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This is a long interview covering the narrator’s life history and several wider issues in considerable detail. It is remarkably rich in terms of local detail and personal reflection. Inayat currently lives and works in Islamabad but maintains regular contact and involvement with his community. He is an active and key member of the Shimshal Nature Trust (SNT).
The interview begins with a detailed account of his family and growing up. Inayat’s father is a mason and a specialist in Wakhi songs. His mother comes from Moorkhon which, when they got married, was five days walk from Shimshal. Both his mother and father like to work voluntarily for the community – a trait which Inayat has inherited as his involvement in the SNT illustrates.
Inayat recalls his childhood in Shimshal fondly: “I really loved it, that’s a very very good memory for me.” He attended secondary school in Gilgit and returned to Shimshal after failing his matriculation exams. He describes his confusion at how to deal with this return to his parents and community who had high expectations of him. The feeling of losing people’s respect prompted him to go to Karachi to continue with his education. He was able to attend college and university, encouraged by his parents and supported financially by his brother who was working in Karachi.
He describes the impact of a relationship with a group of Japanese students who visited Shimshal over a period of several years. This, together with their experience of studying outside forced several young Shimshalis to look at their community differently: “[It] really changed our perception of our own self, our own society. We started realising that actually we’ve got something, you know, that others don’t: beautiful nature, the Himalaya, the mountains, glaciers, that independence that most important thing that you can go about without fear.” Inayat also had the opportunity to visit Japan which enhanced his reflections on his own community.
He claims that the older generation felt that they were no longer being listened to by a younger generation who were migrating to the cities for education and employment. This led them to question whether their traditions were useless in a modern world. Inayat and others aimed to make others in the community value their community and traditions, rather than feel marginalised.
He describes in detail the development of the Khunjerab National Park and the threat this posed for Shimshalis and their agricultural and grazing lands, which they had been using sustainably for hundreds of years. The SNT came about in response to this threat, as a means to try to speak the same “language” as those promoting the park and explain Shimshal’s rationale for opposing it.
Throughout the interview there are interesting comments on social change, and on philosophies and ideas around development, education and identity.
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||Family background; four sisters and two brothers. One younger sister is “one of the first girls from Shimshal…to go out of Shimshal and study in the Aga Khan Academy.” Whereabouts of his family: “…my father and mother are both in the village with my eldest brother’s wife and all of us, we are out of Shimshal…or studying…”
||Describes his father’s masonry skills and activities: “…I have a very special feeling for my father’s profession, I really like that. That special smell I can feel from newly built houses or that feeling you know that a family shares when they construct a new house and move there.”
His father is regularly involved in community activities and his other speciality is that “he can sing the traditional Wakhi songs”.
The relationship with his mother’s family who are from Moorkhon.
Shimshal “you…was the richest in the area of Hunza. So we used to pay the maximum taxes…People felt proud to get relations with Shimshal.”
||As a child Inayat was obedient but outspoken.
The spring where women gather to collect water is known locally as “‘the radio station’…all the news will spread to the village from there…”
He’s the only one from his class to have graduated; others were more intelligent but couldn’t afford to continue their studies. His parents have always respected his desire to study and don’t pressure him to get married.
||Describes his first experience away from the village: aged 12 he went to Gilgit for his education. Only two out of eight Shimshalis passed 9th class; one was Inayat. But he failed his Matric (secondary school certificate) and returned to Shimshal: “…but that was a kind of shock because people had a lot of expectations …And that’s an age you know you don’t really understand what’s important…I…made this cricket bat for myself and I had a lot of boys with me, mostly those you know who failed.”
However, he soon decided to go to Karachi and continue his education.
||A Japanese graduate student and another Shimshali (Muzaffer) started a sort of exchange program. That, together with his experience in Karachi, helped him to see the beauty and value of this own village: “We started realising that actually we’ve got something…that others don’t: beautiful nature, the Himalaya, the mountains, glaciers, that independence …”
Discussions with the Japanese students helped as they were also struggling with thinking about their future. Worried about the pace of change in Shimshal: “we felt that we are unable to preserve things, we are unable to make people realise what their life is… Because you know this modernity, it looks so beautiful if you see it from outside: money; cars; cities; the beautiful lights and everything… but when you go inside… there is something lacking in the inside - real happiness, or awareness, or a satisfaction.”
At the time people were openly saying that their festivals and ceremonies were worthless: “we should finish them we should be modern.”
Image of Shimshal is changing because they’ve succeeded in making people feel proud of it. Community’s response to changes and the “gap between the younger and elder generations.”
||Inayat stayed involved with the Japanese exchange program throughout college and spent four months every year in Shimshal. He visited Japan “…So that really influenced my view of the world, and my view of life… it’s important to get all the modern facilities. But you know we should not forget the real values…which are the key to your happiness, spending a life in this hard and harsh nature.”
Realise that it would be best to cultivate awareness amongst the young: “If they can realise it from a very small age and they can learn how to respect their culture, and nature and their relationship with nature…”
||Irrelevance of standard school curriculum: “…they don’t mention…anything from your surroundings, they will talk about trains…they will talk about the aeroplane… we wanted to give them a look at how they can see their surroundings with their own eyes, with education.” Developed questionnaires for school students to collect data themselves (start of the Environmental Education Programme).
The Park: “…in 1974 almost 90% of Shimshal was demarcated as a National Park.” At that time people didn’t understand what a national park meant or “the consequences…on the community life, on our life.” In the late ’80s the government received a big grant for the park and decided to implement it in the Shimshal area. “..the community…for the first time felt a threat and they resisted it. But [they] couldn’t understand how to resist it… So they just opposed it and sent back some of the Park wardens…”
In 1995 WWF completed a management plan for Khunjerab National Park (KNP) and there was pressure on Shimshalis to bring their livestock out of the demarcated areas and vacate any agricultural land within this. Suddenly “it was just decided somewhere that this was a National Park and nobody came to Shimshal to analyse this thing to analyse what will be the consequence on people’s lives, what the people will do now...”
Pressure increased with visits to Shimshal from senior officials.
||A group of young educated Shimshalis decided that they should investigate the whole thing in more detail. They read many research papers and “we start rationalising things… we are not against nature conservation, we don’t have a concept of conservation but our concept of life is that we are a part of this nature and…we don’t have the concept of self here without this environment.”
More detail on thinking behind SNT: no evidence of wildlife being endangered in Shimshal area; Shimshalis have been living side-by-side with nature for 100s of years; suggestions that wildlife numbers had actually gone down in the existing KNP areas. But in Shimshal with no guards and no budget, wildlife numbers are stable.
Shimshalis “don’t hunt indiscriminately. There is a special system…it’s a pride to hunt the trophy ibex, the best one… And people share the game throughout the community and it’s usually hunted ceremonially. Or they are mostly hunted by the people who spend the whole winter [in Pamir] caring for the community’s yaks.”
||Carried out their own research and count of ibex and blue sheep and found numbers to be high compared to other areas in KNP.
Traditional rotational grazing system: “we have minimal land there and lot of livestock and we have to manage it otherwise there is not enough grass.” Decided that they needed to “inform the government and the people, organisations concerned with the nature that basically we don’t do anything damaging [to our surroundings].”
||Typifies city attitudes to the environment as consisting of an annual walk/demonstration. Need to work out how to make them understand Shimshalis’ concepts of the environment: “The way of social control here that it’s a mergachjai, a place of spirits, which means a lot to people and people have to respect that and that’s enough for controlling; we don’t require rewards and punishment or guns to control people about what’s wrong and right… But we have to address very different people who can’t understand our language, who can’t understand ourselves.”
Decided to articulate things in a formal way through the management plan.
||Success in stopping hunting: “…without reward… without punishment… without fear. They just decided that, that was a commitment to us and they keep that.”
Different organisations within SNT.
Shimshal Cultural Programme: it seems the aim is to record some of the community’s history which to date has been passed down orally.
Description of the skuins (extended family group, sub-group).
||13-14 festivals in Shimshal’s calendar. Description of some of these: Hoshigarm (hot soup festival), Nauroz (New Year festival celebrated on March 21), Tagam (sowing festival), Chaneer (harvest festival).
Importance of festivals: “…this is maybe the main thing which holds us together, we mentally prepare you know what is next now. And with every festival there is a game…”
||In the past the young used to gather with the elders to learn about history, family trees, and songs.
Interesting description of elders gathering around people’s fields as they plough: “they will gossip…they will talk about the history and everything. And we feel that group of people is very good, that they (the one ploughing their land) will feel really rich or very good, who have got a many old people who are sitting there, it looks very lively.”
Shimshal self-help development programme is based on the tradition of nomus: a family with access to resources will donate them and suggest some development activity that is needed, for example a path or a bridge. The donation is made in the name of someone, “the community will say something like that person’s trail that person’s bridge, that person’s animal fence…”
People are entitled to modern developments but the system of nomus can continue: “we should try to modernise it by prioritising the community’s need instead of just selecting an area without any proper planning …”
External funding required for certain development activities, ie protection of their wider environment, which has benefits beyond Shimshal.
||No compensation for people whose animals are killed by wild predators.
Starting a mountaineering school is an idea for a new source of income:
Vision for tourism is for it to “give a better income to the community as a whole. Otherwise, just working as a porter for companies …we don’t feel that will change people’s destiny here.”
Environmental Education Programme (EEP) initiated by a Japanese photojournalist, Hideki: “it’s a real source of pride for us. Last year, the students with the teachers, they have been to Gilgit and they presented to the government departments and all the NGOs. And when they presented it that was a real surprise for everybody.”
Dream of EEP students making some sort of international contribution.
Comment on identity: “If I talk about myself I feel I am talking about Shimshal; if I talk about Shimshal I feel I am talking about myself.”
||Women-in-development programme is inspired by modern concepts. Traditionally there are clear roles for women and men and there are also strong ideals for both.
Believes that discrimination happens when people don’t adjust to changes.
Example of how early marriage was to “save the society from social evils - that was a rational arrangement… Now things have been changing we feel in the cities that well we are getting married very late but there is no other arrangement but I mean still we have the strict system that there is no system of you know... girlfriend, before marriage...”
Concern for Shimshal’s “safe transition” during a period of relatively rapid change: “we are preparing for things…we should not forget everything. So for me, all these things I’ve been doing, or we are dreaming, been doing is just to acquire this safe transition.”
Personal feelings about SNT etc: “to a person from a small society it is worthy to live for, and it’s a worthy task to spend a life for... I like something I can contribute to…”
Interview ends as Inayat is called to a meeting.