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(INDIA 21)








Visoi village, Jaunsar, Yamuna valley, Dehra Dun


December 1996


This is an informative interview that seems to have been carried out in the presence of a group. Asuji is the main narrator; towards the end a woman called Pushpa answers several questions. During the interview the interviewer comments on the number of people present in the village, which is attributed to Diwali and a marriage taking place. It appears the interviewer was able to participate in the marriage procession.

Asuji was married to a man 11 years her senior when she was 10 years old. She serves her village as the midwife. She talks a lot about marriage customs and the family. She is a firm believer in the joint family system and also supports the custom of polyandry. She explains: “these days everyone wants to marry separately. But those who want to live together stay jointly. We feel that land and house should not be partitioned. In single families the property is ruined. If you want to save yourself from disaster stay in a joint family… Educated people are of the view that one man should have one wife, but people who are involved in agriculture do not think so.”

Asuji describes several significant festivals celebrated in the village. She mentions the custom of distributing walnuts during Diwali and describes a “fair”, known as Thodu, which involves people throwing arrows at a jumping man. “In this fair a man wears thick woollen pyjamas and thick shoes, and he keeps jumping. This man is aimed at with bow and arrow, below his knees, according to the rule. Many people try to aim and hit him but very few arrows hit the target. The person whose arrow makes a hit is considered the best marksman. There is a roar of happiness.”

A wide variety of traditional crops are grown in Jaunsur, where Asuji lives, and she is full of information on local crops, fruits, vegetables and the preparation of special foods. She prefers life in the mountains: “All the things here are good and delicious… Here we all are free and happy. But in the plains we will be shut inside the rooms. Here we sit in the open, nobody locks their house… There you do not even have your own grain, everything has to be purchased from the shops. Our own land is better.”

At the end the interviewer has made notes, giving some contextual background.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  General information about different castes in the village, including those who own land and those who have to hire it. The village has had a school since she was young but she didn’t attend. Married at 10 to a husband aged 21. Description of marriage procession (barat).
Section 3  Marriage negotiations: “We leave one rupee in the girl's house. When the girl gives it to her father the marriage is fixed, and takes place on the day that it is decided to be performed.” If a woman is divorced and remarries, her father can “ask for his money back from the first husband”, but second husband must pay the first husband some money. Polyandry is still practised by some. Her belief in joint family system.
Section 3-4  Jewellery and ornaments worn during marriage. Household work: “Women play major role.” Together with her daughter-in-law she took responsibility to construct their house: “I had to hire labour. They brought a lot of material but I had to arrange for everything. I have carried a lot of material used in this house on my back.” Villagers also helped in transporting materials. Panchayat sorts out disputes; women are not allowed in it.
Section 5  Advantages of joint family system: “…if four or five people go out of the house, others are not left alone. Every type of work can be done easily such as farming, managing cattle, fetching grass and wood, and so on in a joint family…” Household goods are still made in the village.
Section 5  Jagada festival: “Those who are working outside take leave and come. Girls who are living away with their in-laws also come home…Our relatives and guests come from other villages. We all dance collectively in a large circle holding each other’s hands.”
Section 6  Special foods prepared for Jagada. Local wild vegetables and how they are prepared. Brief mention of dowry: “asking for dowry is considered bad. We ask for the girl only. Whatever the girl's parents give of their own free will is accepted. We did not make any demand.” Boys used to marry their nieces but “now everyone thinks that the niece is a sister and we cannot marry her.”
Section 7-8  Worship of local deity Chaldu Mahasu. Festivals: “during Jagada we offer animal sacrifice”. Another festival, Vissu “which flowers are offered in the house. All the children of the village collect in the temple courtyard and offer flowers to God in the morning. After that flowers are offered by them to all houses and also to other people.” Describes the “fair” during which people aim arrows at a jumping man. “Wine is served here in all festivals, and if a guest comes at any time, even on normal days, wine is served first in place of tea. This is our custom.” Gift sent from natal family to married daughters: “Thrice in a year, the girl's share, which we call banta, is sent to her in the months of Margsheesh, Magh and Baisakh.” Birth customs:“If a girl is born they give a sigh of relief and if a boy is born they feel happy and say it's good it’s a boy!” Ceremonies/rituals following a death. Brief mention of her family background; she has six children
Section 9  Prefers the past: “There were joint families and everyone loved each other. You make fun of us regarding our system of polyandry. Why should we cook food separately? We like our customs. Why are we mocked? Everyone has their own customs.” Traditional ways of protecting grains/pulses from insects - now use DDT. Same crops grown as before. Village crowded on the interview day because of Diwali and a marriage. Matri: “They are invisible goddesses of the forest and live in high mountains. They captivate beautiful girls.” Prefers mountains to the plains: “we do not like the plains. We do not like the food, it smells. We feel sick while travelling in vehicles. Even the water stinks. All the things here are good and delicious… Here we all are free and happy. But in the plains we will be shut inside the rooms. Here we sit in the open, nobody locks their house. That is why we do not like the plains.”
Section 10-12  Celebrating Diwali: “…during the first evening all the families go to their terraces and throw walnuts from the roofs to distribute them amongst the children… On the second day the priest throws walnuts from the veranda of the temple into the courtyard. All the children jump up to collect them. They compete with one another as to how many each can collect… At night torches are lit and are played with by moving them in different directions. That day in the evening…people play tug-of-war. Those who win dance to celebrate their victory. The whole village participates in it.” The forest and different types of trees there. Weather has changed: “The times have changed, people have changed, seasons have changed.” Forests were dense but have been cut down by villagers for fuel and fodder. Interview with Pushpa begins. Food given to new mothers. Folk dances and folk songs – Pushpa sings a few songs.
Section 12-13  Interviewer’s notes.