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(INDIA 22)








Vauna and Ghamsali, Nandakini valley, Chamoli


December 1996


Hira talks about the changes she has seen in her pastoralist community over the years, and feels modern life has brought many pressures for young people. “Though we faced many hardships in life earlier, we were independent. We were not distressed or agitated about anything, unlike today's youth. We were happy… Today there is a lot of competition amongst people, a feeling of wanting to outdo the other.” Particularly interesting are the changes she has seen in family structure and the status of women. The demise of the joint family has made life more difficult. Marriage takes place later, not least because people place a premium on education and training. “Boys say that they will not marry till they get a good job and girls say that they will not marry till they complete their education... No one is in a hurry to settle down.” Whereas in the past young wives “could not sit in front of our mothers-in-law, or even raise our heads in their presence”, she says the education of girls has reversed the balance of power. “Who can scold anyone now? Now we are scared of the daughters-in-law!”

Hira migrates to the higher Himalayan pastures in April, with the onset of summer, and returns to her grass hut in Vauna for the winter. The journey up to Ghamsali takes seven to 10 days on foot. She is proud of her community’s resilience and recalls some women who would “deliver babies while walking”. Now most people travel by bus. She expresses great fondness for the alpine meadows. “I like staying at Ghamsali. It is like heaven…There is no illness, not even rashes…the climate there is cold and pollution free and we don't perspire.” She predicts the government may resettle the village in the city, where she feels “caged”. “Your own village and home are, after all, your own. Do your work and stay happy, go anywhere you want for a visit, you are free.” She is, like all Bhotiya women, a skilled weaver and she explains how they wove rugs etc that were in great demand in Tibet and China, creating the designs and dyeing the wool themselves using local plants and minerals.

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Section 1-2  Lives in Vauna for six months and then in Ghamsali, where they have crops. Now they buy extra grain - used to barter it with Tibetans for wool and salt. Used to use goats to carry goods to high altitudes. Family details; five children. Daughter studying but can also weave and make carpets. Women who marry and migrate to the cities keep their wool-craft skills to themselves – they “carry a spinning wheel with them and spin wool to make balls. They do not mind weaving a small mat or so in front of other people in the city, but they spin wool secretly because people laugh at them.” Most villagers have sold off their mules used for transporting goods.
Section 3-4  Her husband has injured his spinal cord so they have sold their mules. Son works in Delhi but returns often: “Every man loves his motherland.” Village/family deities and customs of worship. “It is considered shameful” for women to enter temple. Talks about the Das people, who play the drums at ceremonies- given part of the harvest as payment. Describes the pandavas, deities who “come and dance on (possess) some villagers”.
Section 4-5  Ancestor worship. The festival of Barry and its legend.
Section 6  Migration to Ghamsali: this year “almost all the people have come by bus,” but usually journey takes 7-10 days on foot. “There are different problems which come our way, but we like it…” Villagers help each other financially.
Section 6-7  Carpet making: “These days we buy the colour from outside but earlier we used to make our own natural colours and dye the wool.” Describes the dye-yielding plants. People have stopped using them because “these new colours are bright whereas our natural colours are a little dull.”
Section 7-8  Village midwives not professionally trained: “They learn it themselves in the village”. Health is bad. “People are taking drugs (medicines) in the same way as we used to eat chivda (dried rice, eaten as a snack) in the village.” Poor diet: “When we used to have our own harvest, our own food grains, we were healthy. But now we have started buying grains, which are not pure.” Marriage decisions: “Earlier it was the girl's father who searched for a suitable groom but now it has become necessary to know the girl's opinion.” Special dishes.
Section 9-10  Increased competitiveness among people today. Women now getting involved in the panchayat - formerly “it was not our custom.” Village justice: “Our society considers going to the court or police station as a very bad thing...” Fewer animals kept now – too much work without joint families. Jewellery etc. Younger girls now wear sari and salwaar kameez but older women “ feel cold in those outfits so we still wear our traditional clothes, which are best for us”.
Section 11  Traditional dress is worn by girls for folk-dancing. Widows are not allowed to remarry- unfair on young childless widows. “Why should young girls have to endure a life full of hardships?” Marriage ceremonies.
Section 12  Tree-planting initiative - trees given by government. Floods and damage caused. Trees planted in one damaged area. She was not educated. All children now sent to school, though accompanied as the journey is difficult. Resettlement in the plains. “If the government has to rehabilitate us we will settle there, but the entire village should be settled together in one place, not alone. Otherwise our village is better… the old people would not like to settle down there.”
Section 13  In cities feels “caged”. “Your own village and home are, after all, your own...” Ghamsali “is like heaven” as the “air there is absolutely clean”. Migrate down in winters due to heavy snowfall. Village settled 24 years ago. “Many people have come back to the village after retirement. They love their motherland. The children say that when we can change thatches into [cement] houses, then why not return home?
Section 14-15  Have electricity and water, but have problems with the water during rains. Village head is zamindar: They feel they are superior to us and consider us a different class...They think this place belongs to them and that we are from the hills.” Young wives were worked hard in the past. “In our days we could not sit in front of our mothers-in-law, or even raise our heads in their presence.” Nowadays “Today we don't send our daughters-in-law to the forest. They are all well educated and they don't even know this work.” But wood gathering now left to the old women and social situation has reversed: “Now we are scared of the daughters-in-law!” But the zamindar community have not educated their girls to a high level, hence these girls “still fear their in-laws”. Earn money from spinning wool and fabric.
Section 16-17  “The panchayat takes the decision in disagreements. Only men take part in it. Women do all the work but it is the men who take the final decision. It makes our hearts beat faster [in anger]. But what could we do?” However, women “are coming up in every field” now. TV “shows us good things as well as bad”. Her grandson “sits glued to the TV” and has “forgotten the native language” as he has lived away from the village. Dowry not observed: “parents give of their own free will.” Inter-community marriages. She married at 11. At that time “Twelve or thirteen years old meant a big girl.” Now “a 25-year old girl is considered young.” Marriage is later: “Boys say that they will not marry till they get a good job and girls say that they will not marry till they complete their education... No one is in a hurry to settle down.”