Tikh Bahadur Khatri is the principal of a school in Palpa and, like thousands of other Nepali hill-dwellers, he was getting ready to migrate down to the tarai. But today, he has not only changed his mind he even wants to sell the property he has in Rupendehi. "With the tarai troubles and life getting easier in the hills with road access, I had to ask myself whether it was a wise move," he says.
Khatri is among many who have changed their minds about migrating. There hasn't been any research yet, but anecdotal evidence like this shows not only that Nepal's traditional hill-to-tarai migration has stopped, but also families that migrated earlier are returning to their hill villages.
Although it is tragic, the trend has positive aspects. Nepal's unregulated and mismanaged transmigration is now in control and there is new awareness among the families of the hills and himals about building their own villages. They are asking why their village has remained so underdeveloped, and trying to look for ways to raise living standards in their hill homes. Across Nepal, farmers are becoming self-sustaining and building their villages without any help from the government. In Rukum and Rolpa, in Palpa and Makwanpur there is a new consciousness sweeping the land. People have realised that no one is going to help them, and they have to help themselves. If only the government would help just a little bit there would be a flood of development.
To be sure, it is not because of the madhes agitation that there is this new burst of creative energy across the hills. Last year's people power restoration of democracy has a lot to do with it. The government may not have helped in development, but at least it is not an obstacle to decentralised planning. It is true, however, that the hills and mountain people have now realised that they need to compete with the plains for development. An example of this is the planning and construction of an inner-tarai alternative route to the east in Sindhuli.
Kathmandu's development socialites, donors and policy-makers need to understand this phenomenon and try to channel it towards national development. Throughout Nepal's history we have seen that Kathmandu talks a lot and does little while the villages talk little and do a lot. Proof of that is the present trend of self-help development across the hills of Nepal. Hope for Nepal's future lies in channelling this new energy and giving it direction.