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8 December 2002
This is an interview with a highly educated member of the community who is currently working in a senior position within a large development organisation. The rich content reflects the close friendship between narrator and interviewer. The key recurring themes are change and identity, both at a personal level and in terms of the community of Shimshal.
After describing his own education and formative experiences (including further studies in Karachi and an enlightening trip to Japan) Muzaffer goes on to discuss the changes in the community. Reflecting on these, Muzaffer points to the challenge the community faces with the new road. Although “Things are changing more rapidly than they were in our parents’ lives”, he is confident that Shimshalis will “come through the changes with a strong identity of our own… though there are obstacles, you can build on that… Fifteen years ago, I was a shepherd in the village; today I am an executive officer and so it is with the entire generation”.
He goes on to say, “That isolation too has a gift of its own, we had an identity… A bit mysterious the life there, you know: yaks, strong people, no road and things like that. Very few people had access there… But once this road gets there…the most serious challenge for the community will be redefining our identity… I feel the next five or six years will be hard for the community - a sort of crisis of identity… Globalisation can have a strong impact on people’s lives even in Shimshal. We would no longer be able to maintain the sense of being the sole custodians of this environment. The changes can even turn your strengths or positive things in life and society into weaknesses – such as your simplicity, honesty…there are a lot of things to learn and adjustments to be made.”
The testimony illustrates the value placed on education by the family – in particular, the collaboration, sacrifices and hardships endured to achieve it. Other issues discussed include: discrimination, culture and identity, Shimshal’s economy, Hazir Imam’s (Aga Khan’s) teachings, migration, governance, poverty and gender.
As a key member of the Shimshal Nature Trust (SNT), Muzaffer describes the strategies and programmes the organisation has employed to ensure the community’s sustainable development. He acknowledges the influence of the Hazir Imam’s teachings and particularly of his Japanese friend Heidiki Yamauchi who “gave us a new way of looking at things… today everyone feels [that] being a Shimshali is a strength… With these feelings I think we can smoothly come through the changes with a strong identity of our own.”
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||Personal information: current employment; his brothers and sisters.
“Economically my family was stable, comparatively a standard family in the village. My father was doing well at farming and my uncle was doing business and his job.”
Games played as a child in Shimshal: “Most of the games we played portrayed our farming life… a bunch of kids pretend to be a herd of yaks… We would go to the riverbank make channels and fields and grow crops…”
School: “I was a comparatively good student throughout primary, I often secured first position in my class… my teacher… would always encourage me to participate in social and religious activities, such as debate competitions… That was something I really liked.”
||Lasting impression from a teacher’s opinion of Shimshal: “He used to say that Shimshal is like… we live between two big stones. I feel… oh, maybe we people are like ants. That always pinches (upsets) me that we are like ants. But the people in the plains - like those we read in the books about Punjab, Sindh… these are actually people and we are like ants.”
Recalls his first time seeing a vehicle.
Experiencing discrimination in Passu village: “children would discriminate against us because of us being Shimshali, being remote, with no road and staying in others’ houses or having a slight difference of accent etc… even some teachers ridiculed that too.”
||A “miraculous” experience during childhood when his Uncle’s prayers were answered by Muzzafer’s good exam results: “I very strongly believed at that time that it happened because of the prayers of my uncle; but that really encouraged me and it was a turning point in my career.”
Journey to Karachi to continue studies. Hardships of living there: “…my first days were a really hard experience, because we had no home there, no place to live… we had no money… I remember I spent almost one week without food… I had become a thief or something. I was so close to that, because to survive you have to do something… We spent almost eight cruel months like that… Those were really hard days of my life.”
||Good experience of living with relatives from Ghulkin.
Positive developments in his life: higher education (BA with distinction and MBA); trip to Japan -“When I came back from Japan after staying three months I was an entirely different person. I had a vision of my own about life and courage”; development of his career; starting a family.
Violence in Chilas (area south of Gilgit) where he was working: “That was not an easy task. We always had our office bombed or our cars under fire… It was hard for me because I came from an area which is really peaceful and I had no experience of working under that kind of pressure… I felt people in those areas are living in a constant misery.”
||His recipe for success: “You should have a strong belief in your origins, your livelihood, culture, kinship, and faith… ”
Overcoming feelings of shame: “When I was in Karachi I never even told people I was from Shimshal… Because I felt being a Shimshali means remoteness, isolation, discrimination…the first kind of revelation came to me in Japan… There I realised what it really meant to be Shimshali; I felt it is a blessing, not a shame.”
Remote versus modern societies
||Shimshal’s economy: “an agricultural and pastoral society”.
Factors contributing to change: “education, flow of tourists to the area… new facilities reaching in like electricity and the road”.
Future economic outlook: “the main source of income of the villagers will remain agriculture and pasture but the uses will be different; we will use the pastures as tourist attractions and will grow cash crops in the village.”
Challenges for community in terms of adapting to change and maintaining their identity.
New perspective - the influence of his Japanese friend Hideki Yamauchi and of the Aga Khan: “the Hazir Imam’s vision of promoting pluralism in the jamat (Ismaili community) and advocating it globally are helpful for small communities like Shimshal to maintain their identity and gradually adjust to the changing world”.
||The Shimshali culture: “Because of the geographic situation there is more cohesion, mutual respect and caring in Shimshal… and people remain more uninfluenced because of the physical isolation.”
Possible impact on livelihoods: “I am afraid of one thing, that for a while we - in pursuit of the upcoming new opportunities - will discriminate against present sources of livelihood … we require social sensitisations… to make people realise how important a self-sufficient life is.”
Migration: “There will be out-migration for higher education and jobs. But if the sources of income in the village are improved that will help many people to stay…”
||Village institutions: “the biggest informal institution is the family… [But] it is becoming more of a nuclear family…”
Changes to village-level institutions after the Hunza: “We had [a new] political system come in with a lot of confusion. That really disturbed the local society because we had no experience [of it]...”
Development: “…AKRSP… encouraged people to build roads, canals, and other things the community required on a self-help basis. They introduced systems of collective decision making and sharing resources… [as well as] basic skills like record keeping, accounting… and managing local resources; and also introduced methods to improve productivity and income.”
Establishment and purpose of SNT: “It gave the community a forum to think about their own perspective on any new issue… It is a bridge between inside and outside the village… the different programmes of SNT… cover the whole aspects of local life”.
Approach to education: “the school curriculum talks about the urban areas and things like trains, cars or Lahore, which have no relevance to the child’s daily life here… through the EEP (Environmental Education Programme)… we tried to educate children … how… they can learn from their surroundings”.
||The “asking” culture versus self-dependency.
The future of SNT: “How it will work in the future will always be the same, to bridge indigenous wisdom with modern practices”.
The case for participatory governance: “We don’t oppose outside ideas, but what we try to say is that it should be the people who prioritise our needs and decide what we need, and we should respond to them in a timely way.” Gender issues – education, agriculture responsibilities.Message for the youth: “They should never forget their origin, their village, and always work for its development.”