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Adwani village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal


December 1993


This is a moving and interesting interview with a woman who has exhibited great strength of purpose and bravery in her life, but in her declining years feels sadly neglected and alone. Bachani lives with her co-wife and one son. She speaks of their husband’s death and their current situation: “The person who used to feed 50 people, who depended upon him, has died. Now without him we are of no use.” They struggle with day-to-day needs as supplies of fodder dwindle and fuel wood becomes harder to collect: “My condition is getting worse each day with the strain of climbing. But we have to fill our stomachs.” Throughout the interview Bachani reminds us of these current hardships and how she has to look after herself now despite her age. Her other sons have moved away: “Their work is far away in the towns, they are busy with their families.” Her story, among other things, illustrates the great changes brought about by education. She is illiterate, but her eight sons’ professions range from lawyer and doctor to bureaucrat. She also married her daughters to “educated men” and three of them have taken up studying.

Although Bachani feels isolated and relatively helpless now, it is clear she has been a great force for action and positive change in her life, despite social curbs on women and her own illiteracy. A significant part of the interview is her description of how she led the local Chipko movement to save the Adwani forest. She even fought against her own husband: “He was the major contractor and I was his enemy in this struggle.” People in the movement now, she says, barely acknowledge her: “They come sometimes, bring their walking sticks, hold their meetings and go away. Only I who opposed my husband know what it means to go through this.” She has since witnessed the negative impact of the road: “Now people come from far distant places. They cut grass and firewood, put it on the buses and take it away. The result is that there is a crisis for us.” Nevertheless, she firmly believes that everywhere deserves development: “…if the roads now reach those villages which have not got them, it is perfectly all right.”

Now, however, her age and the need for the two “old woman” to continue to farm and feed themselves means she no longer feels equal to the struggle to protect the forests: “Everything is over. Now I can’t go anywhere. I have become old... If you can do something I will pick up my stick and follow you. I can go with you, but first I have to fill my stomach.” Sadly, her account ends abruptly (the interviewer ran out of cassettes).

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Recounts community history. She married at the age of 13 and is one of two wives with 11 children between them. Feels neglected following the death of her husband; all but one son are busy with their own work and live elsewhere.
Section 3-5  She “cannot even read the alphabet… but all my granddaughters are studying.” Changing marriage patterns: “Nowadays people are marrying outside... Wherever our boys (sons) work, they find their daughters’ marriage partners there.” Bachani and her co-wife “do our work ourselves we two old women…Of course it is difficult, but we have to look after our stomachs. We take cow dung to the fields and bring back paddy.” Location of her fields (some irrigated, some not) types of crops, livestock.
Section 6-8  The state of the forests. Spearheaded local Chipko movement. “We struggled so hard for 12 years. I came out in front of everyone and hugged these trees” Dwindling of forest resources as a result of the road, built 16/17 years ago, allowing people from outside access to the forest. However, still believes everyone should be able to benefit from roads. Use of milk products in the household and selling remainder to “buy oil, sell sugar and tea.
Section 8-9  Tasks of the panchayat (village council). Cooperation in the community when marriages take place; people give free labour, not money, during these times. Disputes are settled by the five (male) leaders of the panchayat. Details of temples, deities worshipped, religious beliefs and customs observed. Yatra (pilgrimage): “Everyone believes in it. We have inherited this tradition from our elders. When the elders did it, we also followed them. Now that we are doing it, the younger generation is also following us.”
Section 12  Melas (fairs) held in the village and the traditional foods prepared. The importance of fairs in hardworking lives and isolated villages: “Melas (fairs) are for happiness and pleasure…people get together…wear new clothes, put money into their pockets and gather happily together. They get to meet many people.”
Section 12-15  She leads the village women’s organisation. The struggle to save the forest with the women of Chipko: “People came to cut the forest. But we flung our arms around the trees.” Despite her past efforts, says the Andolan (movement) people no longer speak to her: “I thought they might help me a little. Perhaps give me a little salt and oil. But they don't even speak to me now. Her motivation: “We protected the forests because we knew it would make our lives easier. We could get firewood, grass, we could keep livestock in peace.” The fight continues: “Even now we are fighting this battle.” Her fight for the forest: “I got the idea in my mind, and I got all the women together and explained it to them. I am illiterate. But… Everyone respected me in the village. People used to listen to me.”
Section 16-17  The forest’s resources. Dispute with husband was a cause of personal sadness but she was determined to carry on. She never went to jail as some women did.
Section 17-18  Now she is old, and no longer has the strength to lead. Still believes “We must save our forests”, especially as new roads allow easier access and more people are using up forest resources. Yet she feels helpless to stop this, and also feels neglected.
Section 18-19  Details of forest fires through carelessness, and village efforts to stop them. Village women mainly pick fallen wood for fuel but “sometimes out of sheer necessity we even cut the trees.” Medicinal plants from the forest used in the past but “...we now only go to the doctor for our illnesses.
Section 20-21  The young have little choice but to migrate: “At home even if you break your heart nothing comes up in the villages. When we can't fill our stomachs from farming, they go to the towns to earn.” However, she feels that the present generation still has to protect the forests. She is worried that, “When one by one everyone goes away, this village will become a wasteland.” The anti-liquor campaign.
Section 21  Sadness about the death of her husband: “... The whole village is full of people... But there is no one like one’s own husband.” Argues that “reading and writing doesn’t get you anywhere...” Physical needs predominate: “Hunger and the demands of the stomach are great.”
Section 22  Believes in development/facilities, “But trees and plants should be protected.” The pros and cons of the road –“people are stealing our grass and firewood and taking them away in buses.” But “Roads must be built. Everyone must have some comforts.” Her feelings about the Tehri dam and possible removal: “The spirit tells me that we must stay here, in our place, with our people.”
Section 23-24  Climate change in recent years: “The rain is lessening because the forests are being cut.” Bachani’s co-wife gives details of the 1991 earthquake and how she saw it as the work of spirits or gods. Speaks of god entering a person and communicating to people through him/her.