Several reports have been appearing from time to time which indicate increasing distress and problems in many remote Himalayan villages. To some extent this is a reflection of increasing problems related to climate change and ecological ruin in the greater part of the Himalayan-Hindukush region, but in addition there are the added problems of living in more remote areas and being further away from help when urgent need arises, particularly in terms of medical emergency. The fact that some of these villages are border villages increases insecurity levels at times, and this is all the more reason why we should be giving more attention to remote Himalayan villages.
To give an example, the recent experiences of Reni and nearby villages in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand have been very disruptive. Reni village has been famous because of the earliest activities of the Chipko movement and its courageous, motherly leader Gaura Devi. However recently this village and its nearby area have been in news at least twice due to disasters of floods and landslides and the survival threats which have been attributed to a large extent to some ill-advised hazardous hydro projects created in nearby area. This is quite close to China border and such projects likely to disrupt the life of villagers should have been avoided. The government should take care to extend the best possible help to these villagers in these times of extreme difficulty.
In the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh there have been increasing tensions in many remote villages of the Lahaul-Spiti region regarding what impact the actual construction of many announced dam and hydro projects will have on the area and its people. There have been reports in local newspapers that the peace-loving people of the region became very worried particularly after the huge disruptions and disasters caused in the neighboring state of Uttarakhand in which dams and hydro projects were reported to have played a big role. The newspapers have reported that villagers have been holding meetings regarding how they can escape such a fate. Many people fear displacement as well as other adverse aspects.
As a result of these meetings and the expression of their concerns by many villagers of the area, I had hoped that the authorities will come up with some announcement at least to reduce their worries. Instead I saw a very different headline being reported from this area which stated –Lahaul to have world’s highest cricket stadium near Atal tunnel at Sissu at a height of 10,000 feet above the sea level with 10,000 spectator capacity! This news report in The Times of India dated April 22, 2021 ( Chandigarh edition) further stated that formalities of land transfer are in the final stage and that this will be “ tribal-funded.” The report said that the forest department has demarcated the 38 bigha site.
This is just one indication of the big gulf between the needs of the people and the response of the authorities and the elites. One hopes that there will be greater care for actual needs in future.
The traditional livelihoods of many people have been disrupted due to disruption of across-the-border trade and a lot of restrictions placed due to unsympathetic, alienating implementation of some environmental programs. On the other hand if environmental programs are implemented with the involvement of villagers then these can be very useful in terms of sustainable livelihoods as well.
Apart from settled people nomadic and semi-nomadic communities with their distinct life styles also need better understanding and care.
This is a particularly important time to emphasize the need for care of these villages as people of many remote Himalayan villages have also been deprived of the seasonal earnings they have from pilgrims and tourists due to lockdowns and travel restrictions. In addition the weather has been exceptionally erratic this year, leading to many losses in farms and orchards.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met and Man Over Machine.