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(INDIA 36)







Nagthat village, Yamuna valley, Dehra Dun


December 1996


Unfortunately there are only three pages of the English translation of this interview (it’s possible that the first part of the interview wasn’t recorded). The transcript therefore begins rather abruptly part-way through the interview, but the fragment that has been translated is detailed and interesting.

Prabha didn’t have the chance to attend school because she was the eldest and had to help her mother with farming and household work. Her brothers and sister, however, did go: “Now they are all in service, but my share of study went away in farming! Even now my father scolds my mother, that you did not let her study, you have made her illiterate, you have spoiled her life because of your work.” Prabha’s village lies in a deep valley to which she will return when her own children’s school holidays start. “Children have to study, so I come with them from the village and stay here. This is the place where we keep our animals. Since the school is here we have also started living here [during the term].”

She talks a lot about the traditional midwives in her village and the circumstances and customs related to the birth of a child. “The women of our village feel too shy to deliver their babies in the hospital. So the midwives are called home. If the midwife feels that she cannot handle the case then the patient is brought to the hospital.” The village midwives do not charge others for their services.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Villagers go to the temple to worship their god, who is shared with 14 other villages. “Whenever there is a drought we take jyundal and go to him bare foot. He gives us water. When he blesses us it rains. Whenever we ask God something, we take a handful of rice. It is known as jyundal.” Women’s workloads are less in joint families, but there are changing views on polyandry: “Women do not want to marry three men - they refuse. This is the trend in the younger generation and it is the major change.” Custom of washing family members’ and guests’ feet: “the guest was also given a foot massage… Nowadays a bucket of warm water is given to wash their hands and feet by themselves. No one does the massage anymore. People from outside spoke badly about the people of Jaunsar because of this custom.” She has come from her village, deep in a valley, to this more accessible place so that her children can go to school. “Now we are on our way to the village. The children's winter holidays will start and we will go down to our houses. It is less cold there in the valley. The whole house is of wood and stays warm.”
Section 2  Babies are delivered in the lower storey of houses. Many women in the village are traditional midwives but “no one from the younger generation has any knowledge of how to do this work”. Midwives or nurses go to visit expectant mothers in the valley; women only attend hospital if there’s a problem. Midwives don’t charge: “They are only offered food. People in the village do not charge anything from one another for such work. It is considered bad.”
Section 2-3  Women being elected as village heads. One of her sisters-in-law was elected but Prabha feels this is a token gesture: “The work will be done by her husband - and the name will be hers!” Prabha wasn’t educated; she was the eldest and had to help her mother. Her husband doesn’t drink: “[He] is very nice. When I get tired working alone I sometimes get angry at him. He tries to reason with me, he does not get annoyed and shout back at me. He does his work and listens to whatever I say quietly.” Celebrations and customs surrounding the birth of a child: “In the case of a boy we cannot worship God in the house till three months are over. It is considered impure. We cannot even go to the temple for three months. While if it is a girl it is around a month. A boy is considered special.”