Life for Vimla Devi, 62, is lonely in the hills of Uttarakhand’s Pauri district.
After her sole companion, Pushpa Devi, 65, left Bandul and joined her children near Pauri town, the solitude became all the more unbearable for Vimla who roams about the small village all by herself. Only a dimly-lit room of a small house bears witness to the existence of human life in the village in the vast darkness of the night.
“The abandoned fields of the village have been occupied by wild boars and leopards to visit the place,” Vimla Devi said. “I have to lock myself inside the house well before the sunset and my day too starts late,” she added.
Six members of two families living in a small hamlet near the motor road are the only consolation and support for Vimla Devi but they too live at a distance of not less than 400 metres up the hill.
Her son works in a private company at Gurgaon and lives in a small room with his family of three where there is hardly any space for Vimla. She told this correspondent about her plight with tearful eyes, imploring for help to save her from utter loneliness and insecurity of her life in the village.
“If only the government arranges a room for me in Pauri town, I would leave this village where my life is not safe amid the freely moving wild animals,” she said.
Dutch photographer Jeroen Staats, who wants to study the life of the few people staying put in the deserted villages of Garhwal, could feel the presence of wild boars and leopards in just the two nights he spent in this village recently. In an interaction with Hindustan Times, Staats wondered how a lonely woman could survive in such circumstances.
Over the years, Uttarakhand has witnessed a mass migration from the hilly areas of the state. People have been forced to leave their homes in the rural areas in search of livelihood. Government figures suggest that the rate of migration from hills to plains has gone up to a whopping 86% from 2000 to 2010.
According to another data, out of over 16,000 villages in the state, around 1,100 were completely abandoned between 2001-2011. Pauri Garhwal, Pithoragarh, Chamoli, Bageshwar and Almora are the worst-hit districts.