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Dunda village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi
Shanti is a Jaad, part of the Bhotiya community, and traditionally her people migrated up to Harsil-Bagori with their goats and sheep for the summer pastures. At the beginning of the testimony she mentions this, and the importance of wool and woollen products: “The source of income of all Bagoris is wool.” She explains that they have now settled in Dunda, where she spins wool from relatives or from the angora rabbits she is raising. They are no longer able to go to the high alpine meadows of Jadung: “While we were away for six months the Army jawans (soldiers) took control of our land.” She describes the nostalgia she feels for their lost village: “We miss it very much. The ghee there had a different taste altogether. We never had to take our cattle and goats for grazing.”
As well as talking about some of her personal experiences, in particular the death of her mother when she was 15 and her marriage to a much older man, Shanti also describes the changes that have occurred in the community and the environment. She is concerned about the impact that visiting pilgrims have had on the teerth yatra (the sacred source of the river) and about the loss of forest. She also discusses the negative impact of alcohol: “This habit has ruined people here… Once we gave it to them in writing that if they stopped drinking we would request the government to start some spinning and weaving programmes to look after their needs, but they refuse to listen.”
It is clear that Shanti is worried about changing relationships between members of the community, and feels that the young no longer respect the elders. She blames some of this on modern media: “The advent of TV has made everyone shameless and fashionable.” Some of their customs have also been lost and traditional songs have now largely been replaced by those from films. However, the testimony concludes with her daughter translating a song being sung by some girls nearby which describes going into the forest and not picking the flowers there. The daughter explains, “We do not even offer flowers to God. They are not used for decorating the hair, as in other places, or houses, nor for offering to God. Plucking flowers is a sin. We love nature.”
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||Introductions – says women were educated when she was young.
Traditionally they migrate seasonally up to Harsil-Bagori.
Why they settled in Dunda: “we have started living here for our children’s education. We live here only for short spells, though most of the time we live in Harsil with our sheep and goats.”
They no longer spend time in Bagori during the winter season; some people now stay in Charpani, where they take their sheep and grow potato, rajma (beans) and apples.
The importance of wool.
||Woollen goods: “we spin wool, make pankhis (woollen shawl), carpets, sweaters and chokhta (blanket)… the spinning wheel goes along with us – up and down.” A carpet takes a month for two people to make: “they eat their meals also while working.” The price of raw wool is decided by the District Magistrate on 15th August.
The education of women: “as many women as possible should be educated so that they are independent and do not suffer like me.”
Girls should be taught all types of work: “If one does not get a job or get time to follow the old traditional occupation, one could make flower-making art as a source of subsistence. You people are artists so you like all art.”
She was educated but forgot everything when her son died.
Knowledge of medicinal herbs.
||Marriage ceremonies; sometimes boys and girls elope.
Jewellery worn at weddings: “I feel the modern kind is better. How can a poor man give so many ornaments?” She wears a mangalsutra necklace: “It is the sign of a married woman. It has pure red coral, which is in accordance with the birth sign.”
The poor keep their jewellery under the hearth as “the elders believe that the hearth is more important for life than a house”.
Belief that “if the bride is given jewellery it brings prosperity in the family”.
Importance of custom and continuity: “We like our elders to live with us because they tell us about all the old customs and teachings. We have a belief that a household without seniors and with only children is no household.”
Named Jaad “by virtue of our being from the banks of the river Jaad”.
They had to migrate to their current place when the army took over Jadung: “After taking over Jadung they allowed us to come back and till our land for one year...Since then, however, we have not been allowed to go there.”
||They have not been compensated with money or land.
Crops they grew in Jadung, clothes in the cold highlands. Nostalgia for the area. The flowers: “the fragrance is so heady that nobody wants to go on ahead. Oh! There are such lovely flowers there.”
||Traditional songs now only sung by old ladies. People no longer dance: “Earlier we held hands and performed the tand dance in the same style as it is performed in Rawain area. Nowadays the women get together and perform tand.”
The forest has been stripped for firewood.
Pilgrims come to worship the sacred source of the river: “in the old days they travelled on foot. But now a number of taxis, cars and scooters come here.”
||The glacier is receding and so “there should be restrictions and nobody should be allowed to go beyond a certain point”
The Gangotri used to be clean and have a temple; now “there is filth right up to the Ganga... There are hotels all over”. Feels hotels should be moved further away. Disapproves of liquor and non-vegetarian food in a holy place, fears of terrorists.
Detailed description of the Losar festival. Main food is momo (steamed dumplings).
Drinking alcohol: “It has almost become a custom.”
||Describes how people make liquor at home. Says “I have earned a bad name in the village since I tell them not to drink and they get furious whenever confronted by me.” Other women also oppose alcohol “…but there are an equally great number of men who drink. They have been arrested and fined so often. Once when a government liquor shop was opened in our village, all the women opposed it and had it removed from the village.” But liquor shop was reopened somewhere else. Blames TV for changing attitudes.
Cooking gas – they still use firewood more.
||Forests are less dense due to increasing population and because people take out truckloads of wood to sell: “When we tell them to stop, we are threatened that we will be shot dead. Only the government can stop it. The government officials should be stopped from accepting bribes.”
Motorised transport is quicker but there is a risk of accidents.
Forest fires. Talks of how contractors extract resin from trees and how she feels it must hurt and damage them.
Changing weather at Harsil: “now it no longer rains when it is supposed to so there is no timely crop.”
||The role of women: “At the time of the birth of the first child parents wish to have a son so obviously men are given more importance. But experience says that daughters are better since they look after the ageing parents even after they are married.” Says sons have become “ruthless and selfish”.
Daughters-in-law now give mothers-in-law less respect, but generally life
is better for women now: “Earlier we hardly had good clean clothes and so we never changed when we went out but now we change and then go out.”
Dowry: “People have started doing it because they are worried about public opinion.”
If they are uprooted from Vagori says they will have to go.
||Activities of the Mahila Mangal Dal: “First and foremost to look after the cleanliness of the village, to prevent drinking, felling of trees, etc” but lack of funds.
Negative impact of TV – says inappropriate programmes are broadcast.
Education of girls should be based on fine arts.
Tourism: “ has had an impact only on young people’s fashions”.
||The family deity, story of the village god.
Says “children like the modern age but I prefer the old times” – people were more courteous and respected the elders.
The deaths of her two sons and of her mother when she was 15.
Memory of lighting her mother’s funeral pyre.
Her marriage to a much older man: “He lost 12 of his children and wife. Nobody would give a daughter to him since there was no Himachali of our caste here... My people knew him and fixed our marriage amidst lots of apprehensions.”
|| First experiences of marriage: “When I came here there was a puwal (paddy husk) hut and rats used to walk about on the top and by evening the grass used to fall down. I did not know how to whitewash and plaster it (with cow dung). My husband's sister used to do it.” She had to leave her position in the military.
Mantras chanted, prayer cloth. Belief in ghosts and spirits and witches.
||Fruit trees being grown.
New generation continuing hereditary professions as “there are no jobs for them”.
Harijans still treated as untouchables - “here we do not eat food cooked by them nor are any inter-caste marriages arranged” - but to lesser extent.
The joint family system was better: “Everybody shared the work”.
The different languages spoken.
A song about going into the forest.