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head of Mahila Mangal Dal/farmer
Dargi village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal
Vimla Devi is from Dargi, one of the more remote areas in Chamba, 6 km from the main road. It was settled by migrants from Kot who continue to live there. She was widowed at 30 and speaks of the travails of single motherhood: “I have faced a lot of sorrow and difficulty. Now, it is a very long story.” She could not afford to educate her children, which she feels disadvantaged them since "nowadays it is the era of the educated". She also talks about development and technology, stressing the benefits of a balanced environment and traditional methods, and explaining that there was an abundance of natural resources before development set in: “Nowadays, people say it is the era of progress, but according to me, this is an age of destruction.” She feels that this shows itself in the growing shortage of rainfall, fodder and food. She is not impressed by new crops, such as soyabean.
She expresses concern about educated youth leaving the village and families being split as a result of economic migration. Tracing her own life and involvement with Chipko (forest protection movement) and the Mahila Mangal Dal (rural women’s council), she again stresses the value of education: “They believe in it, but even then what is there in the belief of the uneducated? What if we make a noise in the village? Our voice does not go out.”
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||History of her community. Originally from Said Koti, they still retain ties.
Widowed young, she had difficulty bringing up her children: “I did not have the means to feed my children’s stomachs and mine. So educating them was too far from my reach.” Believes both boys and girls should be educated -“Through education, all troubles end” - and is educating her grandchildren. Her sons, without much schooling, had to become manual labourers.
||Earlier the main occupation was farming, but “now there is nothing, people are doing [waged] labour and eating”. Often this means leaving the village.Irrigation a problem with dwindling rains. “This is our situation. Not only ours, this is the situation of our country.”
Her family grows only one monsoon crop a year.
||Deforestation and lack of rain – less fodder for cattle.
Before, plenty of livestock: “Now, with great difficulty, every family has one buffalo.”
Fodder gained from the government-owned forests and also panchayati forests. Also use straw from cereals grown. No milk surplus and so no ghee or milk to sell.
Cattle rearing in decline. The young see education as the key to development. “But instead of any development taking place, once they are educated they run away from here” and settle in urban areas. “Then how will the development of this place occur?”
Developers with money are coming up to the Garhwal region -“And our people are running down for money!”
||Family members separated as men migrate to urban centres in search of waged work. “Then…when one is sad, we can’t see them, and when one is happy about something we can’t share it.”
Farming patterns have changed with lack of rain, as have attitudes. “Now people are more business-minded. People don't give importance to farming any longer. Our ancestors’ farms have now got divided by the families.” Some families have enough land only for vegetables.
Grains grown on family plots no longer sufficient for family needs. She feels work standards have dropped and migration has lowered living conditions.
||Lack of rainfall linked to deforestation: “We don’t have the knowledge but our experience is that in the absence of forests, rains don’t occur… The forests have been badly cut [by contractors], small plants have been crushed and have been destroyed, so the forests came to an end naturally.” Resulting loss of ground water and increased soil erosion. Springs have dried up.
“Nowadays, people say it is the era of progress, but according to me, this is the age of destruction.” Villagers used to use only dry wood for fodder, but due to the forest contractors there is no dry wood left so “now, when there is nothing in the forest, we get raw wood for burning by breaking the rules. For this reason alone, the forests are degrading.”
“I think that instead of saving the little [forest] that is left, we should plant more.”
||Distrusts tap water - can't tell what’s in it - and considers spring water a source of strength “because it was from plants”.
Used to have more dairy products and fresh spring water. “People of today are hollow. They don’t have strength.”
||Government development projects: “I don’t see any use of these schemes.” Local people take stones from the check dams - “we are destroying them”. Explains that “After getting the work done, the government doesn't even ask. What is given is given. It is gone. Our fault is that we don't know how to use it.”
Suggests that planting shrubs and grasses could help stop soil erosion.
||Has been president of the Mahila Mangal Dal for 10 years - collective activities like building nurseries and roads etc. Fears that their influence on the community is limited, because no one believes the uneducated. “What if we make a noise in the village? Our voice does not go out.”
Need for literacy schemes for women.
||Seeds given for a tree nursery by Sarvodaya and ‘Trees for life’.
Villagers cooperate for events such as marriages, to help with arrangements.
||Although there are temples and ancient stones to mark holy sites, the religious hierarchy dictates that the villagers do not conduct any of the ceremonies. They only provide offerings (of grain).
Most families belong to the Negi caste; also 150 Brahmin families.
In the past melas (fairs) helped people keep in touch; now people are less isolated “they are roaming about every day, so who would like the melas?”
Status of Harijans, one family in village; “The people earlier used to oppress them. But now, when the government has given equal rights to everybody, a change is certain.”
||The women of the Chipko movement saved the trees in Pantnagar and Lohita. “Our people are stopping outsiders but they themselves are cutting the forests.” Need for collective thinking and action to save the forests and plant trees.
Harmful effect of large dams – erosion and landslips destroy farmland. A new road has reduced travel time but destroyed forests: “The farms have gone and everything has become barren.” Also “miscreants” have come to the village.
New cement houses are cold.
The agriculture settlement set up in Pantnagar has brought “only harm, no benefit, because our forests have gone and we can't walk about alone.” It hasn’t given the villagers any seed/livestock/technical knowledge: “For us, our ancestor's methods alone were right. We are farming by our old methods only. We are sowing the same seeds.” Introduction of soyabean. Not considered as versatile as the old crops and has, in her view, reduced soil fertility.
||The Mahila Mangal Dal’s work on the anti-alcohol campaign. They have spoken out against brewing and sale of alcohol “but who will listen to us in the village?”
Many voluntary organisations but these “haven’t done much” – no new ideas or information. Mahila Mangal Dal given seed by the Sarvodaya organisation, but were suspicious due to lack of information.
Sarvodaya recommend rearing Angora rabbits, but no other assistance was forthcoming.
“Trees For Life” helped make a rainwater tank “but it wasn’t made properly”.
Lack of fuel wood (government restrictions). Gobar gas (from cow-dung) being promoted but people no longer have enough cattle for this.
Doesn’t like change to using pressure cookers: “Where is that taste in the pressure cooker dal?”
||Tehri Dam: “In my view, this large dam will be the cause of destruction one day.”
It will displace people from their traditional homelands.
Pantnagar (the agricultural institution) established “not for our progress but for our destruction”.
||In favour of women’s education: “I think that those who are less educated have become indifferent, but those who are educated have not lost the sense of belonging.”
The need for unity: “Dargi can become an ideal village when everyone becomes one, when even those who have done wrong are included in the community....”
Need for schools near the village and collective action to build water tanks and plant trees, using traditional methods. “We know much more about planting trees, plants and so on than [the Pantnagar centre] do. We are not ready to abandon our methods.”
Argues that “this is an age of fashion.” in which the government ensures TVs and cars are cheaper. “What do we do with a car? There should be a discount on wheat, which we eat.”
Overpopulation and the strain on food and water distribution.
||Says her strength saw her and the children through hard times: “When a person suffers a blow, they automatically get strength and courage. The more help a person gets, the more his courage declines. No one acquires wisdom through comfort.” Importance of education: “I was in a way blind as I was uneducated.”
Against migration of the young to the cities: “Those who lack courage are the ones who are running away.”