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(INDIA 12)






leader of grassroots organisation


Budakedar, Balganga valley, Tehri Garhwal


March 1994


Though he gives little personal detail, Bihari is extremely knowledgeable about the geography, history and spiritual significance of his region. He gives long detailed answers and is evidently passionate about the hills and its people.

A veteran Gandhian worker and social activist, he has strong opinions about development. “People believe that if there are roads in the village, development has taken place, if a school has opened then development has taken place. What is the direct benefit of having a road in our village, and how does it affect development? ...The people here are connected not with roads but with their forests.” Control over the surrounding natural resources is crucial. If people can grow and make goods then they can take advantage of the road and market their crafts and produce. Otherwise, he warns, roads just open up their natural resources to outsiders. When villages were isolated, he explains, they had to be self-sufficient. Now they are in danger of losing those skills and with that, economic independence. He emphasises the link between the environment and development - “If we connect the environment with our daily lives then from the perspective of economics we can become self-sufficient”. He calls for a revival of community self-reliance and cooperation, feeling that nowadays people only want “luxuries”. He explains: “One cannot become rich by producing or growing things for man's basic needs. He cannot have a life of comfort and cannot have TV etc. Nowadays, however, man has only one aim; to have such luxuries and to earn maximum money. This is what is called development now.”

He is critical of large-scale projects such as the Tehri dam and argues that “India is a country of villages, and for a country of villages there has to be such an arrangement by which the country can progress, and this can be achieved by a system of development at the village level, which alone will be powerful development.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  History of the region. “We are native to this place.” Community of priests is divided by caste. “Earlier these priests would not encourage relationships with each other, but now everything happens here.” Detailed description of the local geography and its spiritual significance. Roots and herbs becoming rare “as outsiders have been randomly collecting them.”
Section 3  Pilgrims and tourists visiting temples are source of livelihood for local people but roads are bad for business: “Earlier, pilgrims used to come through the villages.” Mainly agricultural community, also work as labourers and in hotel business. Former self-sufficiency in food, wool production. However, due to the roads “All these household activities, which were our main livelihood, are dead.”
Section 3-4  “Our vision and imagination for development is not clear.” People ignore the need to meet basic needs through agriculture - development is now about “earning maximum money” and gaining “a life of comfort” with TVs etc. Need to connect the environment and economic development, eg use of mulberry: “Silk can be obtained from it...[the branches] can be used to make baskets. The leaves are useful for sheep and cattle as fodder, and moreover silk can be produced... Thus self-sufficiency in cloth, and preserving the environment can go hand in hand.” Fertile land has become “uncultivable or fallow”, causing encroachment on civil forest land, which is “almost destroyed now”, and the Reserve Forest. Strict ban on felling trees, can no longer build own houses and carpenters are unable to work. Forest officers have to be bribed for wood.
Section 5  Two-way trading with the plains people in the past - “reciprocal” self-sufficiency. Community used to work together in constructing houses, etc and did not work as labourers. Now: “reciprocal”. Women - once revered - resort to waged labour. Loss of connection with farms and cattle as people have settled in the plains. Money: “the most important factor”; hard work carries low status.
Section 5-6  Women’s status used to be “pitiable”. Men had several wives in order to complete agricultural tasks. “In short [women] were treated like servants.” Widows still have no right to sell land/property. Women should get together, and “try to solve the problems of society” such as alcohol use.
Section 6  The greatest irony” is that welfare groups call for construction of roads or schools. Roads bring loss of grass/stone/trees, and have no worth without good produce and handicrafts to sell. Schools are detrimental to agriculture; people “feel if the children have studied in a school how can they do manual labour, how can they work with a plough, how can they look after cattle?” Argues that “there is no place for hospitals and roads in the development of a place...What is required is learning new techniques of agriculture, how to grow more on our land, how to get seeds of good quality.”
Section 7  Development plans need to be designed to work at village level. Big projects need to be discussed before being implemented. Tehri dam: “it is not wise to drown a region and all our culture and civilisation”. Region has suffered structural damage in a recent earthquake - “In this situation is it wise to build a dam here?” People should be made aware of the issues so that they can protest.
Section 8  What upset him most about the earthquake: “the fall in human values...People forgot all decorum and fellow feeling.” Argues it is premature to make women part of the local governing bodies. “We have to make the women economically independent.” A “healthy village” must be self-sufficient, with small-scale industry, growing plants for medicinal and handicraft purposes, and have empowered women. “Education should not be bookish, but such that they would be able to earn a living.”