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The term Uttarakhand , meaning "northern tract" or "higher tract," refers to the Himalayan districts of Uttar Pradesh, between the state of Himachal Pradesh to the west and Nepal to the east. It contains the eight districts of the Kumaon and Garhwal divisions. The main local languages are Kumaoni, Garhwali, and Pahari ("mountain"), a language of the Indo-Aryan family. The language of the elite, business, and administration is Hindi.
The Uttarakhand movement is motivated by regional factors along with economic factors stemming from its particular geography. There is no protest against the dominance of Hindi in education and administration in the state. As regards religion, the population of the hills is almost entirely Hindu, like the large majority of Uttar Pradesh. The influx of outsiders has not become an issue; indeed, the problem has rather been the need for natives of the region to leave it.
The residents of hill districts have felt themselves lost in the large state of Uttar Pradesh and their needs ignored by the politicians more concerned with wider regional issues. There has been almost no development of industry or higher education, although the 1962 border war with China resulted in some infrastructure development, particularly roads, which also were extended to make the more remote pilgrimage sites more accessible.
Men of the region are forced to leave their families in the hills and seek employment in the plains, where they mostly find menial positions as domestic servants, which they consider undignified and inappropriate to their caste. Students must also go to the plains for higher education. All find the heat of the lowlands very oppressive.
The major potential in Uttarakhand for hydroelectric power from the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and for tourism has not been developed, locals feel. Springs, which are essential for drinking and irrigation water, have been allowed to dry up. The particular needs of hill agriculture have been ignored. The plains produce grain primarily, whereas fruit growing is more promising in the hills. On the other hand, adjacent Himachal Pradesh, which consists of Himalayan districts formerly in Punjab or in associated princely states, became a state in 1948. Himachal Pradesh is geographically and culturally quite similar to Uttarakhand and has enjoyed satisfying progress in power generation, tourism, and cultivation. Some administrators observe that small states such as Himachal Pradesh can make more rapid progress just by virtue of being smaller, so that the problems are less overwhelming and local needs are not lost.
The first demand for a separate Uttarakhand state was voiced by P.C. Joshi, a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI), in 1952. However, a movement did not develop in earnest until 1979 when the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (Uttarakhand Revolutionary Front) was formed to fight for separation. In 1991 the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly passed a resolution supporting the idea, but nothing came of it. In 1994 student agitation against the state's implementation of the Mandal Commission (see Glossary) report increasing the number of reserved government positions and university places for lower caste people (the largest caste of Kumaon and Garhwal is the high-ranking Rajput Kshatriya group) expanded into a struggle for statehood. Violence spread on both sides, with attacks on police, police firing on demonstrators, and rapes of female Uttarakhand activists. In 1995 the agitation was renewed, mostly peacefully, under the leadership of the Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Samiti (Uttarakhand United Struggle Association), a coalition headed by the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeing the appeal of statehood to its high-caste constituencies, also supported the movement, but wanted to act on its own. To distinguish its activities, the BJP wanted the new state to be called Uttaranchal, meaning "northern border or region," essentially a synonym for Uttarakhand. In 1995 various marches and demonstrations of the Uttarakhand movement were tense with the possibility of conflict not just with the authorities, but also between the two main political groups. Actual violence, however, was rare. A march to New Delhi in support of statehood was being planned later in the year. An interesting development was that women were playing an active leadership role in the agitation.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress