Two years ago, their life changed completely. The Deoli-Brahmgram villagers have not come to terms with reality till now. The memory of Uttarakhand floods which devastated their livelihood, claimed more than 6,000 people lives and damaged their property including their houses, still haunts them. Many of them refuse to return to their work. For them, that it is too painful to visit that site. Amongst them are priests of Kedaranath. What is even more worrying is that they are being blamed for the natural disaster.
Vipin Tiwari, who was a pilgrimage priest at Kedarnath, is now running a small grocery shop in his village Deoli, Uttarakhand. With a heavy heart and anguished by people’s baseless allegations, Tiwari said:
“How can I go back there? People are blaming us for the disaster without thinking. They say if we are close to God, then why couldn’t we stop the disaster?”
Vipin along with his daughter and his mother
Pilgrimage priests used to live in rented accommodation in Kedarnath from April-November. For that period of time, they used to assist pilgrims with Char Dham yatra. Some survivors tried to go back, but it was all in vain. Another pilgrimage priest from the Brahmgram village said:
“I went last year to Kedaranath. But the behaviour of people towards us has changed entirely. They are alleging that we don’t know our ‘vedas’ and we are not from the priest clan. Though tourism market was already down there, with such allegations it is impossible for us to work.”
After being shunned away by people and traumatised by the disaster, many pilgrimage priests of Deoli and neighbouring villages are afraid to go back. But to sustain their families, some of the younger generation priests have gone back to Kedarnath. Bhawana, a sister of a pilgrim priest said:
“This year, a new batch of villagers – comprising mostly youths – went to Kedarnath, to make a living as pilgrimage priests. This batch doesn’t include many of those priests who had survived the 2013 disaster, witnessed their friends and families die, and came back home traumatised. Most of them have changed their occupation.”