Uttarakhand, Garhwal: “Those who have completed their education aspire to get into ‘service’ but there are no jobs available here. So they have left the villages as nobody wanted to continue with farming. But if nobody does farming, where will the food come from? One day when there will be no food to buy, all will have to come back to their land”, a village elder from Ghat, Chamoli once commented.
According to local NGOs in Tehri-Garwal, every year, four to five households leave their respective villages to migrate to cities in the Lower Himalayas (Shivaliks) and to cities in the plains for better economic prospects. For various reasons including changing weather pattern, decreasing soil quality and increasing wild animal incursions, agriculture is not productive anymore. Most villages in the region are now mostly populated by women, children and elders. The limited agriculture seen on the hills is done by women for their own household consumption. Better income (by rural standards) from jobs in the cities has helped improve the average economic condition in many villages of Lower and Middle Himalayas fueling further migration.
Odisha (Ganjam): The twenty-something grandson of the President of a fisherwomen’s cooperative was not embarrassed in declaring that he feels nauseous when he goes out to the sea with his father. He belongs to one of the fishing communities that has been living in coastal Odisha for generations. In a matter-of-fact way, he commented that only those who are not educated will continue with their traditional livelihood of fishing.
Maharashtra (Western Ghats): While interviewing farmers in an Adivasi dominated region in Raigad district and asked about future plans, most replied that they wanted their children to have a good education so that they can live ‘better’ lives in cities as farming is labour intensive with limited returns. Only one woman farmer felt that her children should study agriculture, come back to the land and help make it more productive and economically viable.
Something in our current education system and urbanization process is causing people to lose dignity and faith in their traditional methods of livelihood. People are willing to live in urban slums and even work as construction labour but not work as farmers, weavers or fisherfolks. A new division or discrimination is taking place, between those who have ‘jobs’ in the cities and those who are ‘left behind’. A ‘better life’ has now become synonymous with city or urban way of life. But then imagine a scenario (which is already underway) where the ‘educated’ younger generation in need of ‘jobs’ migrate to urban areas creating huge infrastructural pressure on cities and the economy to create jobs for them. This pressure to create more and more jobs (through manufacturing, mining etc.) will end up putting further pressure on land and natural resources which are not only finite but very important for our survival. So are the crops, vegetables, fish, clothes etc. that are produced within the country just as important in controlling escalating price of food and other essential items.
The real solution for reversing this trend might be long drawn and involve policy changes especially in rethinking of using the same yardstick for education and measurement of development for all ecosystems, communities and professions. But the social sector and corporations can help stem the process by encouraging an alternative education system (such as that provided by SECMOL in Ladakh), making more courses available for subjects such as agriculture, weaving, horticulture, entrepreneurship etc., establishing cooperatives that can help farmers and producers get a better price for their produce by cutting out the middlemen, supplying processing equipments and relevant knowledge/ skills to manufacture various products (as done by Himalayan Action Research Centre or HARC in Chamoli) and/or start small enterprises, and providing them with platforms to sell their products (as done by Himjoli in Delhi and Uttrakhand). These steps and strategies will not only help strengthen the rural economy and create platforms to engage both men and women in various capacities, but also make supposedly ‘unviable’ professions profitable.
By leveraging technology for better knowledge transfer and linking various government schemes with the beneficiaries, these solutions can be achieved more easily now than even a decade back. As Mahatma Gandhi had envisioned, for real growth and prosperity, we need to strengthen the rural economy through relevant knowledge and technical inputs. And in the process, we can perhaps restore dignity to important traditional professions linked to land and natural resources.
Bipasha Majumder shifted to the social sector after working in advertising and media for a decade. She loves traveling to the grassroot, talking to the communities, understanding their issues first hand and writing about her experiences. Currently she works as a communication consultant for various NGOs and CSR projects.