Updated: May 9, 2020
“My idea of village swaraj is that it is completely republic, independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants…Thus every villagers’ first concern will be to grow its own food crop and cotton for its cloth…”
The cities and urban lifestyle has come to a stand-still during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is to be observed how the pandemic has created hotspots in the high population density areas across the globe, be it New York in USA or Mumbai in India. What is common amongst these cities is the high percentage of migrants in the entire populace. These migrants who’ve come for job search, industrial occupation from the village clusters of the country are now moving back to their homes. They state a simple truth, with no security and no wage in the current plight, they will at least grow their own grains and vegetables.
I was discussing it with Manoj at SOS Organics Foundation at Chitai, Almora, where he says hundred of thousands of out-migrants have returned back to the villages. A big chunk of villages in Uttarakhand feed talent to the Hospitality industry particularly in Northern India. With most of the roadside dhabas, restaurant business and chains shutting down or relieving employees foreseeing unlikely business for a couple of quarters, these employees have moved to their homes in the mountains. We went on to discuss the possibilities and positive impact the home-returned population can harbinger to the vision of creating an autonomous village community and a sustainable village economy.
With uncertainties glooming about getting reinstated at previous workplaces, etc. many who have come home are in conundrum. There are few among these who are now destined to work in the village itself. The other day, while there were several relaxations as the lockdown got extended till May 17th, Manoj highlighted how the barren lands have been ploughed for farming this time. People have started some development projects and are looking to adopt this ‘old’ life. If there is somebody who is adapting is the city-dweller. There is already a share of high-income groups inundated to move towards sub-urban and rural centres. This won’t be too difficult for many of them as part of their extended families or ancestral land still exist in the villages.
The recent pandemic and conditions only invoke the idea of traditional Indian village life as against ‘alienating urban/city life’ (in words of S. Jodhka). It is now stressing on the society that sustenance is more necessary to life than sumptuous lifestyle. Our understanding of sustenance has definitely evolved over the years, and WiFi is certainly on the list. Well to burst the bubble that cities create of villages’ backwardness, more than a lakh of gram panchayats have free access to WiFi, and then cellular data is accessible to all individuals. Unity and diversity are still the virtues of villages, with families sharing vegetables, milk, etc. While Manoj was at his home in Garur, Bageshwar he told me how when their neighbour’s cow was lactating they got milk from them, in these times they are sharing milk from their cow with them.
Dube in his anthropological perspective of villages put forth, “Village communities all over the Indian subcontinent have a number of common features. The village settlement, as a unit of social organisation, represents a solidarity different from that of the kin, the caste, and the class…”. Blatantly, it is time we accept the flaws of urbanization and urban lifestyle. There are 99 reasons to live in the villages, the one that is not is the attraction of city life and industrial wage. Once there are decentralised industries operating in these villages, there would be ample requirement of the human workforce in it to create a sustainable village economy. The father of our nation had once articulated in a letter, “For me India begins and ends in villages”.