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(INDIA 35)








Pata village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi


25 June 1994


This is a fairly long interview covering a range of issues in which the narrator’s responses are very clear. Ramchandri was married at “the tender age of 13-14” and is the second wife (her husband’s first wife was unable to have children and approved the match). Although two of her own six daughters didn’t study – there was too much work – she believes that nowadays girls must be educated. She discusses the changing position of women and explains that, among other things, there has been a shift in power between daughters- and mothers-in-law. When she was young they used to be scared of mothers-in-law but “the mother-in-law is not bad now, these days the daughter-in-law means everything… Now the…relationship is good, both help each other.” She mentions other ways in which women’s lives have changed. They are more afraid of crime, particularly following the construction of the road, and have increased expenses. As the forest has thinned they must go further to collect wood. She gives interesting explanations of customs associated with giving birth to a son and how women are treated during and after pregnancy. When a son is born people give doob grass: “The root of doob grass never dies. It grows anywhere and can survive in any condition. Therefore, people consider it a symbol of family succession and offer it with good wishes on the birth of a son.”

She talks in some detail about different festivals associated with agriculture and how these, and caste occupations, have changed. The Jhumariyas – a Harijan caste - no longer dance and play the drums during festivals: “they do not come now. They do not allow themselves to be called Dom (lower caste).” She also discusses the pilgrimage that comes through the village and relates the story of the village deity.

Towards the end she talks quite extensively about changes in agriculture and forest resources. Although the system of mutual help still exists it has declined, for example, people are too busy doing their own jobs to help with house construction and so increasingly pay others for such work. She says this has particularly affected the poor who are unable to pay labourers: “the poor, that is those who do not have jobs today are all alone, they have to bear all the pain. Earlier both the rich and poor had their houses constructed easily. But today money has eradicated mutual love.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  She doesn’t usually take (say) her husband’s name because “we consider it bad (disrespectful)… Today's educated girls take their husband’s name when someone asks them. But people of our times consider it bad.” She has six daughters – four are married – and one son who is married. Four daughters studied, the others didn’t because “There was vast agricultural land, a lot of work had to be done, animals needed to be looked after. Therefore, daughters used to help in farming and getting grass and wood.” She was married in exchange for money, “But this custom is not prevalent now.” Her husband is 15-16 years her senior. The first wife was in favour of this second marriage: “She said I am unable to have children, so you remarry, my house should not remain without children… In contemporary times things have reversed. Today's girls do not permit their husbands to go for a second marriage even if they are unable to have children.”
Section 3  First wife “is the elder of the house and she gets her due respect. For all work her advice is taken.” Condition of women in the house generally. Change in approach to marriages: “Earlier the boy’s parents would come themselves and respectfully ask for the girl in marriage… Now the times are slowly changing. For example, the boy himself comes to see the girl, talks to her.” Relationships between mothers- and daughters-in-law have improved.
Section 4  Ramchandri’s mother-in-law died 18 years after her marriage, yet the family made fun of her and called her “the one who ate her mother-in-law”, a name given to one whose mother-in-law dies within the first year of marriage. Describes changes experienced by women and in general. “Roads have been constructed so there is fear of goons and thieves. Earlier we used to get abundant fodder from the forest and we had lots of animals, there was enough milk and ghee. Now we have little milk, which we sell. We have to sell milk because financial requirements of the house cannot be sustained through agriculture alone…”
Section 5-6  Custom associated with the birth of a son. In the past during festivals, “Jhumariyas used to sing and dance in the courtyard of each house… But they do not come now. They do not allow themselves to be called Dom (lower caste).” Different types of regular drumming by the Harijans. In the past there was the custom of scattering flowers in the month of Chaitra. More on festivals including the special foods prepared for Ujala Sankranti which “is celebrated as the festival of ancestors”.
Section 7-9  Description of food and activities associated with Diwali. Religious activities associated with the village fair. Description of Panchkosi pilgrimage. Story about the village deity and how and when he is worshipped The Harijans cannot go to the temple Earlier they wore woollen clothes but today wear cotton. Still wear a “belt” around their waist: “our back remains straight when we tie it, and does not hurt while working nor do we feel tired quickly… The woollen belt is very useful and convenient for bringing or carrying loads on the back.” Description of different jewellery
Section 10  Two children’s festivals that have now declined: one to do with grazing the cattle in the forest and another at the time of harvest. Worshipping the fields: “It is in the month of Chaitra. On that day sickle, pickaxe, spade, plough are taken to the field, cow-dung is taken in childe (baskets), a little bit of grain is put in a patha (a brass utensil for measuring grain), and leaves of panya tree are also taken along. All these are worshipped in the field; the earth is also worshipped with barley and sesame… On this day the Brahmin looks up the panchang (astrological calendar) and gives the forecast regarding the weather and produce for the coming year. We worship the fields for a good produce.” Sow barley to worship their goddess
Section 11-12  Alcohol: “In our time drinking liquor was considered very bad. Old men never used to drink, let alone the young. Once we heard that a liquor shop had opened, at that time we went to Tehri with Raturiji. We participated in the anti-liquor campaign... This campaign continued for a month, women even went to jail.” The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful in Uttarkashi. She regrets the demise of the joint family: “Earlier people liked living together; they would share everything amongst themselves. But now families separate right after marriage, they give everything to their wives [laughs]. Both in good and bad times joint families are better. Everything has changed now; people have become very selfish.” Recalls a flood 15 years ago.
Section 12  Recalls an earthquake in the last 15 years. “The tremors were so strong that we could not even walk; the trees were also shaking. It was 3 o’clock [am], we ran outside because the houses started collapsing.” She believes her family “were saved that day by the grace of God.” “From each family seven or eight members perished, some families were wiped out entirely. We shivered in the cold for many days… People from outside sent us help, sent us food… We cannot forget these incidents.” Different crops cultivated. Those without sufficient agricultural land “sell milk or do some job to earn their livelihood. Some people have their own shops in the village. Many are working in government service.”
Section 13  The taste of rice has changed: “People now hesitate to put cow dung manure in their fields because it requires a lot of hard work. We always used to put dung manure; grains used to taste good. But now many people have few animals, they do not have enough dung for all their fields. Therefore they use chemical fertilizers to increase their production. But the taste has declined.” Methods of storing seeds: “Now we put medicine (pesticide/insecticide) in the seeds. Even today some people store seeds after drying them in the sun and cleaning them, without using any medicine... Tobacco was put in wheat storage, we also used to put chilli so as to keep pests away from wheat...” Post-harvest activities. Collection of fodder and wood from the forest: girls go together in a group; leave early and return late.
Section 14  Recalls when she collected fodder in the forest: “We used to share and eat. It used to be wonderful. But these days everyone eats their own food if they take it along. We used to even sit together in the forest for some time, gossip and enjoy ourselves.” Land is divided amongst brothers: “If good fields are few then... A lottery is taken out by the panch or the elder of the house. In the lottery, the fields that come in their share is accepted, there are no conflicts… In this way land is fairly divided among all. Sometimes one person gets bad land but then no complaints are made. This is known as phogua.” Role of the panchayat: “The panch used to settle conflicts earlier, but not any more. They now settle small disputes or partition of fields. Some people go to the court. People have changed now, so they do not trust the panch. The panch allots turns for people to protect the fields from monkeys. Everyone has to go to watch and save the fields from monkeys…even today.” Most agricultural work is still done collectively: “We call working collectively padiyali (a specific time for mutual aid and collective work among village groups). We go in turns to each other’s house for transplanting, hoeing and weeding. Earlier everyone used to help even during construction of house, but now they don’t”
Section 15-16  Reason for decline in collective work: “Now people have jobs so they bring mules and Nepalese labour, they do everything.” Electricity has been in the village for the last 20 years. Even today children are born in the obara (lower storey room often used for livestock): “We consider a pregnant woman as impure so we do not let the whole house become impure… after five days…we distribute til and rice and bring the newborn and the mother in to sunlight.” Other customs and rituals following the birth. Arrangements for making/buying agricultural/domestic equipment. Water supply The forest has diminished for several reasons: the road and settlement for the Indo-Tibet Border Police and (pine) resin extraction, which weakens trees.
Section 17-18  Increase in the monkey population. Wild fruits from the forest: “Just as the forest has thinned down, likewise these plants have also reduced.” The panchayati (community) forest. Need for a watchman. Social change: “people had a lot of love for each other before, but not now. Now every person feels that he is more superior to the other.” Children have started going out and seeing the world, but women feel vulnerable to strangers in the forest: “ornaments have been snatched away.”
Section 19-20  Relationships within families have improved: “Now villagers treat their daughters-in-law as their own daughters.” The dowry system was not there before; people used to give grain or whatever they could afford. “Now in the girl’s marriage, daali (basket filled with dry fruits, sweets, fruits, clothes for the bride, jewellery etc) comes from the groom’s side. It is now seen what has come for the girl from her in-laws house and how much; it was not so before.” Then “After the girl’s marriage, within a year, in the month of Magh (January/February) we send kanda (small basket made of ringal) to the girl that contains clothes, arsa (dish made from rice flour) and cutlets. It is distributed throughout the entire village of the girl’s in-laws… it is sent all through their life.” Position of Harijans has improved. Interesting story from the time of the king’s regime. Brief description of funerals