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Jardhargoan, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal
In this interesting testimony Vijay shares his opinions on many topics, especially modern agriculture. He founded Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Traditional Seeds movement) and has done much research into traditional farming systems, which encouraged crop diversity for food security as well as nutritional balance. Many such crops, he argues, were naturally resistant to pests and drought, yet are being replaced by modern hybrids that require costly inputs and undermine farmers’ self-sufficiency.
His interests are wide-ranging, however, and he discusses social change, and the impact of migration and education on local communities: “because farming now involves so much expenditure, people have started migrating. They cannot get fixed labour jobs here, therefore the jobs in the plains and cities are attracting most men.” As a result they are losing their Garhwali language and culture. Migration also means women now “bear the entire burden” of household and agricultural chores.
He mentions festivals and religious ceremonies -“The fairs were a pure means of meeting people, the daughters meeting their parents after marriage and long-separated friends meeting each other” - and the importance of communal work, which he says is still practised for construction and agricultural work. He discusses the negative impact of alcohol on community life, as well as the shift from barter and exchange to a money-based system: “there is a general degeneration of human values and mutual caring and concern due to the present economic system.”
Much of the latter part of the testimony is an account of his work preserving and distributing traditional varieties of seed. Farmers have lost their self-reliance: “The farmer today is totally dependent on the government machinery. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he has become a slave to multinational seeds and manure.” New seeds have meant increasing use of pesticides and other chemicals, and “modern seeds bring with them all the diseases as part of the dowry.” His organisation has had great success in tracking down traditional varieties and can now hardly meet the demand for such seeds.
He has interesting opinions about development. He suggests forests should be placed in community hands to ensure that they are well cared for. He is critical of “destructive” big dams and advocates “the construction of smaller dams.” He concludes: “The so-called big development plans are not going to benefit local people. Local circumstances, the environment and the well-being of the people should be the main criteria for planning development.”
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||He started the Beej Bachao Abhiyan (Save the Traditional Seeds movement).
Women’s education “ is as important as educating our sons”.
The joint family system was better “but gradually it is disappearing”.
||Health facilities remain poor: “In the places they have built hospitals there are no doctors. If doctors are available there are no medicines.” Health centres are more interested in family planning than the well-being of the public.
The old system of medicine was good: “in earlier times there were hardly any diseases because whatever people ate was absolutely natural and pure”.
Religion: “Whatever it be, religion does mean good behaviour… But today, in the present context, religion has been used to mislead people to fight and indulge in sectarianism and fanaticism.”
Women “have played a very active and important role in many a movement”.
||Household chores were divided between men and women but now “the men from the hills go the plains and cities in search of a livelihood. Hence women have to bear the entire burden”. Women also have social responsibilities.
Main local occupations are agriculture and cattle.
Education: “A primary school teacher does not consider himself as a teacher as much as he considers himself to be an employee or a trade union worker. Therefore, the standard of education…has gone down.” Believes the education system should also provide training in traditional skills.
Mutual assistance continues: “in the far flung interior villages, which so far have not been spoilt by the so-called modern culture, a lot of jobs get done with mutual help”.
The role of the panchayat (village council) in decision-making.
Different castes in the community, the position of the Harijans.
Difference in the ideals of old and young: “The main cause is the modern, younger man, and the modern media, which is very effective.”
Impact of life in the city and urban ideals on the young.
||Traditional religious ceremonies and festivals: “our religious beliefs are more for collective well-being than individual gain”.
Dowry: “the city culture is greatly responsible for the dowry practice here”
Impact of alcohol: “Women complain of not having enough food, clothes and basic necessities at home, but the men folk, who get Rs40 per day as labour wages, get back home completely drunk.” Illegal shops sell liquor; the role of youth committee and women in shutting down breweries and banning alcohol. Impact of cash economy – loss of system of barter, loss of community values.
Politics – he has no faith in leaders and politicians: “today’s political scene has totally corrupted people.”
Agricultural productivity has suffered from soil erosion, and cattle-rearing from insufficient rain. Now have to buy seeds and fertiliser – people are migrating due to the increased cost of farming. Impact of migration: “our rural village culture is becoming extinct. At this rate very soon our mother tongue, the Garhwali language, will disappear”. Traditional skills are disappearing.
||Formerly agriculture “was completely under the farmer’s control.” Now “the independent and self-reliant agriculture system is becoming dependent, insecure.”
Beej Bachao Andolan: “The farmers used to say that they grew rikhwa, dhyasu, jhumakia (local crops) but these are not grown here any more. This worried us all that these local seeds have vanished and they should somehow be brought back to be preserved.” They are planting and collecting the seed of old varieties and returning them to the farmers.
||Modern agriculture: farmers are now reliant on outside machinery and new seeds have introduced diseases and weeds requiring the use of pesticides.
“The old system of agriculture was basically for a livelihood and not for earning money. But the present one has diverted people’s minds to earning money.” They are encouraged by the government to grow soyabean: “But who can extract oil and milk out of it? It is not possible for local men to do this. It can only be done in factories built at a high cost…”
Declining rainfall; irrigation canals built by the government leak and water does not reach the fields.
||Cultural change: “The traditional folk music and dances are slowly disappearing, but one can still find it alive in the valley at Jaunsar or Khai...” TV “has made disco culture very popular”.
Religious beliefs: “We are not in favour of the orthodox thinking as these are largely superstitions…But our local gods and goddesses, if done simply and without sacrifices, should be worshipped…”
More discussion of old and new agriculture – traditional cycle of cultivation.
Selling milk: “This has helped some people, mainly widows, to earn a living.”
Horticulture: he believes “apple growing has not been successful anywhere.” Forests were cleared for orchards but apples are easily afflicted by disease.
Other sources of income: “there are blacksmiths and tailors who are still carrying on with their traditional profession…We have vegetable sellers, a few contractors. Walnut and citrus lime cultivation also provides people with enough income for the entire year”.
||Soil fertility is decreasing due to erosion and use of chemical fertilisers.
The forests “are receding very fast”. Government and forest department managed forest: “For better and proper maintenance it should be in the hands of the village fully…If the people are motivated to feel that the forest is yours and whatever wood and grass is available will be yours then they will take it on with a greater sense of responsibility”
||Water supply problems: “… due to the vast spread of corruption the planning has turned into a plan of dry taps.”
Landslides and dams: “The construction of big dams is an open invitation to large-scale destruction - not only for the people of the hills but of the plains as well.” Those moved to the plains are miserable. Advocates smaller dams.
Tourism: “big hotels are being constructed, so are airstrips. This is not going to bring any development for the locals. It is the western style of tourism. What we need to encourage is the spiritual tourism in this area...”