chapatti, prepared on the hand-made ‘Chullu’ is hardly surmountable in today’s age.
One thing that caught my fascination was ‘thwalya’, used to ignite the dying flames of the firewood, and I ended up blowing on it continuously to admire the roaring yellow flames despite umpteen calls from elders to stop fiddling with it. A lot of memories of my village are still fresh but what I don’t have is the memory of getting bored as there was always something to do, something that would make time fly. But lurking in the dark was an altogether different fate and even though the time still flew, I guess it just flew backwards.
After the death of my grandparents, who I believe were the glue holding us to our roots, my uncle left the village for better career prospects. Some other people left to provide better education to their children while some chose to leave it all behind simply because everyone else seemed to do so. Today, there is no Sheru to guide us back home, no elders waiting for our arrival, no cousins to play cricket with and no one to use the electricity that finally reached our village.
The fields lay untilled, homes abandoned and hearth cold. The hauntingly beautiful memories are now trapped in the cobwebs that have become the new embellishments of our ancestral home. We visit our village only once a year for annual ‘Pujai’ because we feel obligated to our Gods and not to our village. According to 2011 Census, 1,053 out of 16,973 villages in Uttarakhand are left with no inhabitants and recent media reports suggest that the number has gone up to 3,500. My village is not one of those ghost villages in Uttarakhand that are now completely deserted, but the day will start knocking soon enough.
Migration isn’t a new phenomenon in Uttarakhand. I’ve been hearing about it since I was old enough to understand what it meant. My father too shared his stories which set the backdrop for understanding the migration problem for me. There are numerous factors to put the blame on for the current scenario with three major culprits being: ‘scarce employment opportunities’, ‘poor medical services’ and ‘dwindling agriculture’. The problem with these three factors is that they create a vicious cycle tackling which has proven to be a herculean task. These factors force people to move out of the villages leading to further worsening of the situation and the cycle keeps on moving only to end with the formation of ghost villages.
The obvious question is why only Uttarakhand? Why is the scenario not same for our neighbouring state Himachal Pradesh which is very much similar to Uttarakhand in geographical location, area and resources? What is it that makes people leave the hills of Uttarakhand but stick to Himachal Pradesh? This is where I feel that there is another factor that needs to share the blame for this crisis: Culture.
Culture plays a fundamental role in developing your belief system and it needs a whole new discussion on it,which we will, on the next part of this series.
Watch this space for more and feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Aditya Kulashri