This morning the center page story of a leading paper talked about what could be a modern version of the Burnt Earth policy of yore, when retreating forces would torch villages and fields to deny resources to conquering enemy forces.
Until sometime ago, the last villages on our borders were our Defence Forces’ eyes and ears that reported the first signs of intrusion. In the northern areas, having at least one family member in the Forces was a matter of family honor. Post retirement, ex servicemen, especially the lower ranks with inadequate pensions would settle in ancestral homes and till the soil for an additional living, keeping a wary eye all round their segment of Uttarakhand’s border with China, thanks to ingrained training. Now, while State data reveals 37 attempted intrusions between 2006 - 2011, in July 2017 alone, twice!
How has this happened? Because most of these border villages have seen dramatic migration of populations, leaving anywhere from one to three households left to hold fort against the steady intrusion of forest weeds and brambles and leopards against crumbling empty houses, fallow fields ... remaining residents, inevitably senior citizens attached inextricably to their homes, counting days for as long as they can manage on their own. And these include the native village of the present Army Chief, in whose village his uncle and aunt are sole residents.
TThe drastic migration has happened because these villages have witnessed total neglect, instead of succour. No water connections, no power, no roads, no healthcare or education facilities apart from everything else mean that no young person wants to stay here. And as the older generation becomes careworn and ravaged by age related problems, they too choose a less stressed life closer to the towns where simple facilities like water, power, doctors n medical shops are available, and where Internet not only keeps them abreast with the rest of the world, but also with their children, wherever they may be.
Whatever happened the Border Area Development Programme? It used to do pioneering work, once upon a time.
BBetween the Census of 2011 and 2017, 734 villages have emptied totally, 565 are down to half with 28.72% of the state’s population having left the state. Fall of fields are a sharp contrast to Himachal next door, where horticulture, floriculture and off season vegetable production offer stable incomes to rural populaces.
Fallow fields, deserted houses in many of which only the locks are intact and a dwindling border population that is beginning to live up to an ancient warning heard in my youth almost 50 years ago, a time when “kos kos pe Diya jalega”.