photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 13)






field coordinator for Samakhya


Bhelgandi village, Mandakini valley, Tehri Garwhal


Early 1994



Could you tell us something about yourself?
Section 1
Did you belong to this place or have migrated to this area?
We belong to this place but many of the villagers have shifted to other areas. There is hardly any education among us. People still follow old customs and traditions. They jointly perform weddings and take part in agriculture etc.

Do tell us about your village.
It's a small village. There is one small and one big village and a gadera (gully formed by a stream) in between. In the smaller village there are about 14 to 15 families and in the other village there are about 45 families. Everyone gathers for marriages. People of the Gusai and Pundeer communities live here. Most of the dwellers have gone to other places. Some have gone to the place where their in-laws are and others to Delhi or Bombay. They work in hotels there. Out of the villagers only three are government servants. All the rest are either working in hotels or are busy breaking stones.

Do tell us about the history of your village, please.
Actually, I don't know much about it as most of the time I stay away from here. I don't think the history is very great.

How is farming done here?
Very few people do it. The majority of villagers are labourers and make do with this job. Some rear buffaloes, goats, cows etc.

What is the predominant caste of this village?
They are mainly Rajputs. Rajputs are very helpful to each other. We do have Harijans (lower caste) but these days only one family of Harijans is left. They could not make both ends meet here. Sometimes instead of paying them for stitching our clothes, they were given rice or wheat in return, if we had a good crop. For instance if the rice crop was good we used to give a basket full of rice or if the wheat crop was nice we gave them a basket full of wheat. This was the payment for the full year. Sometimes if the stitching charges were Rs10 they were paid only Rs5 and that recently, too - with the changing times. Otherwise they were not paid at all.
Section 2
What do you grow here?
We grow koda (finger millet), barley, paddy etc. Earlier the crop used to be very good but not any longer. The reason is that the modern boys are out of the village after getting married. What can the old parents do? They can't work in the fields. Therefore the crop is not good. We can't get grass. How can we get good produce? We get water for agriculture from gadera. There is panta (taking turns) for that and then we can sow our field. Next day it is done for the next village. There is a common saira (water source, where a tank has been constructed) for four to five villages. The water supply is just enough for us.

What difference has this village undergone from the time of your marriage to the present day?
In those days the people were very simple-natured. If anybody from outside came, everybody gathered to have a glimpse of that person. In those days if anyone wore white clothes people thought that he was either patwari's (functionary in the revenue office) peon (assistant) or a policeman and that he had come to arrest them. Some of the family members did leave the village and were working outside but they were quite scared of strangers. Nowadays nobody is scared. People dressed up very simply but these days they are very fashionable. Women tie the sari (length of cloth draped around the body) around their waist. Very few old women dress up in the traditional style. Therefore there are some changes, obviously.

Has the style of cultivation undergone any changes?
Earlier we had a good quantity of ghee (clarified butter), milk etc. We used to get a good crop of potatoes. The difference in what is produced is very marked, e.g. if we had twelve pathas from one field - these days we get only eight pathas. These days, people are not genuinely fond of working in the fields. The young boys feel that only a month's salary will be wasted, nothing more. It rains when we don't need it and when we need it never rains.

Do you feel that there is a difference in rainfall also?
In earlier days the rainfall was much more than what it is these days. This is because the forests were very dense. We were afraid of going into the forest but now they are disappearing completely. There were only 16 families, which have now grown into 24 families. Therefore the number of cattle - cows and buffaloes - has increased. The families need 24 houses as well and the wood required for construction is brought from the forests only. Some trees are stealthily cut by the people of Jalagam. Even the locals also fell trees and sell the wood. During monsoons we only chopped the branches and the leaves worked as a good mattress. Since our association with Samakhya (government programme run by and for women to develop activities in all fields – health, environment etc) we are told to pluck only the leaves and not to chop the branches. Nowadays tree felling is comparatively checked yet people do it on the quiet.
Section 3
Do you feel that the rainfall is in anyway related to forests?
Mostly people chop utish wood (alnus nepalensis). Its roots have water and this water dries up once the tree is chopped. The wood of this tree, used for making the del (frame) of doors, is very precious. Chir or pine wood is very weak therefore utish is used. Utish also grows with great difficulty and its quantity is less. The forest is not even half of what it used to be. Earlier we used to bring only one load in a minute whereas these days we keep on doing it the whole day long. The quantity of water has reduced and the quality of water has deteriorated since the pipeline has been fitted. We used to have small little choke (stream) - this made gaderes (small gullies) and these gaderes made a big gadera - the source of irrigating our fields. There is water found in the roots of utish and banj but if the forests are being destroyed then the rainfall will also decrease.

Please tell us something about your cattle.
In the old days each family had many animals but because of the division of a bigger family into three to four parts the animals have also been divided and their number in each family has become less.

Where do you get the grass from and what are the various types available?
We get grass from the forest. We get chamali aalad (?) etc. Some grass we get from our fields also. The leaves of bhimal, khadik, guriyal (varieties of trees) and banj etc are also fed to animals.

In your opinion, can the van panchayats (community forests) play a role in saving the forests?
I'll have to think over it. I can't say what and how it can be done. Van panchayat means the panchayat (village council) should have a separate forest.

Do let us know something about your social customs and traditions.
We have a social tradition of organising Ramlila (enactment of the Ramayana) in the village. Everybody contributes some amount of money for this. Then we have a ghadiyala (a dance through which a deity is made to enter a human body), which is a personal ghadiyala. In this somebody comes to dance, it depends from where one arranges the dance for this. This custom is still carrying on.

What are the other traditions of this area?
About 15 years back a new lord came into being here. My brother-in-law is the one who is called Mahendra lord. He used to go hunting in the forest where he got killed. He has become a god now because of his deeds and actions. The people of this village have jointly made a temple in his honour. There is a fair in this connection in the month of Baisakh (April/May). People bring offerings like rice etc, according to one's wish.
Section 4
Who is your family deity?
It's Bhagwati and Narsingh. But we don't believe in it.

Do you feel those old traditions, gods and goddesses and fairs etc are of some significance?
Some of them are very significant, actually it all depends how much faith and belief one has in these. I don't believe in them, therefore I feel that they are redundant. At times when I go somewhere for an important task then I pray to Bhagwati to grant me success and that's the time I feel there is God. Most of us have stopped believing in all this. When we go to other places we do feel that it's all part of superstition.

When villagers go to places like Delhi etc in search of some job, do you feel they are doing the right thing?
What to do? People have become helpless and are forced to do so to look after their children. In earlier times we used to weave a very thick and coarse cloth which lasted for years. This was malasia cloth, called santraj - clothes made of it lasted long. But these days children like only terry-cotton clothes. In earlier times girls used to wear thagula (long dress) till the age of 14-15 years. After getting married only they wore dhoti (cotton sari). But today, small girls also want terry-cotton frocks. Therefore to provide more facilities for the children more and more people are going to the cities, as these things are not available in villages. But if employment opportunities are created in villages then this race towards cities can be checked. In villages jobs like wool spinning and weaving etc can be provided. Some small-scale industries can be started. Some of the villagers migrated to Delhi, earned some money, and have started a diesel mill here. They are having good business. If some jobs related to water are established close to this mill, there can be more job opportunities for people. Villagers want jobs in the village itself so that they can plough their fields and earn as well.

Has the construction of this road helped in the development of this area?
I can't say it has helped in the development but it has had a bad effect all right. For instance people who used to walk 100 kms daily can't walk at all. People sit and keep waiting for the 5 o’clock bus to go. They may have to borrow the money to pay the bus fare - but they must travel by bus. Thus one’s walking capacity is dying now.

What are you doing these days?
I don't know many things, therefore I have concentrated on embroidery, sewing, knitting etc. I had good contacts and relations with people, as I obliged some by stitching clothes and others by writing a letter for them. The villagers respected me a lot, so much so that they felt that their families survived because of me. During the time that I wrote a letter for someone, somebody got me two phulas (bundles) of grass. Ever since my association with Samakhya I have changed a great deal.

Please tell us about the women’s Samakhya.
For some people who understand the essence, it is very good - but for the ignorant lot it's humbug and a source of making money and just roaming about all over. As far as I know, it is very important for women. After this we are in touch with the working of various institutions. Before this we did not know much about these institutions. Earlier we were also ignorant until the time a branch was started at Tehri, we got to learn about the women's rights and that a mother is partial to her own children. She loves her son more than her daughter. But the women’s Samakhya has taught me that even women have equal rights. I have given equal rights to all three of my children.
Section 5
What post are you holding in the women’s Samakhya?
I am working as a sanyogini (field coordinator). I have 10 villages under my jurisdiction. In some villages people understand the value of this organisation but in others it's a tough job to make them understand. In places where there is lot of politics and a lot of drinking habits, we find it tough to bring home to them its aim. Its main aim is to provide equal rights to women and also give them equal education.

What have you learnt in this women’s Samakhya?
In earlier days girls were not allowed to go and attend the wedding celebrations. We have learnt that they can also go. In our school, in earlier times, girls were not sent for education. There was not a single girl student, but now there are 35 girls and only 15 boys.

What are the customs for a girl's wedding?
We neither give much nor accept much. Whatever one gives is a part of one's own wishes and desires.

What are your views on educating girls?
Education is a must for girls. They should get some basic minimum education. They should be capable of knowing what their children are doing etc. Education can come in handy any time in life for facing society. Educating girls is very essential. At times she may have to fight for her rights and on these occasions education is required. Today they are working because of their education and it has brought about a marked change in their general condition and status.

What do you feel about the dowry system?
Giving and accepting dowry, both are bad. Just imagine a father who has seven daughters – he will be miserable and spend all his life arranging dowries for his daughters. It's a curse for a poor father. In one [of our] meetings we try and instruct that dowry giving and accepting, both are bad practices. This should be abolished.

What are the other fields of activities of women Samakhya?
Our fields are drinking, forests, cleanliness of the village, employment in the village, industries etc.

What are your views on drinking?
When a man earns and drinks his health deteriorates. It has an adverse effect on the woman. The woman gets beaten. It creates a very unhealthy impression on children too. One has to curtail the household expenses but all this has to be faced by the women and nothing affects men. We educated all such women who had to suffer because of the drinking habits of their husbands. These women destroyed the local breweries. This stopped their husbands' drinking but only for three to four months, as they started again. The simpler women, scared of their husbands, quietly bore everything. If one complains to the patwari then he arrests the drunkards for some days, but releases them when offered a bribe of some bottle of alcohol.
Section 6
Where are all the Mahila Samakhyas active? Who are the people working under it and in what fields is it active?
It has a district level co-ordinator, a resource person, an accountant etc. There is a sanyogini for 10 villages and a sakhi (literally friend; in this context, field worker) for each village. She plays a major role. She has to face all types of odd situations. Balkendras (children’s centres) and Mahila Kendras (women’s centres) have been established everywhere. In Mahila Kendras, along with imparting formal education people are also educated about their profession. They also protect the women against all atrocities. In Balkendras we find a very powerful medium to educate the mothers. The children are warned that they will not be allowed to come to the Balkendras if their mothers don't accompany them. Thus mothers have to come.

Based on such a long and vast work experience can you tell us that these programmes are of some genuine importance?
At times we, the sanyaginis, do slip up, as at times it’s difficult to reach some villages whereas we keep visiting others more frequently. So the villagers frequently visited often show some improvement, but the others don't. There is another side to this also. Many times the villagers ask us what we are going to offer to them. Some of them feel that, we, the workers of Mahila Samakhya, bother them unnecessarily. They feel that the sanyagini is getting Rs1000 to 1200 whereas the sakhi is getting Rs500 to 900 as a bribe. They want those types of programmes that offer them some financial assistance. At times, out of frustration, we stop working, as it has happened in some cases.
In our meetings the sanyoginis and sakhis plan and discuss the future programmes for the improvement of the villagers' life-style. Once a girl was raped in Chakrada village and the villagers declared her to be responsible. But when I, along with four to five other sakhis met the members of both the concerned families we caught hold of the boy and asked him about what his reaction would be if his sister had been raped by somebody, instead of this other girl. Then we got around the boy and now he has married that girl - Now the villagers are scared of taking an illegal and wrong step as the fear of punishment by Mahalia Samakhya does work as a deterrent.

Do you feel that the social status of women will ever change?
Total change will take a very long time because all of us, who are associated with Samakhya in one sense or the other, have mentally tried to change ourselves but the village women are still very narrow in their thinking and outlook. They don't want to have anything to do with us as they feel we just talk nonsense and rubbish. They don't feel it's going to benefit them at all.
Section 7
What type of programmes do you feel should be framed for villages?
I feel the programmes related to sewing, weaving, spinning, agriculture and industries should be specially formulated so that the villagers can come to have close contact with us and we can change their heart.

Do educate us about the Mahila Mangal Dal (rural women’s council).
At all those places where it is active people have stopped taking out stones - they argue that for constructing their houses it's very difficult to get stone. They have controlled tree felling also. It has also checked deforestation and has educated people to only cut leaves and leave the trees intact.

Educate us about jawahar rojgar yojna (government employment scheme to provide daily wages for villagers).
Women have come forward because of this. They work one day and the next day they went back to their household chores. People wanted roads connecting forests as they found it difficult to walk on uneven paths. So they worked for a day each and got Rs 23 as wages.

There is a plan to give important roles to women under panchayati raj (panchayat administration). What are your views?
If an awakened woman is selected as pradhan (head of the panchayat) she can fight for women's rights. She can work for their betterment. Presently what’s happening is that they are working only to benefit their own people, which is invariably in favour of men. But if women are made pradhan they'll definitely work for the betterment of the women and will try and solve all the problems concerning women.

In addition to Tehri District which are the other places where Mahila Samakhyas are active?
These are actively involved -concerning the problems emerging from drinking and labour - in Banda Saharapur, Banaras etc.

What are your plans for future?
We keep thinking about one plan in case all the present plans fail. If this happens it will be a total disaster for us. In case the Mahila Samakhya fails we'll carry our work forward through some other medium. We want to keep the flame of self-reliance burning among the women of the villages. Women have started learning many things and going to schools. Some are working as nurses and still others as midwives.

Are the women looking after personal health?
We do have a hospital for women, which is hardly a hospital. In case of serious problems people have to go to Tehri or they just die. Women normally have dental problems. Some treat this problem with the help of mantra (sacred text used as an incantation) but the educated ones take medicine. Backache and TB are other common problems among women.
Section 8
What can women collectively do in this field? How popular are herbs here?
We do get attis (aconite), kadwi here. It's given to children for stomach-ache. In case of toothache it is tied to the ear. The root of kingand (?) is used for eye problems. In case of some sting or bite, gandel is applied over the area and a bandage is tied over it.

Sometime back you must have heard of dunkel (hybrid) seeds. Do you feel the old home grown seeds are better or the new seeds?
We have revolted against this. Our seeds used to be very good. We knew exactly what to use as seeds as they were properly cleaned and kept aside. But the seeds from outside - we know nothing about them, if they are fresh or old, where they have been purchased etc. On many occasions it is seen that the seeds of tripatya grass (a weed) have come with other seeds from outside. In Jakhnidhar it is mainly tripatya grass and hardly any amount of jhangora (barnyard millet). Along with the seeds of wheat also come the seeds of laing -this is a coarse grass. The seeds of tripatya are like garlic and no other grass grows near it. It grows wild and stops the growth of other grains. In Jakhnidhar block I have noticed that only tripatya was growing in the fields. People got some medicine from Pant Nagar, which had to be dissolved in water for use. But the people say that because of the scarce drinking water, they are unable to spare any water for this purpose. Therefore tripatya is growing wild at almost all places.

Please narrate these places.
We marched off from Tehri in four groups, i.e. Jakhnidhar block, Pratap Nagar block, Jakholi block and Bhilogra block. For the Jakholi block one didi (sister) Sunanda and two sanyoginies, Kamala and Usha went. The resources person, Geeta and Vijayalakxmi, and one more woman went to the Bhilagna block. For Pratap Nagar, Suraj, Indira, Susheela went. Laxmi, Pushpa and myself, we went to the Dharmandal region. We tried to learn from the workers of Mahila Samakhya. We gathered how the drinking habits has been checked and also got to know how often they held their meetings. During this padyatra (awareness-raising march) we could get to know the problems of this village. The water supply was a major problem particularly in the entire Jakhanidhar block. In some places they keep sitting but get only one buntha (brass vessel) [full]. There are other places where there is no water even to grow anything. This area had lots of lantana bushes and karaunda thorns (shrub with edible berries). One family had only one buffalo and the jhangora fields were absolutely dry. We also gathered information regarding the status of women, how many lose their lives due to excessive drinking and if suicide is common there.

What do you feel should be done to improve the water situation in that area?
The water authorities are not paying any special attention. They have fitted taps and pipelines but there is no water supplied. Then they collected Rs 1000 and got water connection from Dharkot. But the water sources there have also dried up. The residents of Kotgaon informed that their water supply was from Chandrabani, which is almost about 300 kms away. Even that source is a neglected area as nobody looks after it.
Section 9
There are thick forests in Jhakholi block. What was the effect of the Chipko movement in that area?
The Chipko movement was very popular in the Almora area. In our area it's God's plenty and thus we have lots of trees. In the lower portion chopping and felling is done but as advised by the Mahila Mangal Dal. We protested against this also. We grabbed their trucks but some corrupt forest officials favour them since they are bribed.

What role are the women playing in the preservation and protection of wood, water and forests?
If forests are cut it leads to scarcity of grass, which affects women. It also causes water shortage. The men don't bother at all as they are getting some job of cutting or chopping and keep getting the daily wages. Many times the women of Jankh have revolted against it.

Do you feel that the construction of a dam at Tehri is logical?
If this dam is constructed we'll be totally restricted. Children will have to travel a longer distance to go to school. Similarly the hospital and Degree College also will be far away from here. We'll be spending a lot of money to reach New Tehri. Like Basola even our village will face the danger. That village is half danger free but half in the danger zone. Some people have been given compensation but not all of them. The main worry of the residents is about their future. Right now they go to Tehri to sell milk and ghee but once the dam comes up their lives will be in danger and they'll be rendered jobless and helpless. During the survey we learnt of the feeling of awe and fear among the women.
The construction of the dam should not have been started, as it's a risk to the cultural traditions of this region. Earlier people took no action and now when the government has spent a large sum of money they have woken up to start a movement.

Do tell us about Rawai area?
Girl’s education is [considered] a crime there. People mostly rear goats. They sell potato and chaulai (variety of amaranth). Many of them have become officers.

Tell us about an unforgettable happening of your life.
It's an incident when I was about eight to nine years of age. We are two sisters. My sister is a teacher in Tehri. My father was very hopeful that a son would be born after me but this did not happen. He went to Jakholi block and married a second time. We did not get to know about this. He used to come, stock the various items and go back. He thought of marriage for my elder sister when she was about 15 or 16 years old. My sister's in-laws helped her to become a teacher. My mother and me, along with my father, returned to the foothills. After that marriage my father's attitude towards us was completely changed. We both were ignorant of the reason. He didn't even accompany us back. For a few months my mother and I, we did not know what to do, where to go, we were travelling between my sister's in-laws place and father's place. My stepmother had ordered my father not to come along with us. At that time my sister's father-in-law arranged a man to accompany us up to Naisiyar. Those times were different. Had I been what I am today I would have murdered my father.
We had a shop in Naisiyar. For my sister's marriage everything from the shop was sold by my father. There was no rice left for us. When we reached a little ahead of Badkote my mother asked me “What shall we do and eat in Chatra?” I assured her that I’d start a shop. I was nine years old then and had passed seventh class. I promised to work hard with my mother. My mother pawned my nose, ear and foot ornaments. She had bought four pony-loads of things. Thus I managed to run that shop for ten years. Now my mother was very confident of my ability and confidence. I had promised my mother I’d never get married but the social customs forced me to get married. Next year I cleared eighth class and secured the second position in the entire district. After some years my father wrote to my mother asking her to send me to him. There I was forced to get married to an OMGC (?) employee.
Section 10
Tell us about your personal life.
My marriage was a very simple affair. My father declared that he was not doing very well in those days, and got some money from my marriage alliance. He died a month later. I went to my in-law's place where they imposed all sorts of restrictions on me. I could not come out of the room. Those people were of a very suspicious nature. I was very pretty to look at and they always feared that I might run away. After the birth of the first child they started beating me. My husband used to drink too. He used to fight with everybody. I don't remember wearing any clothes from my in-law's side except at the time of the marriage. They did not give me even a single sari. I used to sew until 12 o’clock at night to earn my living. There was a Rs 50 scheme in the hospital, which came very handy for me. But on the day I got those 50 rupees my husband would take it from me. But he had no knowledge of my TA and DA (travel allowance and daily allowance). I did keep that money, part of it I used to give to a friend for safe custody. After sometime I sold all my jewellery and bought a house in Gujarat.
In Gujarat, when my husband created a racket after drinking, the landlords asked us to vacate the house. My husband promised to get me a pair of earrings out of his Diwali (festival of light) bonus, when he got the bonus and I enquired about the earrings he started beating me. I tried all possible methods to reform him, but all in vain. Ultimately I decided to return home. I had no money, so when I demanded some he threw Rs1200 on the road in the presence of the entire village. My children picked it up and came back. We had nothing in the village but the villagers helped us a great deal. The next day he sent a telegram saying that his family was missing. Then my brother-in-law called him home. When he came he started abusing and scolding and told me to return to my parent's house. I gave him a befitting reply. My children are very fond of me and respect me and whenever my husband attempts to beat me they scold him. So it has stopped.

What is your message for daughters or girls?
The mothers should train their children to realise how great a mother is and how important a role she plays. She should get more respect and importance than the father. A mother undergoes lots of hardships for her children. Fathers are also important but mothers are greater, and even if a mother makes mistakes, they should find the causes for that instead of getting agitated.