July 25th, 2017
Image Credit: Ratan Singh Aswal
It is not unforeseen that development in India is a lop-sided process based only on certain factors. The stark distinction between the rural and urban areas of the country leaves behind a large number of people who do not constitute the cream of society. The unsustainability of India’s development results in several problems for the growing economy; one of the biggest being that of migration.
Migration in India has several reasons attached to it, the primary being lack of education and employment and unavailability of social securities. Uttarakhand, the hill state in India, is facing a severe problem of migration and according to ‘Palayan: Ek Chintan’, a group working in the hills; and the concerned authorities are not working towards catering the problem.
‘Palayan: Ek Chintan’ group evolved in 2015 by an update on social media. It was formed to garner the attention of the people as well as the government towards the grave issue of massive migration to the plains from the hills of Uttarakhand in search of greener pastures.
In an interview with The Logical Indian, Ratan Singh Aswal, one of the founding members of the group, shares his experiences and describes the journey covered by the group as they have fought for the cause of migration.
What led to the formation of the organisation?
A travel enthusiast and a social activist, Ratan Singh Aswal hails from the village of Mirchora in Aswalsuen Patti of Kaljikhal block in Pauri district of Uttarakhand. At present, he is the coordinator of the organisation, and it was mainly through his efforts that like-minded people came together under the umbrella of ‘Palayan: Ek Chintan’ to fight against the problems of rampant migration from the state.
During the Kedarnath floods in 2013, Aswal and his group of friends had plunged in to help the victims. It was during this time that he became aware of the social realities of the backwards areas of the hill-state. The abysmal living conditions of the people became a growing concern for Aswal, and he went up to the government appealing them to work for the betterment of the citizens.
“However, nothing much came out of it then. It was at this point of time when the idea of ‘Palayan: Ek Chintan’ came to our mind, and we went ahead with the notion,” Aswal explained.
“Initially, it was an initiative with only nine people; but today we are a group of almost 2700 people,” he joyfully added. The initial members of the organisation were – Anil Bahuguna, Ajay Rawat, Vijay Pal Singh, Akhilesh Dimri, Ganesh Kala, Vinay KD, Chatar Singh Rawat, Adwet Bahuguna and Arvind Moudgil.
“Ours is a group that has people from different walks of lives – some are CEOs of private companies, some research scholars, some photographers, some freelance journalists, ex-government officials and some even farmers,” Aswal said. “We also have a news channel, Uttarakhand News 24, where almost 90,000 people work with us, keeping us in touch with the recent developments at the ground level.”
Grievances of the people
Aswal’s disappointment and dejection with the government (the former and the ruling) are evident when he said, “The hills have never been the priority of the government. Even after the formation of a separate state in 2000, our needs and demands have not been met – it is only the plains that the government wishes to focus on.”
“It was a conscious effort on our part to separate from the state of Uttar Pradesh – we wanted to nurture our geographical resources and tradition and culture which is in contrast to that of UP. But with the government not making any rules forbidding outsiders to buy land in Uttarakhand, I do not think it will be possible for us to preserve our uniqueness,” he said.
“Migration might not seem to be a problem to many, but for us border-adjoining states; it is a burning issue. We share our borders with China and Nepal, and if the villages nearing the borders are becoming vacant day by day, it is an increasing problem of national security for us,” he added.
Continuing to explain the difficulties faced by the locals, Aswal pointed out, “Proper steps have not been taken to form buffer zones in and around the villages. As a result of which, animals walk into villages and disrupt the daily lives of the village-dwellers. This is a growing menace that has also cropped up because of migration.”
Adding on to this, he said that education and health facilities provided by the government are not up to mark. “Even the poorest of the poor are not ready to avail these services – you can understand how bad the situation might be,” he said.
“There is hardly any reassurance and help that we have received from the side of the government – not now, not ever. Hence, some of us took up the responsibility to advocate on the issue of migration.”
How does this organisation work
“It is heartening to see the youth from the hills fleeing their homeland in search of the petty jobs. In 17 years after the formation of the new state, around 35 lakhs have migrated to the plains,” Aswal said.
‘Palayan: Ek Chintan’ specifically aims to provide a platform to the problem of migration. “The government is not interested in helping us with this issue and the mainstream media is also not keen to bring this problem to the fore. The responsibility now lies with the advocacy groups like that of ours to better the situation of our state,” he said. “The hanging locks on dilapidated houses and few old people struggling to survive in a village has become a familiar scene in most of the villages of Garhwal.”
From time to time, the members of the group kept visiting the rural areas of Uttarakhand where massive migration had taken place over the years. They also travelled to the Ravai Valley of Uttarkashi and Pindar Valley of Chamoli district where people are still holding onto their roots tightly and are leading a happy and satisfactory life. This helped the group to carry out the comparative study and identify the main reasons behind the migration.
Research conducted by the group has found out that it is not only the ones who are left behind who face problems – the ones who have migrated are equally troubled. Aswal explained, “They are unable to have a firm hold in the new places they have gone and are also forgotten in the native land.”
The members have walked about 20 kms to reach Sar Badiyar valley in Uttarkashi. They have encountered the sad tale of the government apathy towards more than 5000 people living in 8 villages. “It was shocking to see that those people are still struggling due to the paucity of basic amenities and things haven’t improved even after seven decades of the independence,” said Aswal.
‘Palayan: Ek Chintan’ has come up with several articles, photographs and documentaries on these issues in the social media. It has also sent letters to concerned government authorities. Organising seminars are also a method by which the group has spread awareness among the people – ‘Mountains, Culture, Literature and its Natives’ is one such 2-day seminar arranged by them in Kanasar in Jaunsar area of Chakrata on 14-15 August 2016.
The way ahead
Aswal said, “I cannot deny that our group has received a lot of support from the local people. But along with this, we have faced the wrath of the government and the media as well.”
“We did not receive an iota of cooperation from the previous government but only humiliation – they tried to find ulterior motives for our social service; nothing can be more insulting than that,” he added, pointing out, “The National Human Rights Commission and the Niti Aayog has documented the high rates of migration after the research that has been carried by us. I think it is a small but steady step forward to make our presence felt at the policy level.”
“The State government, too, has come with a Palayan Aayog to tackle the problem of migration, but it is yet to make an impact. We shall wait for some time for the new government to make changes – if nothing worthwhile comes up, we shall go forward with a PIL,” Aswal said explaining their plans for the future.
“The issue of migration would be taken up very seriously by us in the coming years – in the form of a statewide movement,” he said.
The Logical Indian community appreciates the work that has been carried out by Ratan Singh Aswal and his group. It is truly an important step they have taken to bring to fore the burning issue of migration – especially when the government or the media are not playing their roles correctly. We wish them all the best for their future endeavours, hoping that would continue the good work in the hills and create more opportunities there.