photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 32)






Panchayat member


Netala village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi


January 1999



Section 1
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Maheshwari Bhatt. I have been elected as the member of the district panchayat from Netala.

I have heard that you had been the head of the previous five-year programme, at a time when there was no reservation for women. How did you get the inspiration to become the head?
I was elected because two such people stood for elections from here whom the public did not like. People themselves took my ticket, and campaigned for me, because there was no water here. There was a severe water shortage in this village. And when I got married I realised that there was a lack of sufficient struggle here. I gathered all the women. I was the secretary of the Mahila Mangal Dal (rural women’s council). In the capacity of a secretary, I did everything to get water and sent applications on behalf of the women to the District Magistrate. We held chakka-jams (stoppage of all transportation) saying that, “In this age of new technology development we are not even getting water. We are ages back. We cannot produce vegetables, we cannot cultivate land, we cannot clean our homes. Water is our life.” We struggled in this manner, and stopped the animals from damaging the crops. Thus, people had faith in me that I can work, and that is how they elected me to the post of the village head even though there was no reservation.

Prior to becoming the village head, how long had you served in the field of social work in the village?
I had done social work for five to seven years. As long as I was the secretary, I took up various little matters such as arranging for Ramlila (enactment of important Hindu epic) in the village, organising fairs, or when some officials came to the village, welcoming them, talking to them, honouring them. I did such work in the village. I was also the director for adult education here. The village women have various problems such as they are busy in the fields, so I used to run the classes for them at night, with the help of which I was able to educate them to some extent, like putting signatures, writing short letters. In this way I struggled with women, with the result that people had enough faith in me.

When you became the secretary or the head of the Mahila Mangal Dal, what was the role of your family in it? Your family, your husband?
The entire role was of my family. Had there been no role of the family, I wouldn’t have been able to cope up with the social work. My husband gave me full support. When I got married I had not even completed my high school. Then he made me complete my high school and intermediate. And for a couple of years I tried doing BA also. After that the public elected me as the village head, and my husband gave me the permission to go ahead. He inspired me for doing various things. He taught me how to sit, how to talk, how to behave in front of others. This role and encouragement was entirely his.
Section 2
Was there any other woman in the village, prior to you, in the field of social work?
Not in the panchayat (village council), but as the director of the Mahila Mangal Dal, women have been elected in the village before.

In your experience of 15-20 years of social work, what was the role of men? How did they feel in your, when you were elected?
During elections there are supporters as well as opposition. When I was elected, people wondered whether a woman can become a head? Can a woman do social work? They used to put a question mark. Can a woman go in a marriage procession or to cremate the dead? In their view, cremating or going as a guest in a marriage procession alone was social work. But we assured them that we can do everything. We are also humans. Perhaps being elected as a woman, I had to do all this work and show them. When I was elected as the head, I did all the work and tried to reassure people. And I hope I am not boasting, but I feel proud to say that I have done my level best for the development of the village. None of the men, prior to me, were able to do as much.

So, do the villagers agree that you have done good work? How did they express their happiness when you were elected as the head?
As far as the women are concerned, when I became the head, all the women gave me full support. So much so, that they were even ready to do my farming. When the earthquake rocked us the women said, “since your aid is not enough we are ready to cooperate with you. We shall support you, but you must not retreat from your work”.

When you contested for the election of the village head, how many people stood against you?
I had two opponents, one was the former head of the village, and another was the head of the resource cooperative society.

You won by how many votes?
At that time I won by 85 votes.

How many women members were there in the regional panchayat committee at that time?
I was the only women head in the entire district at that time. But there were two women social workers. Sometimes they came; sometimes they did not. And they never even thought it important to go and fulfil their role.

You were the only one-woman head in the entire district at that time. In your time, who helped you to understand the Panchayati Rajya (panchayat administration) Act and the complexities of law? How did you advance further?
Various meetings were held and we were also trained how to work according to the Panchayat Rajya Act. We were also given books with the help of which we implemented the panchayat rajya in its correct form.
Section 3
The panchayats were dominated mostly by men. At that time, did you have any difficulty in implementing the village plan/programmes or in getting a common agreement?
No, I did not face any difficulty. I had faith, I attended all the meetings, I used to sit with 59 other heads. I was the only woman but I never felt that I was different because I used to discuss with them continuously. I kept track of what they said in the same manner as they did. I used to get the problems solved there. The officials knew me, and I knew them as well. And I never even once thought that I was a woman. I used to sit with the men, like a man, and worked with them.

Which development programmes did you give preference to in your village?
I first of all gave preference to education in the village. We had a junior high school here. I made all efforts to upgrade it. As long as I did not accomplish it neither did I rest in peace, not did I let my officials. So much so, that I stayed on in Lucknow.

What other programmes did you give preference to regarding women or the general public?
I had to remove the thought from my mind that I was a woman, because the field in which I worked, both men and women had to sit and work together as equals. This village did not have a panchayat bhawan (community hall). During my tenure, the jawahar rojgar yojna (government employment scheme to provide daily wages for villagers) was implemented here, for which we were called to the ‘Block’ (next administration level above village). Our ‘Block’ is in Bhatwadi. We were imparted training there, what would be done, how an implementation committee would be formed. Some responsibilities were entrusted upon me to see that I would not be incompetent. When I came back home I thought that I would not work. Finance was involved. If there would be some muddle, aspersions would be caste on me. I kept on thinking the whole night whether I should work or not. In the morning, I realised that if I do not work, I shall become an example that women are incapable of working. Work under the jawahar rojgar yojna are being implemented in the village, but no transactions are being made. So there was no panchayat bhawan in this village. I, first of all, got the panchayat bhawan constructed in the village.

What was the attitude of the government officers towards your work? Or, as they say, commission has to be paid. Did it happen with you as well?
None of this ever happened in our office. We hear these days that commission has to be given. We used to work with total honesty, and the labourers working with spade, hammer or carrying mud and stones were duly paid. Everyone worked properly. We had the secretary as well as the regional committee, and it was necessary to work taking all of them into confidence.
Section 4
How did you decide what were the problems of the village? Or, what were the problems on which you had to work?
The head cannot decide this all alone. There is an open meeting. There are two meetings, one is khi and the other is kharip. In both these meetings, the proposal for the entire work is framed. On the basis of the priority, whatever work came first, was first done, according to the desire of the people.

Did the villagers take part in the general community work or people from outside were called to do it?
No we made the villagers do the work. People from outside have made no contribution in this. We got the work done by the village gram sabha (village assembly) members.

What was the attitude of your opponents towards your work?
The attitude of the opponents with me was the same as it is with the others, They opposed me in everything. But when people saw my work, then everyone supported me.

What changes did you see in the village during your nine-year tenure?
During my nine-year tenure, although I have seen a lot of change in the entire region, but in this village I saw that this time people were very excited to become the head. People think that becoming the head is very easy, roaming in the market, going here and there. Perhaps this is the only work. But they did not think deep, how many problems arise, how much one has to struggle. How many people you have to clash with and how many hardships one has to suffer. People have given little thought to this aspect; instead they are thinking to become the head.

You became the head when there was no reservation, and I have heard that afterwards, one seat was reserved for the women so that again a woman may be elected as the head. Did you not feel like becoming the head again?
No, I did not feel like because it is not a royal status. It is democracy. There should definitely be change and others should get an opportunity too, so that they can in practice see how many problems arise and learn how the work is done. Therefore, I did not want to become the head again.

In the present elections, with a reserved seat for women, how many women contested for the post of the head?
Four women contested for the election here.

Being the head what changes did you find within yourself? What did you feel inside? I have left my work etc…?
Change in me, its not the change in me. I did everything for the society with my heart, word and deed. I left my farming work in between, left my son with his father, and I came out of my house like an ascetic for the public, and even today I am. Even today I am the member of the district panchayat and do whatever work I can for the four or five villages. The women who are now being elected as the head have a shortcoming. They have been elected due to reservation, but they do not know what they are supposed to do. Some have the pressure of their husband, some of their son or brother. In this way they are like a deformed unit of this democracy.
Section 5
According to the government’s data of development, we feel that putting up a fence or construction of a road is the present form of development. And our old form such as agriculture, looking after cattle, the normal self-sufficient life, is gradually changing. What do you think? What kind of development should take place in the village?
Self-sufficiency should definitely be there. We can never become self-sufficient if we live relying on others. Since this region is cold, wood is required, farming has to be done, then we get rations from the shop, they also belong to some farmer - they did not drop from the heaven. Therefore, we should pay attention towards our agriculture and our animals. We should not shun our daily activities or the customs and traditions of the society completely. Such institutions must have been set up in the village by some intellectual person; we should live according to them. We must not cripple ourselves by depending for everything on the market. How long can we live depending upon others?

In this way, in order to make the village self-sufficient, what type of plans should be made? Are the present programmes appropriate or they require some change?
Changes are like afforestation, banning cutting of trees and new methods of agriculture, like our old jangosh (?), our crops have declined. A new type of manure is being used which has reduced the production of our pulses. Use of this manure has turned our soil acidic. We should keep alive our old patterns of agriculture so that our farming is not affected significantly.

In your time, when there were disputes in the village, how did you resolve them? If there was an argument at some point, how did you settle it?
By explaining and convincing the parties. Sometimes persuading one party and sometimes getting another to agree, and taking a written agreement from them so that they would have the fear of having given their consent in writing, so that their problems may be in the village itself resolved.

People of how many castes live in your village, and how do they live in the village?
People of many castes live in this village. There are Brahmins, Kshyatriyas, blacksmiths, carpenters, tradesmen. All types of people live in this village.

Do they live in harmony? How did they live before and what changes have set in gradually?
The change that has set in gradually, is that the love and unity among the people has decreased considerably, because the similarity between the people in the service and the unemployed is diminishing. People in service think that, “we have progressed a lot. What do the people staying in homes have? We have everything; every month we get something or the other. We have everything.” In this way people now have a feeling of superiority. People think that there is much more comfort in doing a job rather than doing household work (agriculture).

It has been heard, that in the mountain region, according to the arrangement of the classes in the society, people did their own work. Blacksmiths did his own work, Auji did the tailor’s work. What change has come in this arrangement?
The government has brought in changes. Like the government wants everyone to work and live alike, everyone should have similar life-style, eating habits. Because of it some people went to do some job. Even if he was a carpenter, he left his carpentry and is doing a job. There were Aujis in the village who played instruments, they have taken to some other work and left their traditional work. Now people are ready to leave their traditional work and prefer to pick up new work in order to feel more advanced. Will this lead us to development?
Section 6
What progress do you see in the field of education in the village? Has there been any progress particularly in women?
There has been considerable progress in the field of education. In today’s society, more and more girls are being educated. But as the government has made reservations for women, at the time of providing jobs, upper caste girls are given preference. If there is reservation, it should be for all. Like everyone should get reservation for education so that all benefit. Otherwise it will break all their hopes. For example, someone has done a BA, someone has done an MA, but still they are not getting jobs. They are carrying wood and fodder in the village. It makes them feel frustrated as well. Some people even torture them by saying that “you are well educated and still you are cutting grass with us.” In this way their will power also diminishes.

In addition to education, have they progressed in some vocational training also?
In vocational training, they also get a stipend, like knitting sweaters, stitching or embroidery. They can earn some money. These days various organisations have opened and women can now learn such work through these organisations as well. Like, in the village various D.W.C.R.B. programmes are going on, for the upliftment of women and development of children. Under this scheme women undertake various trainings and are benefiting.

How can the training for knitting and stitching benefit the people in the village?
It can benefit the villagers when the women work in groups and take orders for knitting sweaters for the schools or for the army. It can thus be beneficial. If a large order for knitting a thousand or two thousand sweaters comes, and it is made by one group, and sold through their medium as well, then it can be very beneficial.

Is there any group in the village which is ready to work if a large order comes?
There are organisations but no such groups of women in the village.

Which is the organisation that takes up such work?
There is one Himalika Rojgar Sansthan, and Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram also operates here.

What work have they done for the development of the women? Have they worked towards permanent employment, or provided training or resources for regular employment?
Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram has trained around 15 women in spinning wool, and working on looms, through which they are now earning their livelihood.
Section 7
Does alcohol prevail in this region?
Alcohol is prevalent in the whole world today. I think we cannot get rid of it.

What steps did you or your group take against this?
We have worked with our heart, word and deed against liquor. But no one listens to us. We don’t know what to do.

Did you ever stir a movement against liquor so that people agree with you or some other such effort?
People don’t take part in the movement as such, but they do protest. We made a big attempt last March. We locked the liquor shops, took out rallies and processions, did various things to change their thinking. We organised small meetings in various villages, made a slogan – ‘move towards the village’. But the most disheartening fact was, that the wives of the men who drank (alcohol), never took part in the meetings. We don’t know why they scared them so much. They did not want the liquor to be banned.

Tell us your experience about the liquor movement. Or who participated in it and who didn’t?
Women work according to the thoughts of others, some works according to their own belief. Illiterate women work according to what others say. Some women, who are leaders, take money and then get strayed. But the women, with strong conviction, who believed that there should be a movement, it would benefit us, such women gave us a lot of support. There is rural life in the village. When land was leased for farming, they could not come to work. Women are the backbone of agriculture. Men sit on the roads in the hills, play cards, gamble and drink. Women do everything. They take part in movements also. They work, look after the household, everything is done by women. And the women who did not come to our organisation were busy in their own household matters.

First you were the head. Then you became member of the district panchayat. What changes do you think have come in the regional panchayat? From the village, you went on to represent many people.
It has not been on the basis of thoughts. This election was held on the basis of reserved seats [for women and lower castes]. Who should be elected from the village, a woman or a man. Women were elected only on the basis of reservation. But I, on the basis of my experience, feel that in spite of elections in four to five villages, people have not yet understood this system. It is not yet clear in their minds. I myself felt that since I had been elected from four to five villages, I should work with total dedication towards these villages, for the development of women, children and men. I should work with both words and deeds. I do whatever I can. Although today’s society does not want that. They just want allocation of budgets. They have no desire to work towards development. This is what I experienced after being in the entire region.

What is your experience of the present times regarding the new arrangement of panchayati raj? There has been reservation for women and various other castes. Do you think in the present system is correct or there should be some change in it?
There should be some change in it. There should be no reservation [system], because under its pretext, bad people come up who pollute the whole society. Ability should be given preference. The person can be of any caste, but he should be able to work for the society, he should have the right thoughts, intellect and capability to do the desired work.
Section 8
What is the process of obtaining sanction for a village project or plan? How is definite form given to the plan?
In the present times the process has deteriorated. Like these small groups keep roaming around or someone gets the stamp of some official and shows it to the head saying that, “It is certified by the regional panchayat or by the district panchayat, and our plan has to be accepted”. Money is invested in various programmes. People have now started many scams. The plans are not worth the money that is given to the people, by those who sanction these programmes.

What do you have to say about the protest which is going on for the separate State of Uttarakhand? What type of Uttarakhand will be formed? How will it be developed?
For Uttarakhand, we say with total devotion, that it should be formed. We even worked towards it. But since the beginning of the Uttarakhand chapter, the people who said “we shall leave all parties, we don’t want parties” or “we won’t contest elections. Until Uttarakhand is formed, no elections will be held”. People who made such claims were the first ones to violate them. And wherever I went for Uttarakhand and interacted with people, my own experience has been that until discipline and leadership are not established, I think it will be difficult for Uttarakhand to be formed. When everyone wants to become a leader and does not want to accept other’s leadership, how will Uttarakhand state function?

If Uttarakhand is made, what should be the role of women in it? What do you think should be the basis for development?
The role of women cannot be decided separately. Women will work the same way as men work in the society. The work which is allocated to men will be done by women also. But I believe that if women come ahead, they will work with faith, dedication, and devotion because they do not have vices. Like they do not drink or gamble. They do not waste their time. They understand the value of time. Hence, I believe that they will do good work.

As the process of development in Uttarakhand is that of making large dams, big hotels and large aerodromes. What do you feel about this?
It is all right if big hotels or large dams are made as long as we also get some benefit. They could provide us sources of income. Children will get some jobs or our means of livelihood will increase. In addition to this, as you said about hotels, we need to develop in this field. If we can eat chowmein etc, we should also develop our Garhwali dishes such as koda, jhangora (varieties of millet), etc. Our own people who are personally dealing in it should be benefiting. People can take a sample of Garhwali dish there.
Section 9
At present no such tendency can be seen. All the hotels or dams which are being constructed show the tendency of failure. Do you think our new leaders will be like this? Do you think so because you have been associated with politics? Will they be able to do it according to the tradition here?
Till today they have not done anything according to our culture. But if Uttarakhand is made, then perhaps more people will go there because until now only one or two people have gone there after being elected. One was member of legislature and another, member of the parliament. Whether they speak for us or not, but if Uttarakhand is formed, then more people will be elected to go there. There will be more views and more programmes will be made so that they are properly implemented.

In your 40-45 years of life, how do you find the condition of forests today? Have the forests grown or have they been destroyed?
Forests are being destroyed; they are not growing. Our Jal Nigam (watershed department) is cutting the entire forest and taking the trees away. Then those who pose as contractors or those who collect grass and wood, in fact the woodcutters have destroyed the entire forest. The pollution is on the rise because of this. Rains do not come on time, our crops do not get benefit on time. The reason for this is that the forests have been cut.

Does cutting of trees affect the economic condition or the health of women?
Women also cut wood or small branches from the forest. We have stopped them many times saying that they should not do such work. The trees are just like our children. If we grow them, the environment of the village will increase. Cutting of trees is causing us damage. But people think that we have some personal interest in it. They don’t realise that it is for their own good. We tried a lot to change their minds. Since the past two to four years we have closed down the forests. They are neither cutting any wood, nor damaging the forests.

What changes do you find in agriculture and animal rearing in the last 10-12 years? Have they increased or reduced?
Animal rearing is fine, people keep cows and buffaloes. In agriculture, people are getting productive seeds, but our traditional crops have completely vanished. It is indeed distressing. We should not let our old crops become extinct. We have told people many times, but they have more faith in the officials who come from outside. They feel why should they continue with the old pattern when people are taking to the new methods? Agricultural produce is declining. People think it is more important to use chemical fertilisers than local manure.

Has animal rearing increased the milk production, or merely led to the increase of cattle?
Milk production has increased.
Section 10
Where is the market for milk? How do men or women sell milk?
Some sell it to the dairies such as dairies meant for the development of milk. Some people give it to the village children who take it to the market on their cycles, and earn their livelihood.

Did it ever happen in your tenure as the head, or in the present times, that a plan was preferred by you, but the government committee or the regional panchayat or others did not give preference to it? Did such a thing happen in your life?
Why would it not happen? We fought with the government several times demanding a particular plan, and the government said that it was already there in the village and that we did not require it at all. There is a lot of argument in BDC (Block Development Committee) and we have to struggle a lot for the plans in the District Panchayat meetings. As regarding schemes, if we propose 10, then only 2 are passed.

Can you give any example where you had to argue quite a lot?
Yes we had to argue a lot for canals a couple of times, and we kept our demand for one or two canals a number of times. We held demonstrations for an allopathic hospital several times, and sent many proposals to the CMO (Chief Medical Officer). We also put up proposals in their health meetings, in BDC, in district panchayat meetings. But even now, a plan for an allopathic hospital has not yet been approved for this region. It was the misfortune of this region, that this work could neither be done when I was the village head nor now, when I am the member of the district panchayat. We wanted to open it in Netala, of Manuri region, because the centre was there, but it could not materialise.

At present a particular tendency prevails here. In Uttarkashi, Ganga Valley, I have seen many pieces of land which have been sold to various organisations and hotels. What do you think about this? What type of development is going on here?
It is very unfortunate for us that people are selling their land. One day we will be compelled to leave this place. In my views it is not correct to sell our land to others. We are killing the future of our children. Our village elders could have also sold it, but they kept it for us, and now, we are selling it. It is our misfortune, and the land mafia are growing. I hope that day does not come when people leave this place and go away.

What would you like to say to the women and the youth? In your view, they will be the leaders in future or general women?
We always advise them that they should be united for the development of their village. We should not keep differences among us, like distinction of men and women. We must not behave in this manner. Instead for the development of the region, the public and the individuals, we must progress together. We give such inspiration to the men and women in society. We give this education to the young generation that we have to progress with love and affection for each other and not hatred.

During your tenure a massive earthquake had hit this region causing considerable damage to this village. How did you bear the agony?
We cannot forget the tragedy of the earthquake and the situation we were in; 51 people perished. Nine members of my family died, my mother-in-law, elder mother-in-law, etc. I thought that I would not be able to serve the public. I was so depressed that it became difficult for me to come out of my house. But when the public elected me, I was determined to serve them. I got them aid from the government and other organisations, such as food for the people, small huts for their living, provided them tarpaulin, went to the DM, spoke to the administration. I did all the work to help the people.
Section 11
During your tenure jawahar rojgar yojna was introduced. How do you think it was implemented and how did it benefit?
Jawahar rojgar yojna was approved on the basis of the population, or on the basis of majority of Harijans in a particular region. And we, the sarpanch, members of the gram sabha, heads, all used to work together along with the people. This scheme directly benefited the people. Whatever money was given to us, we made a register and gave [people] Rs.50, Rs.100, or Rs.45, whatever was sanctioned by the government to them. We worked on the basis of a village programme.