Home is not just a three dimensional structure, a shelter, but a complex matrix of primordial social relations. Similarly, villages in our country are important places where the spatial and temporal boundaries in relation to both domestic and public spaces are negotiated and contested between the village members, who share familial bonds and act as a powerful single family unit.
In the villages of mountainous regions in the Himalayas, the local ‘pahari’ people are used to tough and dynamic nature of their ecosystem for everyday livelihood, and survival. Despite the fact that Paharis of Jammu or Sub-Himalayas) assert their culture, tradition, and lifestyle, they are economically and politically marginalized because the dominance of urban oriented politics in Kashmir and Jammu. The ‘Paharis’ are mainly dependent on crops, livestock and forest products and tend to be economically weak, but are still cheerful. Certainly, the only source of their survival is subsistence agriculture and small scale labour or menial jobs in local government projects.
However, on 28, March, 2020, an incident occurred in which more than 400 canals of land at Dalwas (Ramban district) was submerged and completely damaged, destroying the village comprising 40 houses. The locals claimed that this was the consequence of constructing the four lane National Highway-44 project without proper and scientific planning. When the people of village gathered to protest against the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and Gammon company in the presence of local Sarpanch (Village Head) government officials cited the Covid-19 pandemic to disperse them.
This incidence has not only led to the loss of houses and agriculture land, but affected the local sustenance, social life and recreational activities. It is pertinent to mention that the locals have no means to sustain their livelihood and their lives are becoming miserable everyday. They have been forced to become homeless and their lives are at greater risk especially, the elders who have spent more than 70 years of their lives in the village along with embedded memories. It is even more distressing and painful to see that many aged persons belonging to Dalwas village are now experiencing acute stress and adjustment disorders due to the loss of their agricultural lands, houses and everyday livelihood as the result of sinking of land.
Villages are based on the relations of mutual support and affection—they are places of love, emotion, happiness and stability. On the contrary, since the last four months the people of Dalwas village are being isolated and punished for no fault of theirs. Moreover, the district administration has provided compensation which is not even 1% of the total loss of agricultural land and damaged houses.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India and Government of Jammu and Kashmir and concerned Revenue Commissioner should intervene in this matter and provide immediate rehabilitation and proper compensation to the affected families of Dalwas village. Huge landslides have also occurred at different spots between the stretch from Nashri tunnel to Banihal in the process of the construction of the four lane National Highway-44. In its periphery there are several other hamlets and villages of Ramban district like Digdol, Aashri, Neera and Thanari where many houses have developed cracks due to the sinking of land and are at greater risk of slithering.
The government needs a paradigm shift in its approach; innovative measures should be taken to protect the mountain ecosystem while constructing highways. The local people innocent have always admired new developmental projects, but not in the unsustainable manner that it is being done. The concerned authorities should pay immediate attention to the entire landscape by consulting experts like Geologists and senior Engineers. Moreover, afforestation and other innovative measures along the peripheral slopes of NH-44 should be done on war footing where huge landslides have developed. The economic, environmental and political decisions that take place at higher level are beyond the local scrutiny. It is a great injustice to the people of Dalwas and erstwhile Ramban district where several houses have been displaced and damaged. In addition, many innocent people have lost their lives because of the unprecedented man-made landslide. There is an urgent need to reshape the catastrophic landscape of Ramban for a better future.