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shop keeper/ farmer


Khumera, Mandakini valley, Chamoli


February 1994


Mahesha’s family have lived in his village for 10 generations, and he knows much about the village’s history. Throughout the interview he recalls community life in the past and compares it to the present day. He talks of the community's history, its collective activities (and changes therein) and its religious role (it was on a pilgrimage route, which brought trade and prosperity). He describes how the panchayati bhandar (traditional village grain store) in the past acted as a form of food security and as a bank: “The main objective behind the system was to have enough stored for emergencies and famine and increase the funds of the village.” He sees both good and bad in the changes which time has brought: better health, more opportunities if you have money, but poorer social relationships and community spirit.

In the past people were more concerned with livestock and agriculture and Mahesha explains how everything depended on the forest; “The village depends on the forest. The forest has moisture, when there is moisture there is hummus and pathela (dry leaves) and if there is humus and pathela you can keep cattle and they produce dung, which increases the productivity of the fields.

At the end of the interview, Mahesha hints at the spiritual and cultural significance of the forests and mountains. Expressing his thoughts about a planned road he says, “This region of Saunla is a forest associated with our culture, it is the region of the Thakur (principal deity) of this land. Neither should the road go through here nor should the forest be cut.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Family background and village history. The village is “well known for religious or cultural reasons.” However it “is gradually becoming full of unbelievers” and the temple has been burgled and neglected. Breakdown of social relationships: “Today there is a complete lack of trust between people in the village”. Bribery and corruption have resulted in the loss of forest and grazing land.
Section 2-3  More schools now, but no real rise in educational achievement. Teachers “have no concern for the future of the students”. However parents also have a responsibility to give children proper attention, and officials to “encourage good teachers and punish the bad ones.”
Section 3-4  Former self-sufficiency based on agriculture. Soil erosion is now a problem, and there is a lack of concern with farming. Fewer livestock now, so less dung to fertilise fields. Recent introduction of chemical fertiliser but no training on its proper use. There are “some improvements” today: better hygiene and health. Detailed description of former “panchayat” (village council) system and collective decisions. Former “bhandar” - grain store/bank – and the rules for depositing and borrowing grain.
Section 5  Panchayat was responsible for organising rituals and forestry work. Benefits of collective labour in the past, eg construction of community buildings. The primary school was built in “a mere 18 days” due to participation of “people of different castes in our village and they all contributed to finish the work very fast.” People have too much of a “sense of self-importance” today - they neither ask for nor give help so readily. Role of the forest.
Section 6  The past system of inter-village co-operation. Describes yatra (journey) of village deity and customs linked to pilgrimage.
Section 7  Describes begar (forced labour) system as “hateful”. “On the inside, our food and lifestyle were fine but on the outside we were slaves”. Role of pradhan (village headman) then. Seems to be saying that administratively things were good then and pradhan was local and understood situations; “the system was all right but it was, after all, slavery”. Importance of money nowadays: “…this is the age of freedom. Today, if somebody has money he can do anything at all, even commit a murder.” Changes in diet. Former availability of “vegetables and fruits…in the forest
Section 8  Ending of “untouchability”. Improvements in women's condition. Comments on marriage. In past pressure was on groom to come up with land, good economic prospects; now the pressure is on bride's family (dowry). He feels neither is right: “there should be neither give nor take”. Different castes in village.
Section 9  Advantages of being on pilgrimage route, local industry/craft etc. Discusses bad effects of new bazaar: “Now there is alcohol in every house.” Believes alcohol is to blame for much of today's loss of collective spirit.
Section 9-10  Feels no one would listen to his views now. Roads are going to be built through the nearby forest, destroying not only a natural resource but a place of local cultural and spiritual significance.