Editor's Note: The idea of a 'ghost village' is now a reality in Uttarakhand, where remote villages in the hills lack basic amenities like roadways, health centres and schools. This seven-part series will examine the root cause of this migration and the measures being taken to tackle the problem.
Dehradun: Nestled amidst green hills and only 18 kilometres from the popular hill station of Mussoorie is a sprawling four-bedroom house in the village of Rautu Ki Beli. Its architecture may be traditional pahadi and its façade may be one to behold, but the beauty of the house does little to reduce pain of separation that haunts its corridors.
The house screams silence for two of its eldest occupants. They are Manveer Rana’s parents and they cling to the hope that their two sons and a daughter-in-law will return one day and their family will be whole again. The three had moved out to eke out a living. Manveer and his wife now live in a one-room, cramped house in the state capital of Dehradun.
This story of abandonment is one which is seen in every other house in Rautu Ki Beli. According to the 2011 census, the village, that falls in the Dhanaulti tehsil of Tehri Garhwal district was home to 1,116 people who live in its 182 houses. Today, about 20 families remain.
In the last decade, the young of the village, especially the men, have left it in search of work. "A war is being waged on the village," say its elders. For Manveer, it is indeed a war.
Manveer, the eldest of three sons, was 22 when the familiar stirrings of ambition led him to bid goodbye to the house he grew up in and set out.
"I wanted to do something big with my life. I thought that if I go to the city, I will have a better standard of living. But here as well, there was not much for me to do. I had to do odd jobs to survive. Now I work as a cook and earn Rs 5,000 a month, which I send home," he says.
Last year, his wife Santoshi joined him and brought along their five-year-old son. Two of their daughters stay with their grandparents in the village. One of Manveer's brothers is also in Dehradun, doing odd jobs. A third brother was lucky to get a job with the forest department and could stay on in Rautu Ki Beli.
Every year, thousands of young men from the hills, with a prayer on their lips and hopes in their heart, move to either the districts on plain lands or in the neighbouring states, to fulfill their dreams. Most of them end up doing petty jobs and living in small quarters.
Hills versus plains
A recent report of the Rural Development and Migration Commission cited a detailed study which pointed out that most economic opportunities tended to concentrate on the plain areas of the state, leading to huge income inequalities between plainland residents and those in the hills. In fact, per capita income in Bageshwar, Champawat, Tehri Garhwal and Almora districts which are all situated in the hills, is almost half of what it is in Dehradun and Haridwar. Three of Uttarakhand's 10 districts are located in the hills and 10 on the plains.
The data comes as no surprise. The hills are infamous for having no sources of livelihood except for agriculture. It is not like those who move out, like Manveer, end up earning lots. Which is a renewed problem as the bigger towns are expensive too.
Manveer says that he was only able to bring his son to Dehradun because his wife also got work there. "Santoshi cooks in households and earns as much as me, else we would not be able to survive here," he says.
Manveer says the main reason why he moved his son was education. He longs to shift his daughters here but says financial constraints will not allow him to, right now. In many migrant families with limited resources, education of daughters is often neglected in favour of that of sons.
Research and surveys have corroborated the gender bias in education. In 2007-08, 56 percent of females between the ages of five and 29 were attending schools and colleges in Uttarakhand. Among males, the figure was 65 percent, according to data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).
Manveer says he chose to invest in the education of his son so the boy can take care of him and his wife in their old age. "What would he do in the village anyway? He would have had to move for higher education anyway. It is better that he starts learning about life in a big city now itself," he says.
Santoshi sees a silver lining in this situation. "Life is better here than it is in the hills. One does not have to carry firewood and fetch water, electricity supply is regular and government hospitals exist," she says.
She recalls how they had to travel 50 kilometres from their village to Dehradun for treatment, a journey made even more cumbersome by lack of public transport. "Though there is a Primary Health Centre in Mussoorie, it does not have many facilities. So patients are often referred to Dehradun," she adds.
As Santoshi adapts to her new life, she badly wishes her daughters were also with her. "I don't get to see them as often as I would like to. Perhaps, someday when our circumstances improve, they can be here with us," she says.
(Varsha Singh is a Dehradun-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)
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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2019 16:11:24 IST