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(INDIA 34)








Dharwal village, Bhagirathi valley, Tehri Garhwal


April 1994


Bachan lives on her own as her four sons all live and work “outside” with their families. Although 70, her sons’ absence means she still has to farm and she relates an interesting story about how she was persuaded to grow a “new” kind of mustard seed, which turned out to be a costly failure. This is a long interview that covers a number of issues, some in considerable depth, and the narrator’s responses are interesting and full of personal detail. Family relationships, farming and employment – and the links between them - are the topics discussed in most detail. She also talks about festivals, changing dress, the Mahila Mangal Dal, the cutting of trees, the road, the treatment of Harijans and other general changes.

When asked to describe a significant event in her life, she talks at some length and on a very personal level about the death of her mother, explaining how her father-in-law prevented her from going to her mother and the pain that this caused her: “My mother died waiting for me, she must have died remembering me. I could not even see her face when she died.” She has more to say on the issue of in-laws. In her own experience, she and her sister-in-law “live like real sisters till today”, but sometimes relations between mothers- and daughters-in-law are tense and she mentions how, when food was scarce, daughters-in-law were given less than others in the family. She talks about changing marriage practices and the advantages of the joint family over nuclear families.

She laments the decline of agriculture as education and paid work have become more important to people: “People think more about staying outside...and less about the village. They pay more attention to money and less to farming… The illiterates or those who do not have any jobs are the only ones who do farming.” The educated are leaving the village for jobs elsewhere, she says, and often taking their wives with them. In the past daughters-in-law always remained at home even if husbands working away. She reflects on her own situation: “Now the daughter-in-laws and children are in different places. I am an old lady alone in the house. Today with three daughters-in-law my house would have two or three buffaloes and I would have rested in comfort.”

The nearest road now comes within 3 km of the village. Bachan says it has brought some benefits, but these are outweighed by the disadvantages, most notably that they have lost their farmland to it. Even though they received compensation, she feels “Money is spent easily but fields and houses are permanent properties… There is no wealth greater than one's own land. It is the greatest wealth.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Bachan has four sons and one daughter. Some of her sons have good jobs but her daughter was not educated. She explains why: “There was a lot of agricultural work to do and I was all alone… She used to work with me… there were no other girls studying at that time.” But her sons’ good jobs mean they live away, so she manages the farming by herself. She thinks now that girls should also be educated: “…this is the era of education; The world belongs to the well-read people. No one thinks about agriculture. Everyone thinks about jobs.” She doesn’t like the cities where her sons are but she acknowledges that “The day I become weak I will go to my sons. I will have to go then. But I would like to live independently for now.”
Section 3  Relations between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. When food was scarce the amount given to daughters-in-law might be limited. Her experience of this: “Sometimes when the food was less in the house, we were also given less to eat... We used to eat barley and millet chapatis whereas the elders of the house and the sons used to eat wheat chapatis.” Boys and girls who are being educated still help with farming. 10-15 families from the village are living and working in the cities.
Section 4-6  Various festivals celebrated in the village; the village fair. She never used to go to the fair with her husband: “Going together like people go nowadays was considered a brazen act.” Clothes worn by women in the past and now. She doesn’t say her husband’s name: “Taking (saying) the husband's name is being disrespectful to him... earlier we never even used to talk to each other in front of others... Later when we had children and they grew up then we used to talk a little... I will still not take my husband's name.” Traditional versus contemporary jewellery.
Section 7  In earlier times villagers gave the bride gifts according to their capacity: “The village blacksmith used to give a knife…as well as spade and a sickle... if someone has curd or buttermilk they give that also...” In the past some fathers accepted money for their daughters, but her own marriage was a gift marriage. She explains: “The girl whose father had taken money to give her in marriage to his son-in-law - such a girl's in-laws often used to taunt her, saying that they had paid money to her father for her, not brought her for free… Such girls used to sing out the pain in their hearts while cutting grass in the forest or when working alone in the fields. In…the song, [they said] you are happy but I am suffering a lot of pain... Later this custom of taking money for marriage died.” More about marriage ceremonies. Health: Herbal treatments used in the past. Now “A hospital has been set up in Cham. These days, everyday some person or the other lands in the hospital. Different types of diseases have evolved.”
Section 8  More on health now and in the past. Joint families are good, “if there is love amongst each other…[but] now no one listens to the elders. Therefore, families separate because of a small quarrel. Earlier everyone used to like living in a joint family.” Wives now go with their husbands wherever they are working rather than staying with in-laws. She says, “We prefer the old arrangement even today. Sons and daughter-in-laws used to take care [of the elders].” Impact of such migration on farming: “…if there is no one left to do farming, the fields will turn barren and it is a matter of grave concern for us if the fields turn barren…”
Section 9  Agriculture: grains are less tasty when government fertiliser is used; crops grown in the village; irrigated fields are some distance from the village.
Section 10-12  Those who do not produce enough grain for the whole year take on jobs with the jawahar rojgar yojana (government employment scheme). Story of how someone bought some mustard seed from Delhi and special fertiliser saying it was good. However, “it ripened very late here, because of which we could not sow the next crop. The yield was almost the same as that of our mustard. So we earned no profit, instead we went into loss.” Sesame seed grown for oil and oil cakes used for cattle feed – in the past also used for washing hair, as was the bark of bhimal. In the past there was plenty of milk but today most of it is sold, although the old custom of giving milk to households without any still exists. People use government fertiliser on their land: “If there is enough rain the produce is good, but if there is shortage of water or less rain, the fertiliser ruins the entire crop.” Her thoughts about the road: “It has been beneficial because … everything reaches right inside the village. There has been no other benefit from the road… Agriculture has broken down because of this road. Is there any loss greater than the loss of agriculture?”
Section 13-14  Despite its advantages, she feels the road should not have come, fearing it will “bring hooliganism along with it as has happened in Tehri.” She uses wood for cooking which she collects from the forest. Some people are sold wood illegally by forest guards who “take bribes for their own profit and ruin our forest.” Mentions the “useless” invasive shrub lantana, which was introduced from outside, and other bushes that do have uses. One trained midwife in the village and several traditional midwives. Electricity has been in the village for 15 years, but the water mill produced tastier grain
Section 15-17  Collective forest: “We all have a combined forest… We sell grass worth Rs. 650.00, for protecting the forest. All people collectively hire a watchman.” Trees are weakened by resin collection. Consumption of alcohol. Have to pay a watchman to guard their fields from monkeys. Climate is changing and the rains haven’t come, she believes because: “This is kalyug (the age of Kali – a distressing time).” Recommends trees to grow in the forest. Says there used to be pastures but they have been planted with mulberry trees for silk production. Changes in selecting a husband for a daughter: “Now the girls are asked, how do you like it? But earlier they were never asked. What was seen was only how much agricultural land the boy has… Everyone was happy if there was ample agricultural land near the home … These days only the boy's service is seen.”
Section 18  Collective work in the village has diminished because many men are employed outside. She declined to be the head of the Mahila Mangal Dal: “What happens if you become the head? You get to hear a lot of bickering if you go even a little against their wishes. Why should I lose my peace for these abuses?”
Section 19-22  Description of Shradh (anniversary of death). Recalls her mother’s death. Later she did manage to visit her natal home with her husband but faced a difficult journey. She remembers and is thankful to a man who helped her across a river. She was so upset at the time that she shouted (directed at her in-laws): “your children should also cry the way I am crying for my mother. My mother died without seeing her children, you must also not be able to see your children like my mother.” Village and family deities The local drummer and his payment from the village Spirits entering people. Religious performances and sacrifices.
Section 23  Attempts to preserve the forest and stop people cutting down trees. Details of wild fruits. She has been on several pilgrimages by bus. In the past people went on foot “…all the people of the village used to go together. The pilgrims were sent off with pomp and fanfare, and people escorted them till the village outskirts… When they returned from the pilgrimage they used to do katha at home, worshipped God and called all the villagers for food.”
Section 24  Main changes she has experienced in her life: “Everyone listened to the elders, did farming, gave respect to parents-in-law, now it is not so… Each individual is unhealthy in some manner or another. In our times there were no such diseases.” Tehri dam: if they had to be resettled “we would like that all people should settle together in one place again…We will not feel lonely living amidst our own people…” Youth should never give up farming even when they have other jobs. During the king’s reign there was more discipline, which was good. However, “The king's reign was bad in some matters. Sometimes the king committed a lot of atrocities, he used to call people [to carry the loads of his employees] and never paid for the labour….” Approves of the government’s policy of “positive discrimination” for Harijans, but not if they are given jobs instead of a “deserving person”.
Section 25-26  More discussion of untouchability: “Untouchability prevailed in the village but now there is only one water tank, everyone gets water from the same tap. Now these people even sit in our verandahs. It does not matter but they shouldn't touch the water. I don't like this. These are our instincts; they can't change.” She is asked to sing a song which is paraphrased by the interviewer. They now has TV and gas stoves.