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Hayat Begum











30 December 2000


Hayat Begum is the wife of Baig Daulat (Pakistan 6). She discusses the service she carried out as a volunteer with the Village Women Organisation and talks about some of the changes that she feels have occurred in the community. She describes in detail some of the material changes – food, clothing and facilities – as well as talking about some of the wider social and economic changes, including in the gender division of labour. She is not overly romantic about the past and appears to have a pragmatic attitude towards change, regarding many changes as positive. She point out that the clothing they wear today is warmer and more comfortable, sewing machines have made production more efficient and there is no longer such a gap between rich and poor. While she feels that unity and the tradition of helping each other with work has decreased, she explains that this is because “due to the blessing of God… today multiple sources of earning are available to us and we can easily fulfil our daily needs.”

However, she laments the fact that women no longer carry out spinning, knitting and embroidery like they used to. While acknowledging that this is in part due to the changing division of labour and women’s increasing responsibility for farming, she believes that “if they have spare time, they should do weaving and knitting work at night.” She also advocates that girls should be taught such activities at school. She evidently feels strongly about these activities and the topic forms a considerable portion of the testimony. It concludes with a discussion about marriage. Hayat Begum says that while marriages used to take place at a young age and were arranged by the parents, “Nowadays parents seek the consent of their children and such marriages are very successful because they develop mutual understanding.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Her family: a brother and a young son have both died. Memories of the introduction of knitting socks and sweaters in the area. Changes in clothing: “The dresses available today are much more comfortable. God has bestowed us with surplus blessings. Today every kind of clothes - socks, shoes, long shirts and women’s clothes - are available in abundance.” The difference between rich and poor: “Today there is no difference between rich and poor. In olden times the poor would beg from the rich fellow.” People no longer have to borrow from each other but there used to be “more unity and they would assist each other in work”.
Section 3-4  The tradition of mutual help still exists but now “most of the people go out in search of employment due to which the tradition of seeking and extending help has declined”. The population has “increased manifold” since her childhood. She gave volunteer service through the Village Women Association: “…it gave me real pleasure. When one takes the responsibility they then get the opportunity to learn.” Volunteers’ collection, storage and sale of wheat for fundraising. Collecting butter for consumption on Salgirah (important Ismaili celebration).
Section 5  Their grandmothers carried out collective activities: “they would ask each other for assistance in the works of processing and carding wool and spinning thread out of the refined wool…in this way they would accomplish such kind of works collectively and this was the tradition of our village.People also helped each other at Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pasture) Instruments used spinning to prepare thread from local wool. Now women have less time for knitting etc: “Very few women now do this work because women have taken over the assignments that were normally carried out by men in the past.” Different designs used in knitting.
Section 6-7  Introduction of embroidery. The kubri (embroidery design for women’s caps in the past) caps that used to be worn. Her father was imprisoned by the Chinese due to a territorial dispute between Shimshal and China. His release: “I remember that my father had brought raw silk and silver coins.” Self-sufficiency: “We would import very few things from outside, almost everything we would produce in the village… Today men spend all their money by purchasing everyday essential commodities; they earn more money through their education and skill but spend all that money.” Feels the embroidery work should be revived and wool should not be wasted, especially now there is kerosene and electricity and so it is easier to knit etc in the evening. Division of labour: “Men do more efforts, some men are busy with their education, some are engaged with tourists and some do other outdoor works. It is the duty of women to card the wool and make yarn…” Women must also make fertiliser, collect firewood etc.
Section 8  The men used to travel with the Mir’s (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) loads, go to Gulmit to get dried fruits, and as carrying out agricultural tasks. Explains “Customarily women did not carry out these works but today women fetch firewood, prepare fertiliser and deliver the fertiliser to the field.” Men now also work as porters with tourists. Despite their increased workload Hayat Begum feels that women should still make time for making threads, knitting etc, and believes girls at school should be trained in such activities. Introduction of the spinning machine: “The machine works efficiently if the people are trained to operate it, otherwise it is also of no use.”
Section 9  Sewing/spinning machine “works faster than traditional ways”. Remembers the first sewing machine to reach Shimshal. Compares local and imported products. Previously no shops in Shimshal: “When the Pakistan military was deployed here at that time people started selling sweaters and socks made by the women and earned money.”
Section 10-11  Energy: “In former times firewood was delivered from the mountains; now the source is depleting rapidly because the population has increased.” Alternative fuel sources – kerosene stoves and electricity. Changing dress –today clothes are warmer. Food: “At that time soup was prepared from dry apricot; mutton and qurut (local dried cheese) were extensively used.” Changing habits – different foods prepared now due to the iron stoves. Old food traditions are in decline: “…fewer expenses are made on marriage and other occasions, because one cannot afford to feed such a large population.” Modern foods “have a very positive impact on our life. People are more comfortable with these foods. We use sugar with tea that keeps our body warm.”
Section 12  Today people eat less and drink more tea. “Major parts of our food are produced locally:, only tea, sugar, salt, rice and pulses etc are imported from outside.” Role of the housewife and daughters-in-law in household management: “We jointly manage the house…everyone has free access to the food stock. For example any of my daughters-in-law, whoever is available at home gets the food from the stock and prepares it.”
Section 13-14  Marriage used to be arranged by the parents: “Whenever the girl or the boy was asked to give their consent and their decision was negative even then the parents would impose their decision on them.Now the consent of the children is sought. People used to get married at the age of 12 or 13. She was very young at the time of her first marriage, and was then divorced. Description of the marriage ceremony.