Is There No Hunger For Knowledge?

Photo: Sangeet Natak Academy

The post-1995 generation in the state has by and large no conscious knowledge of the history of the region and the richness of the environment. This is not because we chose not to know about our past, but because in our formative years we were never told about the rich cultural legacies of the land. It is thus not surprising that the youth of today is not the proud inheritor of the land and culture which once mesmerised people from distant lands.

Photo: Sangeet Natak Academy
  • (This article was published in Vidura– the journal of the Press Institute of India in July-September issue of 2014.)

Ever since the formation of Uttarakhand in 2000, with each successive year, somehow the story of the struggle for separate statehood seems to have systematically withered away from the consciousness of the hill people. In these 13 years, the leaders who fought and sacrificed their lives for the cause of the region have now been buried under the cold and dusty pages of history. It is the unfortunate legacy of this indifference that incidents like the Rampur Tiraha Case or firings in Khatima, Rourkee, Dehradun and others during the ‘Uttarakhand Aandolan’ are now elements of faded memory.

The story does not end here. The same indifference affects even the way in which the age-old art and architecture of this ancient land is perceived. Despite the rich legacy of history and culture that the Kumaon-Grahwal hills inherit, there is a clear absence of a sense of belonging towards the land and its environs in the inhabitants of the region.

Today, in the hills (especially among the youth), a simple questions about the folklore, hoary artefacts or even the ancient places of worship will be met with blank looks. Ask them about the story of Rajula-Malushahi that has echoed in these hills for more than 800 years in the form of folklores; or about the 5th-century Taleshwar copper plates that arguably are the oldest literary relics to be discovered in the state; or the only Sun temple at Katramal near Almora, the only such temple in the Central Himalayas which also was witness to the Devadasi culture; or about the mysteries of Roop Kund; the now ruined temples of Dwarahat (the erstwhile capital of the Katyuri kings) or even the romantic, chance discovery of the much-frequented lake town of Nainital by a sugar merchant in 1841, and chances are that you will meet only amused ignorance.

This vacuum of knowledge about the past in the new generation (of which I too am a member) is alarming. The post-1995 generation in the state has by and large no conscious knowledge of the history of the region and the richness of the environment. This is not because we chose not to know about our past, but because in our formative years we were never told about the rich cultural legacies of the land. It is thus not surprising that the youth of today is not the proud inheritor of the land and culture which once mesmerised people from distant lands.

Reading about the unfortunate Rampur Tiraha Case today, I am sad not only about what happened on that fateful night of October 1, 1994, when unarmed people were fired upon and women from the hills raped, under the watchful eyes of the then government of Uttar Pradesh, but also about how systematically our generation has been made unaware and ignorant about our history and the story of those who gave their todays so that we may have better tomorrows.

In these 13 years, thanks to their misplaced priorities, successive governments have failed to fill the knowledge vacuum in the masses. It is the result of this sheer indifference from the ruling elite that the holistic work of Prof. Shekhar Pathak on the culture, history, environment, geography and ecology of Uttarakhand still remains largely unknown and unheard of outside the small circuit of intelligentsia in the state. Why is it that the literature of the likes of Atkinson, Walton, Sherring and Nevill (all British bureaucrats) on this land remains confined to the dusty racks of unvisited libraries?

Considered to be one of the most exhaustive work on Kumaon architecture till date, The Archaeology of Kumaon by Kanti Prasad Nautiyal, died an unnatural death out of sheer neglect. The book is no more available in the market and was last published in 1969. Even its publishers (Chowkhamba Publishers, Varanasi) are now left with only a handful of copies, all in shabby condition.

Is not it possible for our policy makers to introduce information about local local history and environment through the textbooks used in this region? Can not the ancient ballade of Rajula-Malushahi or the story of the rise of Nainital as a colonial town and others be made available in forms of animated books for children? Is it too much of an asking to erect boards speaking of the antiquity associated with the age old temples and churches that dot these central Himalayan hills? Can the Education and Cultural Ministries not organise storytelling events in the towns and villages so that the knowledge about the region gets passed down the generation…as it has been for so many centuries?

But alas! In the present situation, where the unscrupulous ‘land sharks’ are busy ‘colonising’ the lush green in the hills, defying and manipulating all prohibitory laws, only to be replaced by luxury resorts, ashrams and schools to which the common pahari has no access, little can be expected. These considerations are seldom taken care of when priorities are misplaced.

It was probably in times like these in early 1990’s when the hills of Uttarakhand echoed with the lines-

“Le mashalain chal pade hain log mere gaon ke…

Poochati hai jhopadi aur poochate hain khet bhi 

Kab talak lute rahenge log mere gaon ke…”

(with torches in their hands my compatriots are out now…the huts and the fields  are asking…till when will the people of my village be exploited?)

If the present trend continues, who knows the day of it being repeated may not be long away in waiting…this time for conserving the environs and heritage of the land. Are you listening sirs?

  • (This article was published in Vidura– the journal of the Press Institute of India in July-September issue of 2014.)