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(INDIA 11)






midwife/ farmer


Sunara village, Rawain, Yamuna valley, Uttarkashi


March 1993


Attar was married at 15 to a man of 50. She says: “You can't find anyone in the whole of India who can be unhappier than I am”. She has had a hard life -“A farmer's work never ends” - and observes that the younger generation, because of poor diet, is less fit for the hardships of agriculture. Widowed and now 60, Attar still tends her fields, buffaloes and sheep.

This is a long interview, with a lot of detail about day-to-day village life and how it has changed over time. She perceives a conflict of interest between the needs of the agricultural community and recent environmental and educational developments. She feels that a recent government tree plantation scheme is inappropriate. “They do plant trees but their leaves can't be fed to cattle. Yet the trees that they plant do need proper care and looking after. They plant trees and go, never to come back.” She says the needs of the parents in the community are also at odds with a new education facility. “We also send our children out for grazing cattle. We tell them to miss school” and she has little faith in the education of girls. She explains: “If they have to slog, cut grass, till the earth, then what use is education? Moreover, they earn a bad name - then why educate them?”

She is eloquent about the significance of local customs, and of the need to break up the relentless agricultural cycle: “We peasants get no leisure. So for entertainment we have fairs - for socialising. Then we are fresh to re-start our tough routine. These fairs fill us with joy and ecstasy in one day's time, and that's the reason we have these festivals.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Her family background: she is a widow who was her husband’s second wife. She was married at the age of 15; her husband was 50. People today don’t drink enough milk – causes broken bones. In the past diet and health was better. Traditional remedy for fever and headache. Recalls no serious diseases in her time – blames their spread on injections, when the needle is shared between patients.
Section 3-5  Marriage ceremonies performed “as if they were animals” with a gift of milk – some had a wedding procession. Ostentatious gifts were given “to show off”. Her early marriage: “We could not refuse and oppose in our time.” Bride-price. Some cases of divorce – she says mainly when very young girls discovered the marriage was bad before they had matured. Bride-price had to be returned. “Nowadays divorces are not required as the girls marry when they are matured.” She once tried to divorce “but could not as I was attached to children.”
Section 5-7  Different crops grown during different seasons and the varying yields. Tells story of a bride from a different area introducing a new type of less tasty paddy. Farming: old people “have a lot of patience and perseverance”: not the young. Fodder and manure. Girls now carry cow-dung/grain on ponies. Different kinds of trees. Seeds of fruit pressed for oil. In earlier times oils pressed at home; now they use machines. Barter is still practised.
Section 8-9  Manure - “cattle rearing is on the decline and hence there is insufficient cow dung. So they buy manure (fertiliser) from the government” – increases yields but grains are tasteless, and it “ruins the land after two or three harvests.” Water scarcity. Changes in washing/bathing and clothes.
Section 10-12  Barter system in the past for weavers. “Now, everything is different. All our traditional implements... are made on payment only. We rarely exchange food grains.” Types of baskets used for various purposes. Wood carving. Clothes. Villagers co-operate in construction of houses. “It is called giving beedh (helping others).” However: “These days people…believe in getting things done by paying money to others.”
Section 12-13  Details of local fairs and festivals, dances. 12 festivals in a year. Details of village deity/family deity. Electricity supply erratic, breaks down in winter. In the past chilke (made from bark) were used for light. Traditional hearths for cooking. Long distances travelled for fuel wood.
Section 14-15  No educated women in her generation, but now girls are being educated. Sees no point in this when their “lot” is hard physical work. Refers to abortions had by girls in school. Paddy taken to the nearby mill or threshed in the traditional way Jewellery worn by women in the past; when they went to fairs “bedecked in these ornaments dunat and punat (musical sounds made by the jewellery) could be heard very distinctly.” Now minimal jewellery worn, and women are scared of thieves. No thefts in the past: “There were no vehicles, so no thieves.”
Section 15-16  Education: in intermediate colleges teachers just “take their pay, give instructions, that's all.” Parents also “careless, not serious.” “We also send our children out for grazing cattle. We tell them to miss school.” Agriculture “never ending” – tasks described. Whole family works in the cleaning and spinning of wool round the hearth while the “older lot carries on narrating long tales”.
Section 16-18  Storage of seeds. Medicinal use of certain leaves. Support for joint family system.“In difficult times nuclear families suffer greatly as their entire work comes to a standstill.” Failure of tree-planting schemes – “…the trees that they plant do need proper care and looking after. They plant trees and go, never to come back.” Youth of the village do not get involved in such endeavours, and outside organisations plant the wrong species. Would like oak and rhododendron: for manure, and to retain water in the soil.
Section 18-19  Women are part of the local governing bodies for crop management and cattle rearing, and responsible for settling disputes in these areas. Panchayat (village councils). Family disputes settled by an all-male council. Only one Harijan family in the village - role of calling people to meetings. Drum-beater paid in food grain. Agricultural implements bought, not made in the village. Reasons she is unhappy – not least the great age difference of husband. Custom of kaleva where a daughter is given gifts by her natal family twice a year, indicating that she should visit them. Marriages now often recorded on video and in photographs.
Section 20-21  Widescale local belief in ghosts, witches and evil spirits. A local saying maintains that “your beliefs are in accordance with the place in which you live. When you go to the plains, there are no ghosts and people do not believe in all this.” Lack of rain in past 4-5 yrs – doesn’t understand why.
Section 21-22  Shoes used to be mainly worn by men-folk. “The modern days are better for women but bad for men” – burden of earning money in the new cash economy. Houses with joints escaped earthquake damage. New road construction won’t benefit her “but it will my children… Right now they have just destroyed our fields and chopped down trees.” Compensation money for the road-building is spent fast.