photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
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GLOSSARY
India glossary

Bihari

(INDIA 12)

Sex

male

Age

60s

Occupation

leader of grassroots organisation

Location

Budakedar, Balganga valley, Tehri Garhwal

Date

March 1994

 

transcript

Section 1
Are you native to this place or have you migrated from somewhere else?
We are native to this place. It was only later that others came here to settle down. We do not know from where we have come or when we came here. It is believed that we and the priests, that is the naths (?), are the natives of this place. The history of this place is to be found in our cremation ground. This establishes our identity as natives of this area. Our cremation ground is to be found where Balganga and Dharamganga meet, at the sangam (confluence) of these rivers, which is known as Dharmaprayag. Our cremation ground has been at that spot always, which confirms that we are the natives of this place. If this were not so then the influential people here or people from other races would have had their cremation ground at the sangam. However this is not so; the cremation ground is ours hence we are the natives of this place. It was only after we had settled here that the other races came here and slowly their cremation grounds started to spread between the sangam and this place (the ashram place for religious retreat). People from all castes and creeds have their cremation grounds here and it is only after seeing these that we can establish which race came from where and when.

Did the priests settle here first or your people?
It cannot be confirmed from the cremation ground if we came here first or our priests. The community of priests is also distributed in two different classes here. One class of priests are the high caste priests and the others belong to the low castes. Earlier these priests would not encourage relationships with each other, but now everything happens here.
Even in the priestly caste there is one caste of Harijan (low caste) or untouchables, and the other is the high caste priests. The priests of the high castes conducted prayers in the temples. When they died their samadhis (memorial edifices) were constructed in the vicinity of the temple. However, the samadhi of the Harijan priests would be behind a dharmashala (rest house). And the samadhis of all the other races would be where our samadhis are constructed.

Do tell us something about the geographical features of this place.
We get substantial information from the Kedar Khand of the Skand Purana (ancient scriptures written in verse. The Skand Purana is one of 18 puranas). It is believed that Lord Shiva considered this place to be of great importance. This place touches Uttarkashi. There is a region, which joins this place and Uttarkashi, starting in the north-east, extends northward, and then turns west. This semi-circular region or chain of mountains is called the Balkhilaya mountains. The Balkhilaya mountains end at the Kuteti mountain of the Uttarkashi mountain range. The earthquake which took place at Uttarkashi in 1991, originated to the south of this chain of mountains, at a place called Belak which was the epicentre of the earthquake. To the west of this is the Materi village, and other villages. The eastern slope has the village of Budhakedar. Towards the north of these Balkhilaya mountains are the Sahasra lakes, a region of many lakes, although it has not been determined just how many lakes there are. An amazing fact to be seen here is that where one peak rises to meet another peak, the gap created between them forms a lake. Wherever the water collects at this place a lake is created, and in this way the number of lakes increases. There are countless lakes here, and since it is almost impossible to reach this place it is not possible to determine how many lakes there are.
The peaks are interspersed with rolling fields called bugyal (meadows), and the earth is soft and spongy, and it hosts innumerable flowers. Many different kinds of herbs and roots are also to be found here. However, now these are also becoming rare as outsiders have been randomly collecting them. The roots and herbs that naturally used to grow here are giving way to thorny bushes and grass.
Below Sahasra tal (lake) is the adjoining Balkhilaya mountain, beyond which is Pinsuwad. If we move forward, towards the west is the mountain called Bangiriv. Two mountain chains emerge from it; one goes towards Uttarkashi and the other goes to the southwest - that is to Piths and Khait Mahalai. The peak in front of our ashram is called Apsaragiri. It is believed that Menaka (a legendary celestial fairy) performed penance over here. In some places importance is given to Bhardi and at others to Andhari and other fairies. The river that rises here is named after Menaka. Our ashram stands where the rivers Menaka and Balkhilaya meet. It is believed that another underground river also meets these two rivers here.
To the west is the Yakshagiri mountain. There are many lakes here. Some have water while the others do not have water in them. Lakes like Mandai have water in them. Devotees come here to see and pay homage. There is a chain of mountains here. There are many rocky mountains here, each with its own history. From the centre of the southwest a mountain range emerges, which is called Brighu mountain. It is believed that the Bhrigu treasure of astrological findings are buried here but no one has been able to fathom how deep - or where - it is.
There is a mountain between Balganga and Dharamganga. This is called the Dharmagiri. A king by the name of Dharmagiri performed penance here, and the mountain is named after him. The lake Sartal is on the mountain. Dharmaprayag is situated at the meeting point of Dharmaganga and Balganga.
Section 2
What is the significance of Budha Kedar?
The significance of this place is linked to Lord Shiva. It is written in the Skand Purana that thousands of Shiva linga (stone symbol of the god Shiva) are immersed in the rivers over here. Hence it is believed that every stone of these rivers is a Shiva linga. Our strip of land is called Thati. Towards the east is the Basar strip of land. Ba means outside and sar means lake. So, the meaning is the lake, which is outside.
Here the glory is the Shiva temple. It is a ridge of temples and is a place of curiosity. That is why Budha Kedar is believed to be in the image of Shiva. The temples over here are a means of livelihood for the local people. Priests from both the communities, with about 20-25 families who are settled here, perform puja (prayer ritual) here. The people visit this place with the aim of paying homage and to see these temples. People from other communities who are settled here, and not connected directly with the temple earn their livelihood in an indirect way from these temples. Some settlers help the visitors to come up here from Mandis, as they find it difficult to walk up here. There is provision for people to have tea and milk while coming here; these arrangements have been made by people from other communities.
The main occupation of the people here is agriculture and looking after the cattle. From the cattle we get milk, curds and ghee (clarified butter) etc, which also gives us business. People here are labourers also, and the hotel business is another means of livelihood. Earlier people used to do all kinds of jobs but since the development of transportation many people have lost their businesses. Earlier, pilgrims used to come through the villages but now with the road the people are losing their means of earning money.
At first the people here were self sufficient because the means of transport were not there, so they felt that wheat, rice, pulses, etc should be grown here only as an occupation for themselves. They were, therefore, fully dependent on agriculture. They also kept sheep. Even cloth was produced by each household for their own use. Right from the spinning to the stitching of the garment, was undertaken in each household. However, all this is finished now. When it used to snow on the peaks we used to shave the wool from the sheep and goats. We used to do carving also in our homes. However all this has now disappeared with the passage of time. All these household activities, which were our main livelihood, are dead. Slowly, looking after sheep, which was our main occupation, has stopped, because there were not enough facilities for carding (process of preparing wool fibres for spinning, using a perforated plate/card as a guide).
We are now trying for more facilities and technical expertise through a Technical Institution at Ranichauri whose president is Radha Behn (Radha Bhatt, a Gandhian social worker who heads the Lakshmi Ashram, Kausani, in Kumaon). In Delhi also there is an institute for this. We had sent one of our friends abroad to learn and get training for operating carding machines. He is now back. Now our main problem is obtaining card leather. We are trying to get it from Delhi and our efforts have paid off up to 90%. At present we have to import card cloth from abroad and the machine is about Rs 2000. If we make the card cloth here then we will sell the machine at Rs 1000. Then anybody would buy this wool-making machine at that price. When we import these from abroad we have to pay customs duty, hence the price is expensive.
Section 3
How has the self-sufficient village economy broken up?
Our vision and imagination for development is not clear. What are our needs and requirements, and do we have them? We have not dwelt on these. Our basic requirements are firstly food, second clothes and third shelter, and fourth and fifth are importance and result of upbringing. Whatever production is undertaken it is done with the aim of earning maximum money. This aim cannot be accomplished from agricultural produce. This is not possible even by doing spinning, weaving or woollen industry, neither can we hope to achieve a life of fame. One cannot become rich by producing or growing things for man's basic needs. He cannot have a life of comfort and cannot have TV etc. Nowadays, however, man has only one aim; to have such luxuries and to earn maximum money. This is what is called development now.
Section 4
What according to you should be the ideal for the development of our society?
Today as man is doing intensive study he is making some progress towards development. Earlier we used to grow koda and jhangora (varieties of millet) and we used to think that we were getting nutritious food. Similarly we were satisfied with our clothes. Today we have the problem of environment looming large over us. If we do not include environment in our lives and make it important, then from the point of view of life it has no meaning.
If we connect environment with our daily lives then from the perspective of economics we can become self-sufficient. To safeguard the environment we can grow cotton here. We can grow a good variety of cotton called the tree-cotton. This lasts for many years and from the point of view of self-sufficiency it is useful. Also, up to the height of 6000 ft. we can have farms of tussar (silk). You can cultivate it in civil forests or on our own farms. And in the Reserve Forest why can't we cultivate tussar in one beet area (land measurement) and then leave it for five to ten years? This way even the people will get to know how the variety of trees which are destroyed are really linked to our lives. This way we can cultivate tussar. Mulberry is grown here. Silk can be obtained from [the worms which live on mulberry trees]. Its branches are long. They can be used to make baskets. The leaves are useful for sheep and cattle as fodder, and moreover silk can be produced. Castor is also found here. Thus self-sufficiency in cloth, and preserving the environment can go hand in hand.
From the point of view of housing also we can tackle many problems. Today on van panchayat (community forest) land there is encroachment of the civil forestry division. The fertile land has become uncultivable or fallow. People are encroaching on the civil forests also. They are leaving their own land and building houses in the area of the civil forest. This forest is almost destroyed now, and people are moving toward the Reserve Forest. The Forest Department has now made a provision whereby we cannot cut trees even on own farms. Earlier, if we obtained a certificate from the village registrar that a certain tree was on our land, then through the District Magistrate we would get an answer in a month and if the reply did not come then we would cut the tree anyway after a period of one month. However, now we cannot do this. Even if our houses require repairs we cannot cut trees to repair it. People cut the trees at night anyway. Whenever they require wood, they cut a branch and leave the tree there only. The carpenters also cannot start their own business now. This is because they cannot run a business on stolen wood. The carpenters are out of work. The government also does not give them wood. So we are not self-dependent anymore in making our own houses.

The tradition of wood carving from our Garhwal region has disappeared. Why?
Today it is as if houses are made overnight. Earlier the carvings would take years. The carving was done of thuner (yew) wood. Today, when wood is not available, and even if we have wood lying on our own land, then the forest officer comes to arrest us, and asks us why the wood is lying here and from where have we obtained it. It is difficult to get wood from outside. To get wood from the forest officer is extremely difficult. We have to first give him money. And to give him money is very difficult - when is it to be given? And to whom is to be given? Now it is very difficult to keep wood spread out on in our own compound, and if this is not done then how is one to carve it? Moreover, things made by hand become very expensive, thus carving is an expensive art and slowly it is disappearing.
To achieve self-sufficiency one has to prevent goods coming in from outside, and at the same time one has to enthuse the people and make it a prestige issue for them to earn their own livelihood. We have to think of self-sufficiency by keeping supply and demand in mind. Like earlier on, people would grow ramdana (amaranth), potatoes; they would have cattle and sheep and thus have ghee (clarified butter), they would make baskets out of ringal (mountain cane) and then take all their produce to the plains. They (the plains people) would buy this stuff and trade with rice, dal (lentils) etc - whatever was not available here. This way in a reciprocal manner, self-sufficiency can be developed. This is the only way for growth and development.
Section 5
Is there a change in whatever our ancestors were doing in the traditional style?
Change is a law of nature, which was bound to come as the nature of the work of the people has changed. It did not matter who the person was - people worked together. If a person was a farmer it made no difference. The others all helped to complete his work. Today also this is the system here. If someone was constructing a house, regardless of his status, people would help in getting padhale (slate) and wood. People did not like to work as labourers at that time. However, today people have no work and are on the roads. Earlier women did not work as labourers but now even they are on the roads working as labourers. There is a change in the basic values. Earlier, women were looked upon with prestige and reverence but now even they have to do manual labour.
People used to join the armed forces from the hill regions but now their ratio is reduced. Now the ratio has increased in the hotels and instead of protecting our frontiers people are busy making money. The women used to pay more attention to farms and cattle but now this is not so. The people here have broken their connection with farms and cattle and have settled in the plains. Their farms are lying waste and fallow. These are the types of changes that are taking place here.

What are the repercussions on society due to these changes?
People think that money is the most important factor, and they believe that a person who works hard has a lower status in society. A person who shirks work is respected more.

What is the status of the women in society? What is the difference between the olden days and now?
Earlier, the condition of women was pitiable; this was due to various reasons. When I was returning to my village after completing my education, I saw about 15-20 girls who were discussing that the girls from Sircot are very lucky because they can jump off (commit suicide) whenever they quarrel with their mothers-in-law or anybody else. From this incidence one can understand their pitiable condition. Men used to have more than one wife so that multifarious jobs could be completed easily - someone would look after the farm and someone would look after the cattle. In short they were treated like servants. If there was a widow in the village she did not even have the right to sell off her own land. They would take her plough and not let her sell it. She could not sell anything, and today also it is the same.
Section 6
What is the reason for this pitiable condition and will there be a change in this?
The problem of women is only in name, which I don't view separately, although there has been some conflict on the topic of problems of women. The women should get together from time to time - not due to the problem of liquor but for devotional songs and prayers, sports, to celebrate a special occasion - and then on these occasions try to solve the problems of society. We have 52% women and some children and some men who do not consume liquor. Then how is it that the drunkards seem to be more? They seem to be more in number because we can see them on the streets. We should all rally together and make more noise, so that antisocial elements get suppressed. Earlier, sports meets used to be organised in the village. We have to motivate them even now, so that the children are kept away from antisocial elements. In this also women should come forward.

Earlier there was a method in development, but now with roads being constructed, development thinking has changed. How has this affected the mental attitude of the people?
In reality, the greatest irony is that when we meet for women's welfare and youth welfare, the people complain that there are no roads, no schools and no hospitals. People believe that if there are roads in the village development has taken place, if a school has opened then development has taken place. What is the direct benefit of having a road in our village, and how does it affect development? People do not have a straight answer to this or a vision. The people here are connected not with roads but with their forests. Every day women go to gather wood on the Brighu mountain. We have not heard from any women's welfare organisation that a road should be made over there. The only convenience that should be available is one by which we can go there [to the forests] easily. This is only hearsay which they repeat, that since that village has a road, we should have one too. We, the people of Gongarh have been asking for a road time and again. However, I say how will a road at Gongarh benefit the people? It is not going to be of some loss only to us. The grass will go, the trees will go, the stone will go from our village. On the other hand we can grow good vegetables, fruits and make baskets etc from ringal, make various things and also use colourful stone in handicraft and sell them to other places. However if we do not do anything then having roads here are of no significance.
Everyone wants a hospital here. Till today women have not talked of reverence for mother (motherland). People think that if there is a school the children would study and they feel if the children have studied in a school how can they do manual labour, how can they work with a plough, how can they look after cattle? And, therefore, in my opinion there is no place for hospitals and roads in the development of a place. If the children have respect for their mothers or motherland then there is a possibility for development. What is required is learning new techniques of agriculture, how to grow more on our land, how to get seeds of good quality. All this, in my opinion, is love for the motherland.
There are some organisations which are making efforts in the field of development like the Himalayan Island Mission, Bhuvaneshwari Ashram, etc. They go from village to village and give medicine to the people at reasonable rates, but people think that this medicine is of no value. The people of Budha Kedar believe that good doctors are in Chamiyala, and people of Chamiyala believe that a good doctor is at Ghansali. We have to make the people believe that roads are important to us. But besides that we have to do something that will really help with the development of this place. Only this way can there be an awakening in the people.
Section 7
What is your opinion regarding Tehri Dam?
India is a country of villages, and for a country of villages there has to be such an arrangement by which the country can progress, and this can be achieved by a system of development at the village level, which alone will be powerful development. Even if this development is achieved, then we can believe in achievement, and big projects will have to be thoroughly thought about and discussed. At the same time we are talking of Panchayat Raj (panchayat administration). I therefore have misgivings about bringing big projects to our village, which may be of dubious value by the law of averages. So I feel that smaller projects would be more welcome, projects which can be run easily.
Also, if we can take care of our own economics, then even if the building of the Tehri Dam causes us any harm we will not worry about it. However, it is to be judged how it is going to help the nation. If it is going to help the cities then we do have to think of the increasing population. For the youth to move to the city from the place of their birth is not a very healthy situation. That we should uproot the people from the villages and settle them in the towns is not a very good policy. In this situation it is not wise to drown a region and all our culture and civilisation, especially when we have just suffered an earthquake of 6.1 magnitude. All the mountains that you are seeing around you have huge cracks in them due to the earthquake. In this situation is it wise to build a dam here?
We cannot ignore the calculations of mathematicians, but the farms that you see in front of you were developed by someone and are still in good condition. But the walls that are made of cement have large cracks in them. From this one cannot judge if a big project like this would be successful or not. If the dam is damaged then the entire Ganga valley culture would be destroyed, and this would be a big crime. Will the destruction of this place help the nation at all? In my opinion weighed from any angle the construction of Tehri Dam is not of any use to anybody.
Uttarakhand is also showing unrest, and in this situation we say that wanting a separate Uttarakhand is also going towards destruction. If it has to be built in valleys then Garhwal has a lot of other valleys and if all of these are destroyed then where are you going to make a hill state? Some people are working towards this also, but their way of working is not for the betterment of the people. We should put before the people the good points and shortcomings of the Tehri Dam, and if the people feel that there is some substance in what we are saying then we should press this movement forward. People should understand this that not only the Tehri Dam but all other big projects like this are harmful for us. People should be made to focus on this problem.
Section 8
How do you feel that people should be asked to focus on this problem?
Uttarakhand has many societies as well as organisations and the people are quite aware. They can each work in their own places and should move the people towards a movement.

You were telling me about the demoralisation of people after the earthquake. Could you tell me some more about this?
The earthquake brought to us more mishaps than what one encounters in everyday life. To see so many people dead was devastating. Houses were destroyed, but we can re-construct them. We are not upset over those problems. However what upset us was the fall in human values. This was observed from both sides, that is, from the injured and the people who had come to help. This affected the character of the people most. People came on the streets literally and showed concern only for self-interest. People forgot all decorum and fellow feeling.

The government wants to include women in panchayati raj and village self - administration. Do you think the women will benefit from this?
I do not feel that this reservation holds any weight, because no woman has been a panch (sitting on the panchayat) and you want to make her a president of an organisation. By the time she learns to do this, you will create reservation elsewhere. How can development take place like this, where women are concerned? We have to make the women economically independent, and by this process we will be able to get rid of negative feelings in the women.

Will our male dominated society accept a women president to head them?
This is the helplessness of a man, which he will have to accept.

What is your idea of development from the point of view of a healthy village?
In my opinion a healthy village must have good organisation and the necessities of life, and work must be done towards achieving this. In our daily requirements of food we have to be self-sufficient. By way of clothing also we should be self-sufficient- keeping in view our region and the organisations available to us. If we are not self-sufficient individually or village-wise then we should be reciprocally self-sufficient in this particular region. Housing should also be of small stones rather than of cement, especially in those villages which have cement control. We should have small-scale industry keeping in view the forests and the agriculture background. The regions which have herbs and medicinal plants peculiar to their region should be encouraged to grow them. Also, we should give new stimulus to the growing of ringal. It should be given a new form so that more and more people are employed. The women should emerge stronger with various activities. Men and women have to work together and that is what industry should be able to provide. Education should not be bookish, but such that they would be able to earn a living. This is the type of ideal I have in my mind.