Jhansi/New Delhi: Adjacent to the Pahuj river, surrounded by small rocky hills in Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh lies Tiliya, a village of 42 households. Most villagers are farmers but, strangely, almost all the farmers are elderly.

They put it down to ‘Palaayaan’ (literally escape, but loosely translated as migration) here. Tiliya is one of many villages in Bundelkhand region—encompassing 13 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh—emptied of its youth. After two consecutive deficient monsoon years and bouts of unseasonal rain, farmers have been either unable to sow seeds or were faced with damaged crops.

The youth in many of these villages have migrated to the cities to find work—usually menial jobs. Many houses have locks on the front door.

“This year we are very hopeful because there has been good rainfall. But last two years there was nothing, and all the young people have left the village to work in the cities. What will they do here?" said Bindra Ram, a 61-year-old farmer who lives with a family of 11.

“We will see them now when they come back for Rakshabandahan," said the farmer who has sown sesame seeds after the arrival of rains in June this year.

A study by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) in 2014 found that migrants from the villages of Bundelkhand seldom return home, depriving rural areas of valuable human resources necessary for economic development. “The pull factor of the urban life is also strong. Lots of people move with the notion that they will return home after things get better in the village. But after an initial struggle, they are able to find sustenance, a small dwelling and some stability, and they become reluctant to leave (return)," said Anil Gupta, author of the report on Bundelkhand drought by NIDM.

Maya Prasad Achari, a 72-year-old from Bangaon village in Tikamgarh, sits in front of the village pond which is filled with rain water after three years. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Maya Prasad Achari, a 72-year-old from Bangaon village in Tikamgarh, sits in front of the village pond which is filled with rain water after three years. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

In 2014, a team of researchers at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) released a report on the ‘State of the Indian Farmer’ based on a primary survey held across 274 villages in 18 states of India. The report found that when asked whether the farmers liked farming or not, 72% of the farmers answered in the affirmative while 22% said they did not like doing farming.

The report found that the majority of the farmers who answered in the affirmative liked farming because it was their traditional practice, while the ones who did not like farming cited reasons such as low income and no future.

In the same report, a survey of the youth of each family showed that only 24% of youths belonging to farming households are interested in continuing farming while the remaining 76% would prefer to do other work.

“There are no young men in this village now. There was a time when everyone in this village used to do farming. Now farming is only for us old people, the young people are out to look for better opportunities so they can send money home," said 80-year-old Parvati from Tiliya village.

Maya Prasad Achari, a 72-year-old from Bangaon village in Tikamgarh sat by the village pond that had filled up after three years. “The rain has been good, so some farming can happen this year," he said. “A month ago, you would see locks in so many houses in this village because they left to find work in the city."

Residents of Tiliya village. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Residents of Tiliya village. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Farmers also talk about how there has been so much migration in the past years, that many of the young people who have left have taken the traditional knowledge of farming with them.

“There is always uncertainty in their minds about the future which is major fear factor. Sustainability in farming is not there in these villages," said Gupta. “For the youth, alternative employment is required which the region does not have much of. Essential oils and oats and medicinal plants are great opportunities for farmers. The government should engage with people and help these areas grow, along with the tourism industry," added Gupta.

For now, after the good rains so far, some of the youth have returned to the villages for sowing the fields. “In the past month, some young people have returned because of the good rains," said Om Prakash, a farmer in Kodiya village in Madhya Pradesh.

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