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(INDIA 24)








Harsil and Virpur villages, Bhagirathi valley, Utt


December 1996


Champal is a Jaad, who are part of the Bhotiya community. He explains that they are Buddhist and he believes that in the past Buddhism was introduced by people who came from Tibet. Their language is also closely related to Tibetan and in the past they had important trading links with Tibet, although these were disrupted by the Indo-China war of 1962. Champal explains: “the major impact [of the war] has been that now we do not get wool and salt from Bhot (Tibet) to sell in the Rama-Sirai area and buy rice in exchange.” His community was also affected when the government occupied their high village Gelang. He explains: “The government forces occupied that area and we did not think it proper to continue living there with our families. So we vacated it” and says, “almost half the compensation has not yet been given to us.” Along with others in his community, he still seasonally migrates between Veerpur and Harsil.

The traditional occupation of the Jaad is wool weaving and spinning and Champal discusses this. He explains that they sell wool and woven goods to outsiders and to government representatives, but that now spinning and weaving – traditionally women’s activities - are only carried out by the older generation as the young are too busy studying. He also talks about the improved status of women in the community: “now the girls are getting smart too – even smarter than the men” and concludes the interview by talking about his daughter who has become a Buddhist nun.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Family details; his elder son and his wife have separated from the joint family. Women spin and weave, some men rear goats and sheep, others have their own businesses selling wool. He is not educated: “Nobody was earlier. Tehri was a [princely] state and education did not spread in the valley.”
Section 2  Girls and boys both go to school now. Age of marriage was very young, now 18 for a girl and 21 for a boy. Treatment of the sick: “the Tibetan Lamas (Buddhist priests) used to feel the pulse and prescribe some herbal medicines.” The 1962 Indo-China war affected their trade links with Tibet. TV, better transportation etc mean people “are getting better informed”. Village history.
Section 3  People support each other less: “Outside influences have reduced the feelings people had for each other. Everybody has become clever.” In favour of young people getting government jobs. Families always have a salaried member. Three villages used to work together on the roads and bridges. Relationship with landowners. Since independence some marriage between the classes. They now have women pradhans.
Section 4-5  Managing village affairs, government officials behaved better in the past. Forced labour for the king (before independence), also land was taxed. Solving of disputes: “If people fought at night, after drinking chang (homemade wine), they would gather together again in the morning and start drinking again to establish a friendly atmosphere. Then they would strike a compromise.” Religion - originally Buddhists (Tibetan Buddhism) but are not descendants of Tibetans. Also follow Hinduism. His daughter is a Buddhist nun and speaks Tibetan. Clothes - make dye from walnut shells Marriage and death: “In our community if an old man or woman, follower of Buddhism, dies then within seven days the death anniversary is observed. The whole village is invited to have two meals”
Section 6  Changing food habits No longer go to higher village: “The government, because of the threat from communist China, has turned it into a military outpost and taken over the entire area”. Given compensation, but promised more. Traditional profession rearing sheep and goats. Taboos: “If a boy marries a girl from a lower class then he is socially boycotted and treated as an outcast.” Social customs - drinking of chang.
Section 7-8  Marriages are conducted by both “lamas as well as Brahmins, since we respect and follow both [religions].” Banning of the sale of chang: “The bootleggers and sellers were caught and fined and also sent to jail” Nobody has migrated. “But for the last two years people have started marrying their girls outside.” Somewhat reluctant end to sacrifice of goats because of Lama disapproval: “The Lamas say that goat slaughter is a sin. We tell the Lamas that if goats are not offered to the deities they will get angry. The Lamas tell us that if the deities get angry we should tell the deities that the Lamas stop us…” Likes to live in the highlands in the summer and lowlands in the winter. Crops grown in the higher regions. Diet. Festivals. Alcohol: “Now even the old people have left it. Seeing the old, the new generation also drinks less.” Traditional spinning and weaving: “The wool-related jobs are now performed only by the old women. The young boys and girls only study.” Talks about when they used to move up/down the hill for summer/winter.
Section 9-10  Arrangements for women who went into labour while travelling up/down. They bought seeds from outside. The community’s economic status: “Mostly people were poor. The rich of those days have turned paupers” Building houses: “Earlier on everybody made their houses themselves. Later, people used to gather together and collectively did the construction work” Travelling to Tibet for trading: “We used to walk up to Rishikesh earlier and carried the luggage on our back”. They now sell produce outside the valley. Health: medical treatment of humans and animals. Herbal remedies. Changes in status of women: “Women have become very advanced and have left men behind.” Widows “lived in great poverty in earlier days”. Buyers now come to village to buy woollen goods.
Section 11  Electricity: “We used lanterns, burnt chilke (strips of dried pine or bhimal bark which burn slowly and were used as lighting) at night which we fetched from the forest. Now we have electricity here as well as in Harsil.” Times now are better than under the Tehri king: “Earlier we had to give begar (forced revenue) like milk, ration, rice, pulses, ghee, grass for the horses. Now it is no longer so. But things have become very expensive.Their language is similar to Tibetan.
Section 12  Deforestation: “Earlier the forests were very good. No plundering was ever reported. It was a dense forest.” Earthquakes and flooding: “We did have earthquakes but they caused no harm. But the one in 1991 devastated the entire region. We had floods in 1979, which caused havoc and loss of men and property.” Fruits and animals in the forest.
Section 13-14  Offering made at the Gangotri temple. Travelling with animals: used to have to pay villagers for grazing if camped in their area. They sell wool to the government. He owns two joyi; “a cow found in Tibet. Its milk yield is much higher than the mountain cows. The colour of the milk is yellowish and has more butter content.” “One of my daughters has become a nun…People hold the view that in the case of her becoming a perfect nun she'll be taking her parents also to Heaven...”