#Uttarakhand – What about the unfortunate non-tourists?
When the sudden fury of nature descended on the Himalayan mountains last week, thousands got caught in the middle, completely unprepared for the cloud burst and extremely high amount of rains, which continued to hammer the region for days. There are still a large number of people waiting to be evacuated. Thousands are feared dead in Uttarakhand, a tiny state in the Himalaya mountain range, northern part of Indian border with China and Nepal – many roads, villages and small towns are completely destroyed by the nature’s fury. The connectivity through roads with the rest of the country is severed damaged by the floods from the sky.
The tourists/ pilgrims are getting spotted, rescued, are continue to be the focus on media, but what about the local population?
Is there anybody who even feels the need to care about the people of Uttarakhand and not just the tourist attractions? The ancient Hindu temples are strong enough to withstand the fury of nature but the small houses of people in the region are not so strong. The nature will take corrective action against the exploitative nature of humans, but those who get caught up in between, are the locals who have nothing to do with the devastation of nature.
The national media and individual state governments are worried about the tourist stuck in Uttarakhand, how to evacuate them. How to make sure they reach home safely and forget this tragedy. What is totally ignored and even ridiculed for various reasons the local people of Uttarakhand and their land, which has suffered the worst. For tourists may reach their home safely, but its the homes and all the possessions of the local people of Uttarakhand which has been swept away by the tragedy.
This is not the first time that a tragedy has struck us. But do not worry, the people of Uttarakhand are a tough nut to crack, they will survive, the Dev Bhumi will survive, it has from time immemorial and it will even when the other places may turn into dust. The people of Uttarakhand, wherever we may live, whatever we may do to earn a living, are a hard working lot and we will survive.
People notice the mountains only when they plan their vacations, or think about the environmental changes (for which they would promptly blame the local population and their greedy habits), nobody cares for the mountain or how the people over there survive the challenges of day to day life.
If a devastating earthquake hits the region (remember Uttarkaashi Earthquake 1991?, if not read this http://www.nicee.org/eqe-iitk/uploads/EQR_Uttarkashi.pdf and have a look at these images http://www.netphotograph.com/viewset.php?id=216 , the media, specifically the English language news channels and news papers) would promptly sensationalize the whole incidence by focusing on the impact it has on the rest of the country. There would be doomsday scenario forecasting (A Big One is Overdue in the Central Himalaya… Some seismologists believe that the likelihood of an earthquake with magnitude over 8 hitting the ‘central Himalayan seismic gap’ anytime in the near future is quite serious. ‘We know the inevitable outcome,’ Bilham told Scientific American in 2001, ‘The lock holding the spring will break, propelling the Himalaya southward in a giant earthquake.’ And when this happens, the impact on human life and property and the national economies of India and Nepal will be catastrophic because the central parts of the Himalaya face the cultivated plains of the Ganges and populous cities of north India). But the struggle of local population is least of anybody’s specially the Mainstream Media‘s concern.
The mountains and the hills and the lakes look so romantic, but the day-to-day life of a common local person in Uttarakhand is extremely tough. When you hear the news that “the locals are to be blamed for the mess/ for unplanned development” please also note that the local population still lives in utter poverty in the region living a very hard life. Accessible areas close to the roads are all bought over by the property mafia from the cities, paying peanuts to the local community or just grabbing the public land by bribing government officials. The hotels are owned by and built for the ‘Tourists‘, the roads are built so that the ‘Tourist’ could travel comfortably, the infrastructure is created not for the local populations comfort, it is not even created with the consent of local population which still struggle to makes the two end meet. Even now every single family in Uttarakhand would have someone leaving away from home, in the city, working in the Forces, to send some money back home so that the rest of the family member can survive. Some who make it in the cities would try to bring their whole family out of the mountains as soon as they can. All the hotels, resorts are owned not by the local people but by the rich guys living in the big cities. The local community is bearing the brunt of all these hotels as the available natural resources are exploited by the hotel owners and tour operators. Scare water resources are getting depleted because the Hotel forcefully take control of water bodies, and large amount of water is wasted by the tourist. Every drop of water is essential commodity for the local population, all the houses (its joke to call them houses, they are just pukka huts) in the villages are not connected with drinking water supplies, people are dependent on the natural water bodies which are forcibly taken over by rich and powerful Hotel owners.
When you read the news like “they locals are taking advantage of tragedy by charging more for essential commodities” please understand that all the product consumed are procured from other states/cities and the trade is completely controlled by the city based traders. Even under normal circumstances, product prices are hiked in these areas, citing the transportation costs. There are always shortages for the local population. Its not the local people who are making money, it is the trade controlled by the business living in the cities who are use these opportunity to enhance their profitability.
The people of uttarakhand are hopelessly naive when it comes to business, they can fight for the nation at the border, they can work hard in even in most adverse of circumstances, they are trustworthy, honest and simple-minded to a fault. Most of them work as cook, driver, office boys, clerks, etc. in the cities, trying to provide opportunity to their future generation to study well and get into some professional career.
Pahadi (mountain) people be it Kumaoni or Garwali are always a discarded lot. Always used by others but never acknowledge for their contribution. And the land glorified as Dev Bhumi (the abode of Gods), used and abused as religious/general touristic purposes, but neither the land nor the people ever got their dues. These areas were the most backward and under developed part of India, till the time the local population realized how they are being cheated all along and got together around two decades back to demand a separate hill state. Even in recognizing the logic behind having a separate state which can focus on local issues, the powers at the center decided to name the state Uttaranchal. Why because the local population wanted to name their state as Uttarakhand and the people in power at the center thought that it would be too much to accept all their demands. Never-the-less the people of the state still accepted all the insults, and later on changed the named to Uttarakhand themselves. For those who do not know how the state came into being please read this Angry Hills: An Uttarakhand state of mind: http://www.himalmag.com/component/content/article/3029-.html; and this; Reformation of U.P – Evolution of the Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand): http://www.euttaranchal.com/uttaranchal/uttaranchal_formation_milestones.php; and this; Hill state was carved out after 70 yrs of struggle: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-17/lucknow/30409910_1_separate-state-ukd-hill-region
A lot needed to be done to at least bring the maintain region of Uttarakhand at par with the other states and places in India. The struggle continue, it is still a very young state. Careful planning is the answer, not a extremist position in terms of development Vs environmental protection. The local population needs to be empowered to be able to live a decent life, without exploitation of the environment. Exploitation by the city dwellers needs to be checked strictly. There are special status and rights for people of the mountain region of Jammu and Kashmir, specially packages for North Eastern states – Why? Because they are cry babies? No such schemes and rights for Uttarakhand people because they are highly patriotic, the youth is willing to die for the nation and never demand such things for themselves or their region. Even national level politician from the region never tried to use their influence for the benefit of the state. But all this does not mean special focus is not required for the region. We must take notice of the dire situation of the environment and people in the region. Taking things for granted will not work in long term.
Once the high level of noise over the current tragedy gets subdued, we need to think calmly who is responsible for the exploitation of Uttarakhand and its people?
- Kedarnath Dhaam, Uttarakhand: How it changed over theyears.
- Year & Pilgrim Traffic at Kedarnath Dhaam, Uttarakhand:
- 1990 – 1,17,774
- 2000 – 2,15,270
- 2010 – 4,00,014
- 2011 – 5,70,000
- And this how Kedarnath Dhaam looks now, after floods from the sky last week
- Disaster In Uttarakhand, India: Huge Death Toll (chimalaya.org)
- More from India (pilgrimageportal.wordpress.com)
- 15,000 tourists stranded due to landslide in Uttarakhand (disaster-report.com)
- The Himalayan Disaster is Man Made (salem-news.com)
- Disaster hits ‘Land of the Gods’ (smh.com.au)
- Horror in Uttarakhand (planmyholidayindia.wordpress.com)