Wednesday, 28 February, 2024

Making Deserted Villages Alive

Making Deserted Villages Alive

Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

In “The Deserted Village” (1770), Oliver Goldsmith expressed his worries about the rural depopulation in England due to people’s flight to America in pursuit of much wealth. Numerous people left their villages to find abundant resources in the other lands. The English village was deserted, the remaining people were dismayed, the poet lamented for the lonely life in the deserted village. This was the condition of the native village of a European country that held its sway, expanding its empire worldwide. Years have passed since then. However, Goldsmith’s poetic lines still echo to our minds after two centuries and a half.

The situation in Nepal was not like in England at that time. Since there was no rapid transportation system like we have today, people in Nepal had no idea of migrating to foreign countries. They did not think of moving out of the villages where they lived. If ever they migrated, they went to the other village nearby or slightly farther searching for sufficient grassland for their cattle and the fertile land to grow crops. Only half a century ago, our villages were filled with people who lived in the middle of the land they cultivated. They were happy to be engaged in farming. They earned their livelihood to sustain their life but were happy.

School-age students liked to study in schools nearby. Schools were good, teachers were nice, students were enthusiastic. They would go to towns for higher studies, but they would like to return home to serve in their own places. Even if people went to the towns for lucrative jobs, they would like to eventually return home to spend the rest of their life. But surprisingly enough, the rural picture has been upside down within half a century. The villages have turned naturally greener but culturally gray. People are flying to big cities deserting their native villages. The youths, the chief agents of making the village green, no longer live in their birthplace. The old age people are forlorn. Dismayed, they sit outside of the house waiting for their offspring to return but in vain.

The married women are found desperately waiting for their husbands to return home. The small children feel alienated due to the lack of fatherly love. The villages in the mid-hills of Nepal are more deserted than in the plains and valleys. Even the valleys have been depleting with youths as they go abroad in search of jobs and livelihood. One of the chief reasons for this to happen is the difficult life in the village. Farmers have to work days and nights to barely earn a livelihood. Even if they grow more crops, there is no market to sell them, let alone industrial products. Due to inadequate transportation facilities, locomotion is also difficult. The government schools have not been able to provide quality education. There are no good hospitals around.

Since people’s quality of life has not been improved in the village, the rural population has sharply decreased whereas the urban population has alarmingly increased. As the town magnet can attract many more people than the country magnet, the villages are being deserted at a faster rate than anyone has imagined. As a consequence, the towns are growing geometrically whereas the villages are not growing at all. The village picture thus looks gloomy despite natural greenery with negative population growth. It has thus raised doubt about the future of villages – whether they can exist up to the far future.

There are basically two theories of existence in nature. The first theory is the Darwinian theory of evolution which proclaims that only the fittest in nature can survive while the incapable ones die out. Millions of creatures on earth thus survive on the basis of natural selection. As Herbert Spencer claims, the same theory applies to society. As he further explains, only capable people can exist in society while incapable ones cannot exist. This theory, often known as Social Darwinism, gives way to free trade policy and unfettered capitalism which spontaneously operate on an unequal basis. This approach drives the growth of modernisation, urbanisation, and industrialisation where only the capitalists can prosper. This is what seems to be happening in the rural spaces in the present context.

Policy intervention
The second theory of existence is the theory of ecology which claims that all creatures – both predator and prey – constitute the natural world. If one element disappears from the nature, the whole system is disrupted. In the same way, society also consists of all sorts of people – villagers and town dwellers – who live in a symbiotic relationship in society. Since the ecological approach does not always operate on its own, we need a balanced policy intervention on behalf of the state. Unless sopped by law no one can stop doing things that are detrimental to the wellbeing of other people. Unless intervened by a specific policy, we cannot stop adventurous people from moving out of their places.

To rectify the worsening condition of the villages, we thus need to formulate a policy of state intervention to repopulate the deserted villages. The ecological approach should be directed towards the survival of all people – both resourceful and those without resources – who are equally essential components to maintain equilibrium in a society. The state policy should be such that it can encourage the young people to stay in villages and be actively involved in the significant development processes in their native lands. Only a symbiotic relationship between all people irrespective of caste, class, and gender can maintain social balance. In contrast to the evolutionary approach, the ecological approach can put all things in place.

(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation.