From Delhi to Bageshwar — How a City Can Change your Life

From Delhi to Uttarakhand — Tanuj’s journey is one to remember

For someone who is not born in the mountains and has always lived in a metropolitan city, the shift to the mountains can be a difficult experience. While there are examples of city people who come to the mountains to beat the summer heat, there are recent trends of outmigration of young people from mountains to nearby cities and towns, mostly in search of livelihood opportunities. For Tanuj, moving to the mountains has been a turning point in his life.

Born in Delhi, Tanuj Atwal, our Margshala Program Manager, had never been to the mountains before 2019. Tanuj’s parents hail from Uttarakhand but his family had moved to Delhi 10 years before his birth. The mountains had never been a part of his childhood stories.

Tanuj had a very normal childhood. He did his schooling at Kendriya Vidyalaya and dreamt of becoming a mechanical engineer. He always thought he would build his own chopper bike!

The competition for engineering entrance exams has never been easy and despite being very close to selection on the first attempt, Tanuj did not make it. Tanuj decided to give it another try. The high fee structure in private colleges meant Tanuj only preferred the government engineering colleges and on his second try, Tanuj was able to get through. But his father’s illness and economic constraint forced Tanuj to give up engineering. He instead joined the Social Work department in the Delhi University college Bhim Rao Ambedkar College in 2013.

Choosing Social Work was the first turning point of Tanuj’s life. He gained grassroots experience while doing his graduation as he worked with organizations like Sahyog and Praja as part of his course. Tanuj worked for a diversity of social issues during his academic career which became the opening door to his experience in the social sector. As Tanuj joined his Master’s in the Gautam Buddha University, Tanuj got more involved with issues surrounding us. He started working on the water crisis and health, as a tie-up with Max Hospital in Delhi. Tanuj later wrote his dissertation on “Social Exclusion and Condition of Transgenders in India”. This was a momentous experience for Tanuj. He worked with two organizations — Katkatha and Pahal during this time on the livelihood generation of women and children living in brothels of GB Road in Delhi. Tanuj sees this phase as a great learning experience for him. While he was pursuing social work, it was grassroots work that brought him closer to his beliefs.

After finishing his master’s, Tanuj worked with Indian Oil to oversee their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities in Delhi and Haryana. Tanuj and his team oversaw the building of bio-toilets in slums where open defecation was still practiced. Tanuj was still unsure of what he wanted to pursue within the social sector and it was then that he got selected for Gandhi Fellowship.

Tanuj in Pethi during his time in Gandhi Fellowship

As part of the 2019 Gandhi Fellowship batch, Tanuj was sent to Bageshwar, Uttarakhand. This was the first time he was working in Uttarakhand. For Tanuj, this was the biggest shift in his life. Having never worked in the state, Tanuj was initially surprised by the differences and what he was expecting. As a Gandhi Fellow, Tanuj and the other fellows worked on pedagogical tools like Building and Learning Aid and Social Learning Outcome. Through these tools, they sought to develop a model of activity-based learning and make education inclusive. The village that Tanuj was allotted to was Pethi, a remote village in Bageshwar.

Tanuj got to experience the rural mountain life for the first time in Pethi during his fellowship

A move to Pethi would always remain a highlight of Tanuj’s young career. “Casteism is so rampant in the mountains,” said Tanuj as he tried to explain his experience in Pethi. “The children will bring their own spoons from homes for a fear of getting them mixed, their plates will be pre-decided and kept separately, and children from lower castes would be made to sit in the backbenches.” Tanuj was shocked but was determined. He asked the class to do rotation every day so that different students, irrespective of their caste, get to sit on the front benches. Tanuj introduced activities like songs that would be sung with emotions by the whole class and encouraged more group activities. The change did not happen overnight.

Tanuj talking to a group of children. Teaching and interacting with them during the fellowship has been a turning point in Tanuj’s life

During the panchayat election, Tanuj brought up the topic of caste in front of the crowd but the people pretended not to understand. In fact, he was later warned to stay away from such activities. Tanuj did not give up, he kept encouraging group activities where everyone could participate and by the time he left Pethi, the children stopped bringing their own spoons. It was a small step towards a bigger fight that is still to be fought. Tanuj was applauded by the Gandhi Fellowship community.

Tanuj’s experience in Pethi was a remarkable one. Despite seeing a different picture in the mountains than he had expected, Tanuj wanted to stay back. The choice to live in the mountains and work for the region and people can be a difficult one, but Tanuj does not want to give up. After the end of his fellowship, Tanuj looked for jobs in Uttarakhand but this was difficult to get as compared to the other metro cities. “There is a lack of opportunities that we cannot deny,” Tanuj added, “But what we can do is not give up.”

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IABT is a non-profit & social organization working to bring opportunities, awareness, and mentoring to youth in rural and small-town India.

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IABT Foundation

IABT Foundation

IABT is a non-profit & social organization working to bring opportunities, awareness, and mentoring to youth in rural and small-town India.

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