Home Dehradun Golden Jubilee Askot Arakot Abhiyan 2024 concludes

Golden Jubilee Askot Arakot Abhiyan 2024 concludes

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AAA being welcomed at Arakot.

By Avinash Joshi

Dehradun, 8 Jul: The golden jubilee Askot Arakot Abhiyan, which began on 25 May from Pangu (near Nepal and China border) ended today at Arakot (near Himachal Border) after an arduous journey of 45 days. It all began in the year 1974, when some enthusiastic and sensitive students from the hilly region of the then North Uttar Pradesh and today’s Uttarakhand had returned from a trek to the Pindari Glacier. Among these students were the country’s well-known Himalayan scholar Padma Shri awardee Shekhar Pathak and eminent social activist, the late Shamsher Singh Bisht.

Meeting in progress at Arakot.

A report, by the above two was published in newspapers and  caught the eye of noted environmental activist Sunder Lal Bahuguna. He too was on a 120-day padyatra to Uttarakhand. Bahuguna met these youth studying in Almora College and advised them to undertake a padyatra from Askot to Arakot to get an objective understanding of the villages of Uttarakhand.

Shekhar Pathak after
reaching Arakot.

Thus, in 1974, four enthusiastic young men from Uttarakhand – Shekhar Pathak, Shamsher Singh Bisht, Kunwar Prasoon and Pratap ‘Shikhar’ – set out on the first Askot-Arakot Yatra. Along the way, many travellers came and went.
Recalling that visit, Shekhar Pathak says, “We wanted to spend our summer vacations in the villages of Uttarakhand where no leader, no officer or no employee goes. All is well on the motorway. People are venturing out of their homes. So, we made a programme to visit the villages to see the deprivation and poverty. Our purpose was to contact the people directly and join them in their happiness and sorrow for one night. Prohibition, protection of forests, awakening of women power and creative use of youth power were the major themes of our public relations.”

Presenting a memento to the residents of Jhinji village

“Earlier, we youngsters had a different view of Uttarakhand. But after this trip, this disappeared. A new perspective was born. We wanted to find that out. It was decided not to keep the money together so that the villagers could connect more with life and people. We ate in the village where we went. Every villager was requested to give one loaf of bread. When we had to walk alone on the roads, the villagers tied sattu for us.”

The first Askot-Arakot Yatra passed through the erstwhile Pithoragarh, Almora, Chamoli, Tehri, Dehradun and Uttarkashi districts and covered about 350 villages. The journey began on 25 May, 1974, and ended 45 days later on 8 July, 1974, at Arakot. This journey not only changed the perspective of the members of the traveling party about the villages but also decided the direction of their future life. In course of time, all of them established their special identity in the country and the world due to their social contribution.

Sabha at Pairi.

The second, third, fourth and fifth ‘Askot-Arakot Abhiyan’ were completed in 1984, 1994, 2004 and 2014 respectively. The objective of these expeditions was to see the villages falling on the original travel route at an interval of 10 years and try to understand the changes taking place during these times.
This year, in 2024, the sixth ‘Askot-Arakot Expedition’ started on 25 May 2024 from Pangu. This is also the 50th year of the campaign. The main theme of the campaign this time is’ Source to Sangam’ to understand in depth the relationship of society with rivers and to bring to the fore the pressures on their health.

The purpose of this year’s abhiyan was to know the condition of water, forest, land, mining, dams, roads, etc., in the state after the formation of Uttarakhand state. In these 45 days, about three dozen participants walked 1,150 kilometres under the leadership of famous historian Shekhar Pathak.

The findings of this yatra will address a couple of questions. What is the condition of the economy and Dalits and minorities? How much has socio-political awareness increased? How much has economic and cultural infiltration increased? What is the form of migration? How much has the condition of the village changed, what is the condition of education, health, roads, water, disasters, women, children and other aspects of mountain life? People from different sections of society have participated in it to know and understand all this. An attempt was made to understand it on the basis of the theme ‘From Source to Confluence’.

The study team involved in the padyatra has also studied the soil, trees, water, condition of displaced people, health, cleanliness, roads, education, cottages, industry, tourism, new economic policy, prevalence of alcohol in the mountains, cancer and AIDS, conditions arising from Covid-19 by talking to the local people. Along with understanding the schemes being made from international loans, an attempt has also been made to understand the role of non-governmental organisations in the changing conditions.

The organisation named ‘Pahad’ has published very basic documents about the journeys undertaken in the last 50 years. So far, 22-23 issues of Pahad have been published, reading these gives a strong vision of the suffering of the Himalayas and its solution. This time also this padyatra has passed through about 400 villages. It has reached Arakot through 35 rivers, 16 bugyals-passes, 20 kharaks, 15 areas affected by landslides and earthquakes, 15 ruined rocks and eight areas related to Chipko movement, five tribal areas, five pilgrimage routes, three India-Tibet routes. Wherever the padyatras passed through, the local people welcomed them wholeheartedly and informed them about the condition of their area and village.

The yatra team also went to Thati village (Boodha Kedar) of Bhilangana block, where three families of Dalit, Thakur, Brahmin caste of the village lived together for twelve years in co-existence. This is a supreme example of social harmony in the country after independence. The padyatra team understood by looking at the cracks in the disaster-affected Joshimath that in the name of development, the paths of destruction are opening. The impact of the devastating disaster that occurred around Gaura Devi’s Raini village was also studied. This time, due to the extreme heat, people have found the 15 days of June very difficult and have started to understand that the effect of climate change is increasing rapidly due to the continuous degradation of water, forests and soil. During this time, water crisis was also seen at many places. This Yatra group walking on foot in such adverse and extreme weather conditions learnt about the pain of society.

This padyatra also inspired the youth of the state that, if they want to understand their society and environment well, then padyatra is the strongest medium for it, because the documents and literature prepared by the workers of Pahad Sanstha in the last 50 years will always remain an example for moving in the right direction of development and environment.

Though I couldn’t complete the yatra, I participated for a brief stint of 4 days from Wan in Chamoli district to Jhinji. It was a great revelation of love and affection showered by the local folk, their selfless demeanour was really appreciable. The government apathy writ large on their faces, yet their optimism, courage and self-belief were praiseworthy.

Other than Shekhar Pathak, the noteworthy travellers who completed the 45-day journey  were Chandan Dangi, Prakash Upadhyay and Girija Pandey.