Basic facilities and housing support from Tarayana Foundation have brought back the former residents
Two decades ago, Dhan Bahadur Rai from Toedsang village in Barshong, Tsirang, moved to Nobding in Wangduephodrang to work as a daily wage earner with the Department of Roads (DoR).
He said he left his village to educate his children, as his first child was old enough to start school. “The nearest school in Mendrelgang was about five hours walk from our village but enrolment was also not guaranteed there.”
He said it was also difficult to make a living in the village without a source of cash income. “My wife and I took the job.”
Today he is back to the village to revive his farm. “It took almost a month to clear the dense bushes that covered my farm,” he said.
In Toedsang at least 12 families who had abandoned their house and farm in the past have returned to their village. Toedsang has 54 households.
Among the 12 gewogs in Tsirang, Barshong has the highest number of gungtong (empty households). According to records with the gewog, 20 families of the 127 gungtongs, have returned to the village in last five years,
Dhan Bahadur’s neighbour, Buddha Singh Tamang, has a different story for abandoning his village in 1995.
When Buddha Singh could not register his father’s land into his, he could not cultivate it. To make a living, he left the village to look for work. After months, he landed up as a daily wage labourer in Rabuna, Wangduephodrang. “I led a hand-to-mouth life as a daily wage labourer,” he said.
Although Buddha Singh wanted to come back to this village, he had nothing to call his own. But he never failed to visit the village once a year and clear the bush around his farm.
It was in 2012 when the National Land Commission surveyed his land during the cadastral survey and his hope revived.
Since then Buddha Singh has been working on the farm. Today, his farm is lush green with maize, a variety of organic vegetables and fruits.
One particular crop he is focusing on for cash income is areca nut. “I’ve already planted 500 areca nut saplings,” he said. “Economic opportunity in the villages is far better than urban areas,” he said.
He added that when the government has given him an opportunity to come back to the village, he would work hard to become self-sufficient.
Karna Bahadur Tamang abandoned his village in 1992 when his parents took him along to enroll him in a school. He barely remembers the situation then but his parents told stories of the difficulties they faced to raise him and his siblings.
After completing class 12 from one of the schools in Thimphu, Karna Bahadur chose to return to the village instead of looking for a low-salaried job in the capital.
“What I’ll earn from my farm will be incomparable to a job in an urban area,” he said. While his parents continue to work in Wangduephodrang, he is happily settled in the village for last five years.
Karna Bahadur said he has been insisting his parents to return to the village. He is expecting them next year. “Home isn’t livable without parents in the village,” he said.
What is bringing them back?
One factor these urban-rural migrants pointed out for choosing to return to the village is the availability of basic amenities at their doorsteps such as farm road connectivity that runs just below their homes, electricity and drinking water supply.
“When we’ve facilities aplenty in the village, we could not continue to struggle in urban areas,” farmer Dhan Bahadur said.
Another major factor that made farmers leave their daily wage works was the support Tarayana foundation provided them in constructing permanent houses.
Farmers say they were supported with at least 60 CGI sheets, five kilograms of nails and cash up to Nu 24,000.
Barshong gup, Shanta Lal Powdel, said that most residents of Toedsang are poor. “They could never afford to construct a permanent structure until now. They did not have a cash source of income and had no economic opportunities considering the remoteness of the chiwog.”
He said that with support from Tarayana, at least 27 residents could construct permanent structures now.
He added many more are expressing interest to return not only to Toedsang but other chiwogs as well.
“The gewog is working towards bringing back the other peoples who migrated in few years time,” he said. “We’ve been trying to contact and talk to them when they come to the village during the annual census.”
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang