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self-taught forester/ farmer
Kot Malla village, Alaknanda Valley, Chamoli
Jagat, a self-taught forester and legend in the Alaknanda valley, has been experimenting with planting a variety of trees on his own land for the past 20 years, and now has some 30,000 -40,000 trees. He goes by the name of Junglee (literally, of the forest), because he feels that a strong link with the forest is essential in understanding the environment. People may think of forest-dwellers as “uncivilised”, he says, but “We should be proud today to say that ‘we are the junglee’.”
He talks about the problem of migration, which he sees as a serious issue, and gives suggestions for the development of tourism that is not damaging to the environment or society. He argues: “If tourism is developed properly then there can be economic development here, but if it continues like this then we will get nothing more than carrying the luggage of these tourists.” He also offers a very personal perspective on development, particularly on forestry policy. He asks, “Does the government of today want the development of people in the hills? Or does it want the development of people outside based on what they can get from the hills?” and argues that talk of organic diversity is limited to paper: “...on paper so many trees have been planted in the hills that there should be no fields and houses here. But on the ground you can also see, and so can I, that there is not a single tree.”
He is struck by the degree to which community spirit has declined, and links this with the reduced closeness to nature and especially to the forest. He is highly critical of the mono-culture approach of forestry department, which creates “these miles of pine forests”, and is a passionate advocate of forest with a variety of trees, uses and benefits: “When trees that will prevent landslides and fruit trees will be planted together, if fodder, grass, medicinal herbs are available at one place, then the face of the hills will be transformed.” He concludes by arguing that human development is ultimately dependent on the environment, saying “until we link the environment with development we cannot talk about the right kind of development” and outlining the way in which protection of the environment may also have economic benefits: “you should certainly plant trees because they are one of the main factors in the environment, but also focus your attention on trees that will provide earnings....Trees can lead to economic prosperity, cottage industries...”
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||Family details and educational levels. Traces family history back to 8th/9th century. Ancestors’ special relationship with nature, and religious outlook.
||Mentions his “experiment of 20-25 years...I have planted my own forest.”
Strong sense of community in the past. Panchdhaita system operated - construction work got done easily because each family sent a person to work.
People shared within the community, but now “it is just the opposite, every house has matchboxes, every household is cooking its own vegetables and although it must have made people self sufficient, all that talk of community is over.”
Younger generation has distanced itself from nature. Diet has changed.
||Old pattern of seasonal migration with the buffaloes has disappeared. The new generation “is neither prepared to learn from the old one, nor does it quite do the right thing to achieve its desired material gains.”
People had faith in the old panchayat (village council) system, and respected its decisions. Today it does more work but of less quality, despite having more money.
Area is abundant in natural resources with crops and fruit trees growing well.
||Most villages have primary and secondary schools but “that personal touch is missing”. Argues that “education should lay emphasis on character building.”
Some remaining traditional crafts but “cattle rearing and agriculture are the mainstay”.
||Changing marriage customs. Earlier “the bride's family would take some money and we called it a takka marriage....now it is a daan (gift) marriage.”
||Caste-bound forms of work continue to prevail.
Work done for the village paid in food grain.
Migration a serious problem. Seasonal migration continues.
New cross-seeds will “give a better harvest” but require chemical fertilisers which may damage soil quality, whereas “the earlier seeds were constant, they would yield a satisfactory crop under any condition.”
No commercial crops, but now people paying more attention to vegetable and fruit produce.
Women’s status is okay, as they carry a big share of the farming burden.
||Government schemes for cattle rearing are not feasible as there is no provision for loans etc.
Loss of contact with nature -“The generation of today wants returns immediately, it talks of science in books while the earlier generation practised it on the ground.”
Loss of cooperation: “Today each person is isolated and wants to depend on his own resources.”
Laments end of the cash-free system. Money has “created paradoxes”.
Dense and diverse forests in the past. Now are only monoculture pine forests.
Also speaks of a “growing indifference of the people.” to the forests.“...if there is a fire today then people are indifferent as nothing which belongs to them is burning, it is the forest department’s.”
||Big dams do not benefit the hill area but supply lowland factories with electricity. “The people of the hills have their own concept of development.”
Calls for small hydroelectric projects instead.
Tourism: “an excellent means of income for us in the hills” but it may “shake up our cultural, mental or our spiritual heritage”, and introduce a drug problem and other “shady transactions”. Calls for a tourism policy. Four types of tourists; jaded city dwellers, pilgrims, students and youth, and black marketers.
Says the traditional occupation of dairy production should be encouraged. “What steps is the government taking to encourage that?”
||Bee keeping, rabbit breeding and cottage industries could be developed but only if the right planning, training and resources were provided.
Feels people only offer criticism nowadays: “politics has reached our kitchen”.
He warns: “You can well imagine what sort of development will take place in a village or family where personal relationships have vanished.”
Argues for mixed forests. Details of species that grow successfully together, despite what “the books of science” say. His conservation of kafal trees.
||Inspired by his late father who had urged him to make the land fertile. Initial resistance from villagers and family.
Scepticism towards government officials. “Their thinking was bookish, that at this height this species will not grow with that species.”
“There should be every kind of tree in the forest.” This should include fodder, fuel, fruit, wood for building and industry, species that keep the soil moist, and “the most important trees... those which will keep the environment clean – broad-leafed ones.” He has had success with growing herbs as well.
His story illustrates the importance of acknowledging practical on-the-ground knowledge as well as “scientific”. Despite the claim of the forest department that other species cannot develop there “I have done it right here on this earth….”
||Links between protection of the environment and economic development.
The new generation should be proud of its origins. “Man grew up in these forests.”
Materialism “has no sound basis”. Humans must become junglee and re-establish links with the forest.
He has developed his mixed forest on his own without funding from outside.
While the local population accepts his ideas on mixed forests, “the forest department will probably accept it with great difficulty”.
His hopes: “the migration from this place must be arrested, the self-confidence of the people should grow, the women of this place should become confident.”