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29 July 2000


Gulshad, the mother of three children is originally from the village of Ghulkin. She came to Shimshal 26 years ago when she was married there, aged 14, in accordance with the wishes of her father, who had relatives in the village. She is an articulate narrator, and during her testimony she offers some thoughtful insights into a range of issues. These include education, the division of responsibilities and relations between men and women and how these have changed during her time in Shimshal, health and family planning, the importance of livestock as a source of income, the system of nomus (donation towards community project in the name of a relative) and volunteer institutions in the community.

Like many of the narrators she feels strongly about the importance of education, and explains that despite being mocked by other villagers her father sought to educate her: “these remarks disheartened us but my father encouraged us and advised us not to take the remarks seriously. He further said that there was nothing to be worried about as it was the era of education and those who get education would enjoy a better life.” She now serves on the education committee and is educating her son and daughters, sending the former outside to his uncle in order to “get the best education”.

She comments on the way attitudes towards women – and their responsibilities – have changed over the years. In the past women were unable to take part in public meetings and events. Now, with the recognition “that women and men are like the two wheels of a vehicle and the vehicle can only work if the wheels are balanced”, women are represented in the community institutions, although she feels that they should be given yet more opportunities. She has clear ideas about the ideal attributes and skills a woman should possess – including embroidery and agricultural skills as well as good household management.

While she regrets some of the changes that have occurred – for example, the loss of respect for the mother-in-law – and clearly feels strongly that Shimshal should hold on to its traditions such as nomus and the community institutions, she also stresses the need to move with the times. She explains: “Though I am not educated enough yet I try to act like the modern people because today there is a need of good education, good dress and cleanliness. So it is my desire to keep pace with the time.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Interviewer’s introduction: it is the first day of Chaneer (harvest festival) – “When I set out from Aminabad, weather was quite pleasant and the blue sky over the lush green valley with waving and blooming fields was offering an exiting scene”. Narrator’s background: she was born in Ghulkin and has two brothers and two sisters. Her elder brother is a carpenter and the younger one a teacher.
Section 2  She was married and moved to Shimshal when she was 14 according to her father’s wishes “as his mother was from Shimshal and Shimshal was his maternal grandfather’s village…” She has a son and two daughters, all are in school. Describes how her father educated her despite people making fun of him: “He advised us not to be worried about what people say but instead we should think about and plan our futures in the context of the changing world, in which illiterates would be of no value.” Explains it was difficult to study regularly due to having to help her mother with household activities.
Section 3  People mocked her father for his liberal thoughts regarding religion and education. Describes the clothes and activities in Shimshal when she arrived: “Almost all the people were related to agriculture, the trend towards education was very less. Then slowly people started changing their thoughts regarding cleanliness, education and other development activities.” Comparison between Shimshal and Ghulkin. The responsibilities of men and women in the home at the time of her marriage: “whatever household tasks the men would assign to the women, they would obey their instructions. The mother-in-law shouldered all the responsibility of the household affairs. She would issue rations to her daughter- in- law and would instruct her to prepare food for the family.”
Section 4  Men’s and women’s activities: “The activities of the men were mainly to bring firewood from the forest, water the fields and the forests and other agricultural activities…the women were instructed to do the works such as making fertiliser from animal waste and some would fetch firewood. Despite the scarcity of kerosene oil the women would sit the whole night in the light of the fire and card wool by hand.” Describes the procedure for making woollen cloth. Domestic arrangements today: “the house management system today is quite contrary to that in old times, ie a mother-in-law has no importance in the house today, instead the daughters-in-law runs the household affairs on their own.” Although she likes the old system “also I want to keep pace with the people of this modern world.”
Section 5  Services to the community: “I serve the community as a volunteer and I am also a member of the village education committee.” Importance of education: “I request the new generation to give more attention to their education…[they] should also learn the norms of the society such as way of living in society, cleanliness of environment, respect of elders, respect of teachers and parents...” Her hopes for her children: “For my daughters, I want them to study and choose the profession of teaching or nursing.” She sent her son out of Shimshal to live with his uncle to study. Marriage: in the past the consent of the boy and girl was not sought – “the girls were forced and sometimes even physically tortured if they refused for the marriage.” Now “unless the boy and the girls are willing and they like each other parents do not take any decision.”
Section 6  Festivals: “there was a time when people lost interest in these festivals then our Imam (the Aga Khan) emphasised retention of the cultural heritage because festivals are the living proof of a society.” The attributes of a good woman: “she should keep her home neat and clean and should also respect the elders. In addition should also possess some skills, for example, different kinds of embroidery works… For example, if we stitch a woman’s cap, tablecloths, bed sheet and pillow covers and sell them in the market, we can earn a handsome amount.” Suggestion for other women: “instead of wasting their time in leisure, they should do something productive so that it is marketed and the money earned in such a way is invested in the education of their children.”
Section 7  Nomus: “Almost everyone in the village in the name of their forefathers does this type of charitable work. This has been a good tradition of our village.” When her mother-in-law was seriously ill she “promised her that we would offer nomus in her name in recognition of her sacrifices and services. She was then satisfied.” After her death they constructed an office building for the tariqa (literally, the way; religious education) board. Other nomus works carried out in the village: “When AKRSP (Aga Khan Rural Support Programme) undertook the construction work of the Jeep road to Shimshal many generous people offered their wealth as nomus for this noble work.”
Section 8  Livelihood activities: “It is part of our tradition that we herd livestock (cow goat, sheep and yaks etc) and we prepare fertiliser from these animals…. Then we cultivate our fields. When the cultivation is completed by the end of May, half of the population migrates to the pasture along with the livestock.” Describes the activities that take place at Pamir(Shimshal’s mountain pastures), re-emphasises the vital role of livestock in producing fertiliser: “If we do not produce sufficient fertiliser we would not be able to get maximum production from our fields as we can not transport the chemical fertiliser from the down country due to unavailability of road.”
Section 9  The road: “With the construction of the road the village will develop as the development caused by the road links in the down valley, it will also happen here. But the freedom of life, which we are enjoying today, this liberty will no more exist when the road will link.” Treatment of disease: “When there were no doctors available in the village then there was the local way of treatment.” Describes traditional treatments for different illnesses. Now “medical science is quite advanced and the allopathic way of treatment is mainly used to combat diseases because today we have access to the doctors and modern medicines.”
Section 10  Family planning workers in Shimshal: “They are doing a wonderful job. They educate the people to think about their resources first, as to how many children they can afford, and then go for the children… It is quite difficult to feed and raise the children properly. Therefore it is advisable to go for three children so that they are easily looked after.” Community institutions: “there exist a number of institutions in the village. These institutions are the women and men volunteers, boy scouts and girl guides etc. These institutions extend all possible help to the orphans, widows, poor and needy people of the society.” Tourism: “the influx of tourists is beneficial to the community, it provides the opportunity for the unemployed people to earn their subsistence…but at the same time there are some disadvantages associated with them.” Tourists may bring disease and have a negative influence on their youth. However, one advantage is that our children learn English language from them”. Women used to be confined to their houses.
Section 11  More discussion of women’s activities and restrictions in the past: “It was generally believed that women are to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner only and their activities were confined to preparing meals…Women were not allowed to talk in a gathering or take part in the meeting /gathering. Nobody would dare to photography the women.” Explains that “This was due to lack of knowledge and illiteracy because they would not understand the things” Now it is recognised that “women without men can’t do anything and in the absence of women men are helpless.” There is increasing female representation in the institutions but women “should be given more chance and access to the institutions as there is no difference between the son and the daughter - both are equal - so both should be given equal opportunities for education.” Justifies this by saying: “If there is a son in the family, he is married in a good family and he supports his parents; on the other hand, if there is only a daughter in the family and when she marries she come to settle along with her husband in her parents, house to support them. In this way both are equally important for the parents.” Foods prepared in the village.
Section 12-13  Description of how various local dishes are prepared. Describes what is done on the day of Tagam (sowing festival): “Everyone goes to the Tagam field very well dressed. When all gather in the field one man, the Shogoonpathok (person designated for inauguration of festivals) dressed up with poosteen (overcoat made of animal hide) upside down, wearing an ugly face mask and looking like a ghost. He comes forward and climbs the top of fertiliser mound and offers prayers. Then we take the new born babies near the oxen and make them touch the plough. This is the formal inauguration of cultivation. All the oxen are gathered in one place and the seed is sown.”