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(INDIA 18)








Chaura village, Nichar, Sutlej valley, Kinnaur


December 1996


During this interesting testimony Lakupati talks articulately about a range of topics. Although she’s 80, the tone of the interview is vigorous, lively and generally optimistic – and she’s clearly proud to be a mountain woman. She starts by discussing the power project saying that it has provided employment but that “it is also doing a lot of harm. For example, the houses are caving in, so is the land. There is water seepage, and drying up of water springs. The smoke coming out of the tunnel is polluting the air.” Other development activities have targeted the community’s agriculture. She talks positively about new farming methods and explains the increased emphasis on horticulture: “Since independence the government has taken a lot of interest and helped us plant a better quality of apples, pears, apricots, grapes and plums. We get good-quality fruit, which brings in a good amount of income.” She also discusses improved roads and transport, talking enthusiastically about the “revolution in the transportation field” and saying, “Today, besides the entire country, the whole world is interconnected, and it's a matter of pride that one can travel throughout the world.”

She believes population control is crucial for the development of the region and the nation: “Checking the population growth is the duty of each one of us. If not checked on time it will be very difficult to get even an inch of land per person.” Of the importance of education she says: “Only an educated society can take the nation forwards… Education should not be attained only for the sake of getting employment but for becoming self-reliant, far sighted and truly educated, to be able to assess the values of modern times.” Above all, she sees the preservation of their forests as the foundation of development - “Our entire life depends on forests” - explaining that they not only provide livelihoods but also play a vital role in controlling pollution.

She also discusses the social life of her community, providing some detail about the different types of marriage ceremonies, the activities carried out in the winter and the festivals celebrated. She is obviously proud of her community’s customs and values and, towards the end, compares life in the highlands to that in the plains. She explains that although lacking modern facilities “these distant areas are good in many ways…People respect each other. We respect the elders. People respect each other. We respect the elders. Since we have fresh and unpolluted air and atmosphere, the hill people are of pure character and strongly built… We have no quarrels and the water is pure and clean. We get sufficient firewood. We store food grain for difficult days. ”

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Section 1  The power project that has brought employment but also damage and pollution. She is uneducated: “There were no schools during my time and girls were not sent far away from home for schooling” Main livelihood activities: farming and cattle rearing.
Section 2  Using new techniques: “the officials from the agriculture department visit us and demonstrate the new methods of farming. This way our methods have improved.” Increasing emphasis on horticulture No irrigation: “Our fields are cultivated only through faith in god… We have a harvest if it rains, otherwise not. If it does not rain for a long time then we worship our local deities and compel them to bring us rain. .” Winter activities when they are snowed in: “we burn logs and stay indoors and weave and spin wool…And as it has become a sort of tradition we crack jokes, tell stories, and exchange some real life anecdotes.” Festivals are mostly celebrated during winter.
Section 3-4  Different types of marriages, including love marriages without the parents’ consent and forced marriages. Customs are changing: “people are competing and giving more dowry…The children of the poor suffer, due to all this.” Families are becoming smaller. Practiced of polyandry is gradually disappearing, partly because of disapproval by government and outsiders. She felt that polyandry was “very good for controlling population growth” Emphasises the importance of population control. Childbirth in the past: “now the women go to hospitals, dispensaries and operation theatres where the deliveries are conducted with ease and comfort”
Section 4  Transportation: “Before independence I had heard that there were trains which transported both men and luggage and I really wanted to see a train.” Recalls ponies carrying loads along the Hindustan-Tibet road during the India-China war. “Today a person can reach Kinnaur from Delhi whereas it took half a year earlier. Today, what to speak of roads, man has reached the moon!” Recreation and festivals: “In Kinnaur area it’s basically singing at home and in the temples, organising fairs, dancing and doing nati.” Traditional practices are being lost: “All this has been replaced by TV, radio, cinema, transistors, sports, wrestling, drama, etc. People are getting more inclined towards the modern kinds of entertainment. This is all due to education.”
Section 5  Changing food habits: “Food is not balanced any longer and a lot of attention is being paid to showing off and decoration of food” The forest “provides pure air and a healthy environment without charging for it; the areas where the air and environment are polluted - they too are looked after by these forests - otherwise it would be very harmful for animals, birds and human beings.” Need for reforestation in order to stop pollution and soil erosion, maintain water levels and provide employment.
Section 6-7  Water supplies - recalls having to collect water from ravines. Now each house is provided with a water connection – this is convenient but “this water is not as good as the spring water”. Importance of looking after water sources. Lists castes in the village. Explains, “They marry within the caste and their field of work is earmarked. They also have fairs and festivals according to their castes.” Details about the work done by each caste.
Section 7  Before independence there were no schools, many established in the 60s and 80s. The village now has a primary and nursery school and a Mahila Mangal Dal (rural women’s council) and a DWACRA group. “Women must take the lead and put an end to the illiteracy…An illiterate person is like an animal. An illiterate person can be duped, cheated…”
Section 8  Life in the hills: poor facilities but “We hardly ever have burglaries, dacoity (banditry), and the people live simply by and large. People are very attached to nature where the gods reside”. Contrast to life in the plains, which are polluted, and where “there is large-scale cheating, arson, looting etc.” The problem of the young and educated migrating to the plains. Belief in gods and goddesses – prayers when a person falls sick.
Section 9  Sources of livelihood – shift from livestock to apple production. Shops: “Earlier we had no shops. We had to go to Rampur Busher to buy salt, tobacco, oil and clothes, for the whole year. These days every village throughout the rural areas has a road and a shop which is well stocked. This has improved our life.” Insufficient yields because land is uneven; food has to be bought from shops. Family planning: “I feel that it should not be forced upon people. People should be convinced that it is good for them so that they take it up voluntarily” Education of girls: “Educating girls is not considered very good. But the government is encouraging the education of both girls and boys. So we should send the girls also for higher education.” Provision of land by the government.