Uttarakhand, the northern state of India carved out of Uttar Pradesh, has witnessed a massive emigration in the last few decades. Close to 950 villages have become completely depopulated with people leaving these villages in large numbers. Over 3500 villages are left with a population of less than 50! The major reasons for this emigration are under-development of the state, water distress, risky and unpredictable nature of farm work due to water shortage and dangerous wild animals and the overall absence of decent off farm jobs in the hills. In villages like Siku with a good population of elderly people, it is surprising to realize that there is nobody to look after them. The Primary Health Centre in Siku, which caters to around 7 gram sabhas, has no doctor for months. The dysfunctional PHC building works as a night shelter for wage labourers and a ward boy and a safai karmachari would dispense medicines to the sick!
It was hoped that this phenomenon of migration which started in the 1980s would come to an end after Uttarakhand gained statehood. It was hoped that there will be a change- but this was not actually what had happened. Of course, there has been a massive development in communications, mobile connectivity, social media and 24×7 cable television in the state. But the outmigration has not stopped, young men and women continue to go out of the state in search of jobs in large numbers- young girls no longer want to spend their youth carrying gallons of water! The women in the state are refusing offers of marriage with rich landed peasantry, choosing to rather marry any modest pahari man living in the plains of Dehradun or Delhi or anywhere else in the country, away from the hardships of the hills.
Young people used to drive out wild animals from farms, which has changed now with wild animals terrorizing the villagers and many village elders live in complete isolation with domestic pets in fear of wild animals. Farmers in many cases have completely given up farming after monkeys and langurs have started wrecking havoc in the daytime and wild boars and leopards continuing the tyranny during the nights. Cultivation, hence, has become extremely difficult for the elderly farmers battling with seclusion, poor health and the wild animals. The Land Consolidation Law or chakbandi remained only on paper and is just another proof of the state’s inability to politically and economically tackle the situation. The government needs to realize that the state has no identity without its mountain villages and the villagers. Two districts of the state have consistently witnessed negative growth in population from 2001 to 2011. If this pattern of emigration continues, the state’s people will remain confined to the plains and the mountains will be nothing but a vast array of endless jungle with only wild animals roaming around and no humans!