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(INDIA 15)








Chansu village, Sangla, Baspa valley, Kinnaur


December 1996


The interviewer is speaking to her grandfather and grandmother. She addresses her grandfather at first, but the grandmother interjects at times. In the later parts of the testimony it is not entirely clear whether it is the grandfather or grandmother speaking.

The testimony starts with a vivid description of the region’s gods and goddesses and the mythical story of the origin of the village. The grandmother then discusses marriage, explaining how she was forced to marry at a young age, saying “The elders used to be very bad during my days. The girls used to escape during the night and come home from the in-laws' place but were sent back, forcibly, to their in-laws”. However they also say that in their day boys and girls were treated as equals “Girls were respected and treated well. She was the “Lakshmi” (Hindu Goddess of wealth), owner of the house”.

Much of testimony is taken up with the narrators’ reminiscences: trading salt with Tibet, making oil from walnut and apricot kernels, the way festivals were celebrated and the introduction of formal education. They attribute good health in the past to the food they used to eat and are distrustful of the new grains that have come in from the lowlands saying, “Today's food has taste, but no food (nutritional) value.” While many of their memories are fond ones, they speak negatively about the period of British rule: “Earlier, people were slaves. Now they are happy that the nation is independent and all are free to work as they wish.”

Generally they are positive about recent changes that have occurred in the community. They are happy about the arrival of tourists and explain that the road has enabled them to get goods more easily and travel to other places. Furthermore “The government has brought electricity, opened schools, hospitals [and] is looking after us in every way”. However they lament the loss of the forest and are concerned about the dam, concluding “The construction of the dam is disastrous for Sangla valley because if it ever breaks then the entire area would be washed away. I like my own place; my own land and I do not want to go anywhere close from here.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  The origin of the gods and goddesses in the region and the view that they are less fortunate than humans: “Men can do good deeds and die and are reborn in good places, but the gods can't do that and have to dance… to men's desire. [Formerly] people had great regard for them and they were worshipped with lot of gusto, but nowadays they have been reduced to mere toys or playthings.”
Section 2  The history of the Kinnaur district. His marriage: “I also forcibly kidnapped my wife. Then my parents went to her house to discuss the matter and then the marriage took place.” His wife adds: “I had no idea where I was being taken…I was very young. I was 12 and “Nana” (grandfather – ie her husband) was 14. But nowadays lots of changes have taken place”.
Section 3  Money mostly kept by the men – discusses the currency they used to use. Trade with Tibet: “We got salt from Tibet, we carried the produce from our land on goats and while returning loaded salt on goats” The Harijans (untouchables): “They were not allowed to enter the temples or go to the house of a Rajput…Today it is not so. They can go to temples, visit Rajputs, organise fairs, can dance also.” In childhood life “was very poor” - recalls making walnut and apricot kernel oil, and the woollen clothes they wore.
Section 4  The festivals of his ancestors: “They took part in many fairs and festivals” Describes some of the fairs celebrated now: “People drink the whole night, perform nati (dramas), dance and sing. Puris (type of fried bread) are made and so are other culinary delicacies prepared.” His grandfather lived to 120 – he says people used to be healthier: “Food in the old days was better since it was pure…food grains that came from the lower area brought diseases that did not exist earlier.”
Section 5-6  Girls and boys were treated equally and people had few children: “Those who had more daughters were considered very rich since all the work depended on them” Treatment of the sick: “we asked the deity if some spirit had possessed the sick person and then the spirit was taken out”. Modern medicines “give only temporary relief whereas herbs are a permanent cure.” Memories of the forest and hunting: “From Jadak to the village, an area of 3-4 km, was completely covered with forest, where many wild animals like bear, kasturi (musk deer) and a variety of wild birds were found.” British rule: “We had to arrange ghee (clarified butter) and milk for them and fodder for their mules… If we failed to provide for the English, we were beaten up and brought in before the law court.” No theft problems in the past: “If anybody stole anything, a sentence of death by hanging was the punishment.”
Section 6  The birds that used to inhabit the forest and story of the forest demon. Good fortune attended the birth of his paternal grandfather – the api (person who washed the clothes of the new born) found a plate of food near a cave: “Since that day there has never been any scarcity of food in our house” Livestock and agriculture: “Farming was incomplete without women” The use of powdered sheep or goat horn as food during times of famine. Goats were bigger and cows gave more milk: “Earlier the fodder (grass) was very different from what is available now. It had much more nourishment.”
Section 7  The use of goat fat in seasoning; the crops they used to grow. Education: “People were educated at home only. Those who came back after getting a formal education used to teach the others at home.” Tankre language, not Hindi, was the medium. The influence of a sage in getting the government to open schools “first in Kilwa and then Sangla”. No irrigation formerly - people depended on the rain: “The jungle was dense, which caused lot of rain. Since people had a lot of faith in gods and goddesses they always turned to them and invoked them for rainfall” Says “the poor worked in the fields of the landlord and in return they got their two square meals” The slate mine.
Section 8  Description of women’s clothing. Winter – there used to be 12 feet of snow regularly. People sat by the fire, cracked chuli and walnut stones: “There was so much to do indoors during the winter that we were kept very busy.” Women used to spin together but don’t anymore. Use of pine torches before electricity, use of cow’s urine and ash for washing before soap. Untouchability was encouraged by the upper castes “but now it has all changed”. The dowry system: in the past “nobody gave or demanded dowry”.
Section 9  An occasion when the food grain stock ran out. The apple orchards The gharat (water mill) used for grinding flour. Tourists visiting Chansu “Their coming has not upset anybody. They come for pleasure and the locals also feel pleased to see them.” The construction of the road: “the road has made things simpler. We get everything so quickly. It’s nice for us to go to other places.”
Section 10-11  The forest “it was destroyed for the construction of the road, for construction of houses, by people who came with cutting machines.” Says “In spite of all the development there is no road in Chansu, because the government is not giving adequate compensation to the farmers whose land is being used for road construction.” People still have to carry loads on their back if they don’t have mules. Says “The only source of income for the people of Chansu is the slate mines.” Facilities provided by the government: “We have a Middle School, we have had electricity for 8-10 years. Now even telephone lines have come” The arrival of Buddhism in Sangla. Landslides caused by the road construction and concerns about the dam. The use of human excreta as manure.