Keeping the Nation’s Soul Intact

As we confront the challenges of an increase in attrition rates of civil servants and others leaving the country for better opportunities abroad, there is a greater and more important task at hand, one we have been aware of for a long time. It is the increasing number of people leaving their villages, for similar, if not the same push and pull factors that are taking our people beyond our boundaries. The population of people living in rural Bhutan has been steadily declining over the years leading to increase in gungtongs or empty houses. And in the very near future, a day may come when there are either no people at all or only the elderly, residing in our villages.

People from rural parts of eastern Bhutan say that inhabitants of villages are mostly those over the age of 50. It means residents of these parts will be economically active for the next 15 or 20 years only. What will happen to the houses and thus the villages then as the younger lots are unwilling to lead the tedious lives that they see their parents lead? Exposed to the benefits of urban life, the youth are willing to take a job that offers about Nu 10,000 per month in towns, even if they have the potential to earn double the amount in their homes. It is a dismal picture and the dangers of several villages becoming empty in the near future looms over our heads.

There is a stark difference between migration to other countries and those from villages to towns. Bhutanese studying and working abroad will definitely return one day. But once a youth migrates to urban areas, the possibilities of returning are dim. Further, the drain to other countries causes gaps in service delivery, which can be fixed, though at a cost. However, we cannot force and send our citizens back to their villages. The gaps cannot be filled.

Villagers are concerned about this and they feel that the only way to ensure that their homes do not become empty is by depriving one of their children from a basic need – education. It is their assumption that if a child is not educated he/she will stay back. However, this is depriving a child of a fundamental right.

We know the importance of our people in the villages. They are the custodians of our culture and those who can ensure that we attain self sufficiency in terms of food. The growth of rural activities is necessary to stimulate the speed of overall economic expansion of the nation.

Successive governments have focused on rural development. Farm roads, schools, health facilities etc have been constructed. But the focus has been on rural development and not to ensure that people stay in their villages. Perhaps, policy makers surmised that development would automatically decrease rural-urban migration. But it hasn’t.

The dangers of hundreds of villages becoming empty is a realty. There is an urgent need for policies to ensure that people remain in their villages. The villages are the nation’s soul. And we must act immediately.