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mason/carpenter/ farmer


Kumali village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal


early 1994


Negi recounts family experiences and personal struggles. He trained himself to be a mason and carpenter, working hard to “improve his status” for in his youth he felt “what would be the benefit of getting married if I could do nothing to feed my family? Suppose my sons walk in my footsteps…? When my own life is good for nothing then theirs would be worse than mine”. He speaks of the changes he has witnessed in the lives of the villagers and the adaptations of social values and customs, drawing particular attention to the community spirit that operated in the past. “There was affection and love. People were united. If anybody’s field remained unploughed, any villager would do it.” He also discusses the destruction of the local forest - “It was very dense 10 to 15 years ago. But now it is nearly completely stripped” - and how this has affected livelihoods. He explains that now only those with money and connections are able to obtain timber: “the needy person remains timberless because he does not possess bribes and the right approach”.

He says farming alone is not enough to support most families in the community: “It is hard to get even enough [food] for six months.” Consequently many work as labourers. More employment is needed to stop young people migrating: “If a factory is established, the boys would get employment in it, and they needn’t go to the cities.” However, jobs are not being provided by construction work on the Tehri dam; most employees are outsiders. He talks negatively of the dam, advocating instead the use of micro-hydro electricity units. The testimony concludes with Negi recounting his experiences of working on the installation of a water pipeline and the building of schools in order to pay back his debts.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Negi, an orphan, explains how he taught himself masonry and carpentry. Family details – his eldest son died while working away from home.
Section 2  Faced bureaucratic hurdles in getting his deceased son’s pension: “We are fools. We have no wisdom. A kind fellow helped me and my daughter-in-law…a Punjabi. Such kind-hearted people do still live in the world.” His family is the only one of its caste in the village, yet “I get full cooperation. The villagers helped me in all needs and shared my woes and efforts.” The land he owns remains uncultivated because of labour shortage in the family.
Section 2-3  Details of family: elder son of the remaining two, “a drunkard”, is separated from his wife. Now “the old woman [Negi’s wife] has to manage all the [domestic] work.” Another daughter-in-law, chosen by the family, has been turned out of the house because “her character was suspect.”
Section 3  Community spirit and mutual assistance in the old days: “If anybody’s field remained unploughed, any villager would do it.” Nowadays, people do not: “They think this job is below their status.”
Section 4  Changes in social life – links lack of cooperation to the new generation abandoning traditional ways of dressing and customs. Discuses the panchayat (village/town council): “With the dawn of independence the panchayats were flourishing. The meetings were held every month but now there is no meeting, even in a year.” Disappearance of nyaya panchayats (village court of justice).
Section 4-6  Insufficient yields; people have become waged labourers. Problematic water supply Village forest resources: “there were innumerable trees in the past” whereas now “we have to buy timber even for making a doorframe.” Forests are under the management of the government. Corruption. Villagers denied their share from the forests as the village headman controls their applications. Timber goes to those who can afford bribes. Details of castes and occupations. Dwindling livestock numbers.
Section 7-8  Deteriorating diet so “the boys of modern times have no strength at all”. Deities. Changes in religious customs and practice: animal sacrifice replaced by offerings of fruit. A saint once visited and preached against killing cattle.
Section 8-9  Occupations by caste. Migration of the young. Traditional and modern medicine.
Section 9  Traditional dances and songs. Farming. Women do most of the agricultural work. Men resort to waged labour after the ploughing season is over.
Section 10  Information on local markets and shops. Land inheritance. The panchayat intervenes in land disputes. Going on pilgrimage: “In the past people used to go on pilgrimage on foot. They had great affection among them. Now there are motors (vehicles)”.
Section 11  The degradation of the forest: “In the past it was so dense that we were afraid of lions while going to our fields… Now we never see a tiger or a lion.” 25 to 30 villages depend on this forest’s resources. Accidental forest fires sometimes.
Section 11-12  Medicinal plants in the forest but “none of us villagers have the necessary knowledge of them”. Wildlife has dwindled: “there are no antelopes now. We still can see deer, tigers, bears, wild cows and pigs, but not in plenty.” Decrease in honey production: “very few people keep bees now.” Villagers also used to get honey “from the cavities of trees in the forest. Now you cannot find bees in trees.” The villagers took part in the Chipko movement to save the Adwani forest. “the contract of our forest was cancelled along with Adwani forest.” Tourism as a positive aspect of development.
Section 13  Critical of Tehri dam– “there most of the employees are outsiders. If the people belonging to this area got employment on it we need not serve outside our hills.” Same for Maneri Hydel project / new factories. Feels the dam is too big; smaller dams might provide electricity more efficiently than one big dam which, when it breaks down, may cause far more havoc. Advocates prohibition and calls for government action. The primary school is 4 km away; difficult for parents to send young children.
Section 14  Attempted to pay off debts by joining the General Reserve Engineer Force. But lacking formal training and a certificate, he was not able to fulfil the bureaucratic requirements. Many years of hard work in the construction industry to pay off his debts.