Sunday morning the center page story of
a leading paper talked about what could be a modern version of the Scorched Earth
policy of yore, when retreating forces would torch villages and fields to deny
resources to conquering enemy forces. So often in our history and so dramatically by the Russians to foil Napoleon.
Until sometime ago, the last villages
on our borders were our Defense 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.
The drastic migration has happened
because these villages have witnessed total neglect, instead of succor. 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.
Between 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. Empty, unsown fields are a
sharp contrast to Himachal Pradesh 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 ominous ancient warning heard in my youth almost 50 years
ago, about a time when “kos kos pe diya jalega”.