By Kulbhushan Kain
I grew up in Dehradun in the ‘60s. My father made sure we saw the districts in and around it. There was always a good reason to see them. Sometimes we went to Haridwar, sometimes to Badrinath, sometimes to Rudraprayag to see the Mandakini joining the Alaknanda. Sometimes he took us to the Yamuna or Dakhpathar, where he loved to fish. Sometimes he took us to Purkazi where my cousin had a farm which had miles of sugarcane fields surrounding it. Our state then was Uttar Pradesh. Its capital was Lucknow. Whenever my father had official work in the capital, he would catch a train to travel overnight. We always felt he was going far away. For us Lucknow was farther away than Delhi not so much because of the distance – but because of the means to get to it. It was as if he was going to a foreign city. Whenever, he came back, we would ask him, “How is Lucknow?” His answer always was, “Our family can never live in it. It is very noisy and there are too many people there.”
In a nutshell, that summed up the difference between the then embryonic state of Uttarakhand and the present state of Uttar Pradesh from which it was created.
Today, Uttarakhand is going to complete 23 years of statehood. In 2000, it came into existence along with Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. However, unlike them, Uttarakhand was not separated solely on the basis of economic backwardness.
Despite being hilly regions, even the districts of Kumaon and Garhwal region were more prosperous and educated than any district of Uttar Pradesh. As per the 1991 census, Almora was the most literate district in UP. At least, every family owned a house, had food to eat and clothes to wear. I have never found any Pahari begging on the streets, or even working as a labourer in my life. Many of them are employed in the Army and almost every family has one person having a government job. Many are employed in hotels. The same was not true of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Both these states are mostly tribal and economically backward as compared to the rest of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
So, what was the need for the creation of a new state? It was the “Pahari Identity”. There is hardly any common ground between the culture, traditions, deities, festivals and languages of Uttarakhand and those of the rest of Uttar Pradesh.
The reason for its “exclusive identity” is that, in the past, Kumaon and Garhwal were ruled by the Panwar, Chand, Sah and Katyur dynasties for many years. They were independent regions even when the whole of North India, including Uttar Pradesh was under Mughal rule. No Islamic invader in the entire history was ever able to conquer the Kumaon and Garhwal regions. With the advent of the British Raj, the states were organised as per their convenience and Kumaon and Garhwal were under the United Provinces. However, Tehri Garhwal remained an independent state till after independence when it became a part of the Republic of India. Hence, the whole of Uttarakhand became a part of Uttar Pradesh for governance.
The above fact generated a feeling that Uttarkhand could never feel being a part of Uttar Pradesh. I had not even seen Bareilly, Faizabad, Varanasi, Mughalserai, Jhansi, Gorakhpur and many other districts when I was in school. Yes, I had been to Meerut to play cricket matches for my school against St Mary’s Academy – but I found the town no big deal. However, when I went to study at Delhi University – I felt at home in the hostel because the “gyps” (waiters), cooks and even the hostel superintendent (Mr Negi from Pantnagar) were all Uttarakhandis! They showed a preference for a boy from their region by giving me the extra “katori” of meat stealthily!
I felt at home being with Uttarakhandis because they were like my family members! I found their lifestyle simple, honest, and humble. They reflect a sincere bond with nature and gods. Although, the state has a fair amount of cities that are plush with all state-of-the-art amenities, this could not take the people of Uttarakhand away from their culture and traditional values. The culture of Uttarakhand still revolves around its traditional ethics, moral values, the simplicity of nature and a rich mythology. They indulge in vivid celebrations and performance of rituals around the year due to their deep-rooted connection with nature and the rich mythology.
Like their simple lifestyle, the festivals and fairs in Uttarakhand are also simple yet culturally rich. Each season is welcomed with hearty folk songs and dance and so are the agricultural periods. The ancestor spirit worship is exclusive to the state. Jaagar, as it is locally called, is held to awaken the Gods and the local Deities from their inactive stage to solve their problems and shower on them many blessings. Dances like Barada Nati, Bhotiya Dance, Chancheri, Chhapeli, Choliya Dance, Jagars, Jhora, Langvir Dance, Pandav Nritya, Ramola, Bhotiya Tribal Folk Dances, Thali-Jadda, and Jhainta are performed on various occasions in Uttarakhand. The creation of the state has ensured that the rich culture it possesses does not get overrun.
Uttarakhand finds mention in history as a part of the Kuru and the Panchal kingdoms (mahajanpads) during the Vedic age. In Hindu mythology, also, Uttarakhand has been recognised as a part of the famed Kedarkhand (now Garhwal) and Manaskhand (now Kumaon). It is also believed the famous sage Vyas composed the epic of Mahabharata in Uttarakhand. The signs of the practice of Shaivism in ancient times along with Buddhism and Folk Shamanic religion was also found in the state
Aside from culture, Uttarakhand’s economic indicators have also given us reason to clap. The average gross state domestic product has grown, road infrastructure is visibly more extensive and better maintained, electrification has spread impressively, and the state has become surplus in power thanks to the Tehri Dam.
The Terai area has been transformed from a typical rural setting to a bustle of industrial activity. The entire belt from Dehradun through Roorkee, Kashipur and Rudrapur to Haldwani is dotted with factories. The Uttarakhand of today is no longer the backwater of UP which it was when I was growing up.
There are, of course, sectors whose potential remains largely untapped. The natural beauty of the state lends itself to much greater development of the tourism industry. Its high literacy levels can be an ideal platform for the IT industry, and its quality educational institutions for upgrading skills of India’s youth bulge. With its famed and revered pilgrimage centres, Uttarakhand can have 100 Vaticans which will generate huge incomes. I am sure that, before I leave this world, I will be a resident of a state which is not only incredible, but also international. From being the capital of school education, and yoga, Uttarakhand will become the pilgrimage destination from all corners of the world. A fairy tale I always dreamt about!
Whatever lies in store for us is, at the moment, in the realm of hope and speculation. What will never desert Uttarakhandis is their simplicity and affection. I remember meeting Uttarakhandis in Canada, England, Germany, Bratislava, but one incident in Dubai moved me to tears…
I had gone to a famous eatery in Al Barsha in Dubai for a meal. All of a sudden, I read the name tag on the coat of its Manager – Prem Gosain. I casually asked him whether he was from Uttarakhand. Yes, he was and was thrilled to meet me. We talked a lot and when the time for paying up came, he refused to allow me to pay.
“Aap toh hamare pradesh se ho,” he said. I insisted and he resisted. Ultimately, he won because of the reason he gave. With a laconic smile he said, “Will you accept money from your brother if he came to eat in your restaurant? You are my brother because we are from the same home – Devbhoomi Uttarakhand!”
I had tears in my eyes. And so did he. We hugged each other…
That’s the Uttarakhand I feel every day. Its greatest assets are its people. They are, by and large, unseen, unheard but they have built dams, moved mountains, tamed rivers, faced earthquakes. They are more than capable of making it India’s best state.
Happy Birthday Uttarakhand.
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at email@example.com) (The opinions and thoughts expressed here reflect only the author’s views!).