Bol Diyan Unma 

Lopsided development in Uttarakhand has increased the pace of outmigration of local villagers. More than 1000 villages are entirely abandoned, making them ‘ghost’ villages (Upadhyay, 2018). According to the Rural Development and Migration Commission of Uttarakhand, the reason for this mass exodus ranges from an inability to diversify livelihoods to lack of educational and healthcare institutions. Global climate change has now begun to act as an additional threat, accelerating people’s already existing migration patterns. Uttarakhand has been experiencing a series of natural disasters like cloud bursts, incessant rains, landslides, flash floods, forest fires, and earthquakes. The frequent climatic events in the form of landslides and cloud-bursts remind people of the devastating 2013 floods, which killed almost 5000 people and displaced around 150,000 people, including children (Polanki, 2013). Unplanned and unsustainable development in the state and climate change continue to pose an immense danger for the people in Uttarakhand.

But, environmental pressures do not always manifest themselves in the form of immediate destruction. This remains one of the fundamental differences between sudden onset climatic events (cyclones, floods, landslides, cloud bursts) and slow onset events (temperature rise, sea-level rise, changes in precipitation patterns). Uttarakhand, like most other mountain regions in the world, is warming at a more critical pace. Some reported changes of climate change in the state, according to the State Action Plan on Climate Change, including receding glaciers and upwardly moving snowline, depleting natural resources, erratic rainfall causing flash-floods, irregular winter rains, advancing cropping seasons, fluctuations in the flowering behaviour of plants, and shifting cultivation zones. People continue to rely on forests, animal husbandry and subsistence farming to survive; all these sectors remain vulnerable to climate variability. As a result, as farming and livestock rearing become increasingly challenging, people are left with no option but to move. But, those most vulnerable and marginalised are left behind (‘immobile’) as they lack the networks and resources to migrate. Fewer studies are available on their lives, particularly on the left behind wives.

Bol Diyan Unma, meaning “Do Tell Him” in English, is a short film depicting the perils of migration in the hill communities of Uttarakhand. It is an attempt to make visible the otherwise invisible hardships faced by the people. While the film focuses on the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, the themes and issues raised in the movie resonate ubiquitously with the hill communities globally, particularly in the developing world. The film was made under the guidance of Narendra Singh Negi, also known as ‘Garh Ratna’ (Jewel of the Garhwal) and the voice of Uttarakhand. He is a famous folk singer, composer and poet of the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. He has written extensively on historical events, love, and socio-political environmental issues of the state, including sad elegies to the Tehri town that vanished due to Tehri dam construction.

The film begins with a male protagonist, Badri, who is leaving for the city, saying goodbye to his wife, child, and mother. As he starts walking to the bus stop to catch the last bus to the town, crossing the rough yet beautiful mountain terrain, the villagers come bearing gifts, probably for their loved ones who have migrated to the city. He is followed by a woman, Kamla, carrying pumpkin ‘kaddu’ and other things her husband likes. Like most other men in the village, Kamla’s husband has migrated to the city for better economic opportunities. Yet, he has not sent money to his family in the village for quite some time now. As Kamla begins accompanying her brother-in-law to the bus stop, she starts saying things she wants her husband to know (‘Bol Diya Unma’, Tell him this). She breaks her slippers, tears her only Sari while walking through the bushes, and asks Badri to tell her husband this. Her Sari, she says, is full of holes much like the roof of her house, which is almost on the brink of collapsing. Kamla’s husband sends her money once every six months, but it’s not enough. The shopkeeper has stopped giving her groceries on credit. She does not have money to buy decent clothes and books for her older child. The younger one has never met his father and keeps falling sick. Kamla compares her situation with the cow dung Badri steps on. She says, “It is not there of its own free will, much like me. My father got me married in this village and left me here, and then your brother also left me here like this cow dung waiting for me to dry”. Kamla’s agony reflects the pain of every ‘left behind woman’. Their lives remain stuck in a continuum, waiting for their husbands to come back. And, while they keep waiting, the time doesn’t wait. Most such women spend their whole lives struggling to look after their family with the remittances received from their husbands and waiting to hear their husbands’ footsteps. Yet, they continue to support their husbands and look after their families, taking up their role as the head of the household. Women, in particular, are most affected by the impacts of climate and other environmental changes as their lives are primarily linked with activities related to natural resources (Moitra & Kumar, 2011). Their lives become even more challenging as they become burdened with additional responsibilities performed by their husbands/sons earlier.

Kamla’s complaints with her husband remain limited to her children and the house. If not for her, she wants her husband to come back to meet their children. While the narratives around migration remain limited to the economic and political aspects, the social costs of migration are not discussed, particularly the emotional dimension of migration. Narratives of migration have recurring themes of belongingness, identity, home, and absence, yet such counter-narratives remain sidelined. For instance, the impact migration has on women and families left behind, not to mention its impact on the men who migrate. Kamla’s husband has not come back because he does not have money to send back home. Migrants having a basic level of educational attainment can find salaried jobs, but the income is not enough to look after their families. Those with no formal education continue to work under suboptimal conditions saving money to send back home. Their emotional ties to their homes continue even in the cities, which is evident because Kamla’s husband asks his brother to bring ‘kaddu’ pumpkin from the village, amongst other things. As Badri sits on the bus, Kamla reminds him to tell everything word by word to her husband (“Sabhi Baat Bol Diyan”). But, just as the bus starts to leave, she comes running back to her brother-in-law and requests him to not say anything to him (“Unma kuch ni boliyan”).

This short but impactful film would deeply touch the hearts and minds of those who are aware of Uttarakhand’s migration (‘palayan’) issues. And for those who are first to know about this issue, the movie would open their eyes to the hardships faced by the people living in our beloved state, Uttarakhand. ‘Bol Diyan Unma’ is a powerful work and raises important issues surrounding the migration situation in Uttarakhand. Migration has not just created a money order economy but has also resulted in societal collapse. The essence of a village is the community that also acts as a safe haven for people. As people move out, fewer people remain, leading to vanishing cultures, languages, traditions, and agriculture practices. The movie marks a shift from a technocratic and undemocratic way of talking about issues and provides a bottom-up perspective. All this became possible as the people writing, acting, and editing the movie were from Uttarakhand and probably had experienced or know someone who has migrated out of the state. It’s high time that the state’s responses to the migration crisis include the voices of those most affected by it, particularly women. The movie highlights what remains an understated and underrepresented narrative, the women’s narrative of migration. ‘Bol Diya Unma’ is what the women would say if asked to talk about their fates.

Ayushi Rai is a doctoral student at Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar. Her research focuses on climate related migration from the Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. She has an Honours degree in Political Science from the University of Delhi, awarded in the year 2014. She did her Masters in Public Policy and Governance from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad in 2016. I have worked as a Research Intern with the World Wide Fund for Nature, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, and Centre for Science and Environment.

Bibliography

Negi, K. (2021, November 8). Bol Diya Unma [Short Film]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3PsRrXJxW8

Upadhyay, K. (2018, June 24). Inside the ghost villages of Uttarakhand. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/uttarakhand-baluni-saina-bhootiya-abandoned-villages-migration-5230715/

Jogesh, A., Steeves, J., & Firth, J. (2017). Agenda for Climate Action:Linking the Vulnerability and Risk Assessment for Uttarakhand with policy implications for the state. State Climate Change Centre, Uttarakhand Forest Department, Government of Uttarakhand.

Polanki, P. (2013, June 25). Death, destruction in Uttarakhand floods have traumatised children: NGO-India News , Firstpost. Firstpost. https://www.firstpost.com/india/death-destruction-in-uttarakhand-floods-have-traumatised-children-ngo-904935.html

Moitra, A., & Kumar, A. (2011). Hill Women’s Perceptions and Articulations about Climate Change: A study of Chamba, Uttarakhand. International Conference on Climate Change and Social Issues, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

 


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