Hundreds of villages in Uttarakhand have become “ghost villages” – waiting to be overrun by advancing forests as the people have migrated to bigger towns and cities in search of livelihood. Those who have chosen to stay behind are the elderly folk — emotionally attached to their native places.
It has been reported that more than 700 villages in Uttarakhand have been deserted, and over 3.83 lakh people have left their villages in the last ten years. Around 50% of them went out in search of livelihood and the rest due to poor education and health facilities.
The so-called distress migration is the biggest and most ironic story in Uttarakhand. Migration in the 1980s was the main driving factor for the ‘Uttarakhand movement’ demanding the creation of a separate state. Everyone hoped that the newly carved state will get economic, agricultural boost and will attract industries as well as lead to better employment and educational opportunities in the village hills.
The state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in the year 2000 to ensure equitable growth of the hills, which comprise 88% of the state’s geographical area. More than 17 years later, the grand idea seems to have defeated the dreams and aspirations of the people of hills. Even though Uttarakhand has done fairly well in terms of economic growth, the focus has largely been on plain districts. People are settling in these plain districts (intra-state migration) for better opportunities.
The higher education infrastructure in the hills does not help much in building skills of the youth. The ‘hill population’ in villages live and work together as communities. If a part of the population starts migrating then it becomes difficult for the rest to stay back. There is a socio-economic pressure to migrate on the entire community. The already migrated people also help the others to settle in cities by providing them help in seeking employment or arranging temporary accommodation.
Individual land-holdings for agriculture are small, making it increasingly difficult for farmers to feed growing families. Lack of private industries, quality educational facilities and acute scarcity of employment is forcing people out of their native villages in Uttarakhand.
Lack of government infrastructure – proper educational and healthcare facilities are big factors that make living in the hills extremely challenging. Rampant ‘migration’ is hence a problem that has left the state government as well as the district administration scrambling for answers.
On a concluding note, I want to share with you all – a poignant and hard-hitting short video by ‘The Pandavaas’- Time Machine ‘Phulari’ describing this ‘menace of migration’ turning once cheerful villages of Uttarakhand into ‘ghost-villages’. The video describes how the migration has taken a toll on our ‘Pahadi’ culture and tradition like ‘Phulari’ which followed since ages, now is being vanished due to abandoned villages.
The heart-rending faces of village children, in the end, waiting for closed doors to open strike a chord with every heart. Thus we hope it will also light a spark to trigger response for facilitating a full-blown reverse migration that will, perhaps one day, restore the old glory of the “Devbhoomi (land of gods)”- that is Uttarakhand.