Varsha Singh | Feb 9, 2019 | 5 min read
On migration trail: Tales of broken families, shattered dreams
Set amidst the verdant hills, 18 km from the popular hill station of Mussoorie, is a sprawling four-bedroom house in the nondescript village of Rautu ki beli. The colourful façade of its traditional pahadi architecture belies the pain of separation that haunts its corridors.
The two old occupants of the house in Rautu ki beli, Manveer Rana’s parents, cling to the hope that their eldest son and his wife would return one day and their family would be reunited.
Manveer and his wife moved to Dehradun to eke out a living but are now forced to live in a cramped, one-room accommodation in the state capital.
Every other household in the village has a similar story of abandonment.
According to the 2011 census, the village that falls in Dhanaulti tehsil of Tehri Garhwal district was home to over a 1,116 people with 182 houses. Today, about 20 families remain.
Many of the young men have migrated from the village in the last decade in search of work, prompting the elders to say that with all the able-bodied men gone, it was akin to a war-like situation.
For men like Manveer, it is indeed a battle, albeit a personal one.
Manveer, the eldest of three brothers, was just 22 when he bid goodbye to the house he grew up in.
“I wanted to do something big with my life. I thought that if I go to the city, I would 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 per month which I send home,” says Manveer.
His wife joined him last year and brought along their five-year-old son. Two of their daughters stay with grandparents in the village. One of Manveer’s younger brother was lucky to get a job with the forest department and thus stays in the village while the other one is also in Dehradun doing menial jobs.
Every year, thousands of young men from the hills, with a prayer on their lips and hopes in their heart, move to either plain districts or neighbouring states, to fulfill their dreams. Most of them, however, end up doing petty jobs and living an ignominious existence on the fringes of society.
A recent report of the Rural Development and Migration Commission cited a detailed study which said that most of the economic opportunities tended to concentrate in plain areas of the state, leading to huge income inequalities across the hill and plain districts of the state. In fact, per capita income in Bageshwar, Champawat, Tehri Garhwal and Almora districts, all situated in the hills, is almost half of that in Dehradun and Haridwar. Uttarakhand has 10 districts in the hills and three in the plains.
The data comes as no surprise. The hills are infamous for having no livelihood sources, except for agriculture. Those who do move out are working in conditions that could hardly be called enviable.
Manveer says that he was only able to bring his son to Dehradun because his wife also picked up work. “She cooks in households and earns as much as me, else we would not be able to survive here,” he says.
Manveer longs to shift his daughters here but says financial constraints won’t allow so. He did bring his son here to provide him a good education. 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% of females between the age of five and 29 were attending schools and colleges in Uttarakhand compared with 65% of males, according to data collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).
Manveer says that he has chosen to invest in the education of his son so he could take care of them in old age. “What would he do in the village anyway? He would have had to move for higher education. It is better that he learns now about life in a big city,” he says.
Santoshi, Manveer’s wife, prefers to see the silver lining. “Life is better here than in the hills. One doesn’t have to bring firewood, fetch water, electricity supply is regular and government hospitals exist,” she says.
Santoshi recalls how they had to travel 50 km 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 doesn’t have facilities so patients are often referred to Dehradun,” she says.
As Santoshi adapts to her new life, she often 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 could be here with us,” she says even as a shadow of doubt crosses her face.
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