Uttarakhand Election 2017: Dislocation and migration biggest crises in the hill state

‘People living in the plains are turning into ‘Pahaadis’(hill people) and the ‘Pahaadis’ are rapidly becoming ‘Maidaani’(people from the plains). A friend from Dehradun laments about the tragic geo-social process that has accelerated in Uttarakhand since its inception in 2000. It was carved out as a hill state, but the subsequent governments not only failed miserably in containing the massive migration from the mountains to the flatlands of Dehradun, Delhi and Mumbai, but also sped up the process.

On the other hand, there has been a big increase in the Maidaani people making it to the charming hill places where there is less pollution, more nature and more secure habitat. Nobody has the exact statistics on the numbers of people who have migrated to and fro, and, alas, in the run up to the state assembly elections, no political party in the state has this concern on its election agenda.

Dislocation and migration probably remains the biggest crisis Uttarakhand has been facing for long. It has a long oral history too. But perhaps the first known migrant is a young man Gabar Singh who in 1913 at the age of 19 walked on foot many miles to Lansdowne which was the lone centre of recruiting soldiers from the hills. Two years later, he was killed on some front in France during the First World War. It means that the migration from the hills has completed more than a century.

 Uttarakhand Election 2017: Dislocation and migration biggest crises in the hill state

Representational image. Reuters

Today, many people may not believe it, around 1100 villages out of a total of 16793 villages in the state are completely deserted, 600 villages are left only with 10 percent of population and 3000 villages have seen a migration of 10-20 percent. Some time ago, there was news about village Bandul in Pauri Garhwal where Vimla Devi, aged 62, was living as the sole human being and never ventured out in the evenings due to the fear of tigers and wild boars. In fact, there are many Banduls in Uttarakhand today where most of the people have banished themselves to the cities; there are neither people nor the will to cultivate the land, and the forest trees have taken roots in the agricultural fields where wild animals roam about freely. Those who haven’t migrated yet are willing to do so, to leave their trees, sweet waters, clear sky, their dialect and collective memory behind as there is nothing much to sustain their life in the countryside. The craze for the cities has increased so much that some time ago when the son of a friend of mine was to get married, he insisted on doing it in a nearby town where the DJ was available for the fanfare ceremony!

In his village, a DJ was impossible to avail. Another interesting example of this is a song by the well-known folk lyricist Narendra Singh Negi which has become quite popular in recent time. It goes like this:

"Mujhko pahaadi – pahaadi mat bolo, (Don’t call me a pahaadi)

Main dehradunwala hun!’ (I belong to Dehradun)

Needless to say, most of the young people want to be rid of ‘village’ like an old and torn rag.

Dislocated people can hardly be relocated or rehabilitated even if they are compensated with sufficient money and land, which has never been the case in the massive migration of people from the area where a huge Tehri Dam stands today. They were ‘rehabilitated’ in the flatlands between Dehradun and Rishikesh-Haridwar, but what they have left behind or lost forever seems to be nobody’s concern.

No political outfit realises that the near future generations of the uprooted are sure to forget and forgo their cultural uniqueness, ethos, local mythologies, language, folk songs and expressions and nuances. In short, they will lose their Pahaadi identities and be assimilated as Maidaani. It can be recalled that the migrated communities used to be called, albeit derogatory, Kathmaalis by those living in the hill. Even though neither there is anything about being a Maidaani nor are they unwelcome in anyway, but being stripped of one’s nativity is indeed a tragedy.

Political outfits in Uttarakhand should have addressed to this issue and how to reverse it, but the ‘development blindness’, which is common to all parties, prevents them to see the big crisis.

It is commonly believed that burning of firewood in the hearths and smoke rising from the rooftops give strength and longevity to the mud-and-stone houses in the hills. The dilapidation of a number of villages was caused by want of the fire and smoke because there were not the people to do this. With this, generation old and unique house architecture and tradition of wood carvings on the doors and windows are also almost gone.

In fact, the destruction of the traditional housing styles ant the intrusion of cement-concrete flat roof houses is one of the biggest architectural disasters in entire area where stones always played the elemental role—only next to that of human beings — in residential constructions. A pity, we have forgotten the stones which are now cut into small pieces — rodis — to construct the roads. On the other hand, mining of sandstones and extracting sand from rivers has been thriving, mostly on illegal basis.

Undoubtedly, this is a very sorry state of things, but no political organisation participating in the Assembly elections has felt the necessity to have these on their agenda so far. Barring a very few radicals, leaders are busy in finding fair or foul ways to extract votes from the innocuous hill voters.

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 13:08:00 IST