photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 29)






head of Mahila Mangal Dal


Sabli village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal


January 1994



Section 1
Sabli village comes under the Chamba block of the Tehri Garhwal district. This village represents the most prosperous, progressive and educated population of the district. The village is situated on the Tehri Rishikesh road and is 1 Ĺ km away from the main roadway. There are about 1000 families in the village. There is no place in the world where you will not find a person from this village. Amidst all this progress this village has its own culture, which is alive despite todayís modern technology. People understand the importance of their traditions, heritage and old beliefs. Despite reaching the height of development, the people like to be associated with their land. Savitri Devi is an active woman of this village.

Are you a native of this village or have you come from somewhere outside?
Our ancestors have come from Bengal. The name of our first ancestor was Hari Prasad. When he came to Haridwar then Har ki Paidi (stone representation of the feet of God in the river Ganga) was made in his name. He got the paidi made. After coming to this area, some of the people (from Bengal) went to Bugadi village (Pauri District) and one of the brothers came to Sabli. Four sons were born to him here. I only know this about them. The four brothers had four families; we also have a list of their names. We have a list of at least 50 generations of our people in our house. If my son was here, he would have read it out for you. Even our childrenís names are there on the list. We know that Harijans (lower caste) are called Das here. But one of our own ancestorís surname was Das. And when we enquired into the matter, then we found that he who is in the service of God is called Das.

How many families are there here?
Many families have gone away and settled in other places, even then there are 250-300 families left here.

What is the population of this village, approximately?
Roughly about 2-2.5 thousand. Some Labadar and Suridar also there from here (?). Also there is no city where our people have not settled, like Tehri, Rishikesh, Bhaniwala, Dehra Dun etc.

How many people are there in your own family?
We are four in our family. We are two and we have two sons.

What do your sons do?
They donít do anything. They are studying. One is doing BA and the other has an MA.
Section 2
Is your family a joint family?

Would you tell us something about your views on girlís education?
Some of our views have been based on the wisdom of our predecessors. For one, a girlís marriage should be performed at the right age. Following this, we got both our daughters married at the age of 19. By then one had done 10th [class] and the other the BA.

What do you think about girlsí education? Do you think it is necessary?
Yes, of course. Like the slaves of an earlier era illiterate girls are slaves of their in-laws. If they are married into the right home then it is all right. Otherwise, girls should be able to work for a living. If a girl is unfortunate enough to be married to a drunkard, gambler or some one with bad habits, then an educated girl can at least eat by doing a job. An illiterate girl would only cry over her fate.

In todayís changing times, what special differences do you feel?
Earlier, it used to be said that a stream of water, a girl and a cow only go where they are sent. My father got me married at the age of 19 and I was an absolute illiterate. But now the times have changed. It used to be said earlier that a respectable daughter would never be sent to school, but now look at the way things have changed in our society. Everyone is going to school, even college. If anyone has to get spoiled, he could get spoiled within four walls, while the person who has the will to improve will remain good far away.

What are your views on marriage, should girls be married early or not?
I do believe that one should definitely educate girls, but marriage be it of the boy or the girl, should be done on time, say between 18-21 years for girls and after 25 for boys.

What is your opinion on dowry?
Dowry? It is like this - if we give birth to a daughter, then at the time of her leaving home we should give her her share of the family wealth. But to the boy who asks for a dowry Ė leave alone the dowry, even the girl should not be given to him. If one wishes to give of oneís free will and according to oneís status then [that] cannot be considered a dowry.

How can this change come about?
I alone cannot bring this change. For this, a lot of people have to take steps collectively, so that even the girl is not given to the person who asks for such a thing. They should socially boycott him. But I think that when we give property like farms or a house etc. to the boy, the girl should also be given her share.

Do you think that people would begin to realise this in the future?
In my opinion, if the girls can stand on their own feet after getting an education, then definitely it is possibly that peopleís attitudes towards their daughters would change.

Who manages the house in your family?
In our family, we all manage the house together.
Section 3
What is the main occupation of the people of your village?
The main occupation is ďAsi mali pet paliĒ (a proverb in the hills) meaning he who works, eats. Those who get educated get jobs. Nobody pays attention to farming now. Everyone wants to avoid hard work. They want comfort, conveniences. But if they do just a little bit of farming, they need not buy too many things from the market. And if one keeps a buffalo then one need not pay for milk also. If not for sale then at least one could have a little milk or ghee (clarified butter) for the children. And a little more effort also brings in a few vegetables. Our vegetables are better than anything in the market.

Do you get grains for the whole year from your farms?
No, No. Only for three or four months. Only those who will work, do jobs, will eat!

Was the condition of farming the same earlier? Were people dependent on shops earlier also?
No, it was like this earlier. Every field produced enough grain. There has been little rain in the last few years. That is why there is a problem now. And then our farms are dry (non-irrigated) and are dependent only on the rains. It is mountainous land, so from where will the water come?

What are your main crops?
Our main crops are jhangora (barnyard millet), koda (finger millet), satti (?), pulses, bhatt (local soya bean). Now we have soya bean also.

How do you find soya bean when compared to your traditional hill crops?
In the beginning we thought that it is simple - cutting, threshing and then selling it. At that time we did not think about the consequences of what we were doing, but now we are realising our mistake. Everybody told us to grow soya bean as many things can be made out of it. But after growing it we took rice in return. But later we realised that from the koda and jhangora that we used to grow, we got food for both ourselves and animals. We can neither take milk nor do we know how to make snacks and other things from soya bean. So what do we do with it?

Do you like the new methods of farming or your popular old methods?
No, we prefer our old methods.

Our methods are more profitable for us. For instance, when we sow paddy, then we eat rice, and our bullocks eat the straw. And the lower part of the plant becomes grass. koda and jhangora also give us the same benefits.

What about your livestock assets?
We have only one buffalo. Most people have only one cow and one buffalo. It is same with everybody.

From where do you get fodder?
Now, we have gone back to sowing koda and jhangora, so we get some fodder from the lower part of the plants. And there is always some grass coming up in the fields, where we sow the pulses.
Section 4
Do you have to go to the forests for grass?
Yes, we go to the forests, almost everyone goes to the forests. We fetch grass from there.

Do you feel any difference in the state of forests, between earlier times and now?
Earlier, there used to be very thick forests but now there is nothing left. We used to get all the wood we needed for our own use from them. You see these days those who are sitting at the top are sanctioning plans but the people in the middle are grabbing everything. They have cleared our forests completely

The contractors have cut down all the forests quietly after bribing the middlemen. No one has benefited. And we people at the bottom are being killed like ants. On that situation, our elder brother-in-law has saidÖ

Could you tell me his name?
No, we donít take our elder brother-in-lawís or our father-in-lawís (motherís side). This has been our old tradition.

Do you give importance to your old traditions only?
Yes, just as we donít want our old seeds to die, likewise we also want to keep our old traditions alive because they have given birth to us, and the generations carry on because of them.

You were talking about seeds, so will you tell me if you would grow the new seeds available today or the old?
We only grow our old seeds. Because my husband goes to work, he can buy the seeds, as well as bring the manure and insecticides. But what about my neighbour? She doesnít have anyone. So who would get these for her? That is why we all grow old seeds together. We can only mix our homemade manure (cow dung) with the old seeds and there is no need to use insecticides. Therefore, we should sow old seeds only.

Have you tried collecting old seeds?
These seeds have not finished as such. They are grown in one farm or another. We take some from one another and sow it. Like pulses, marsa (amaranth), gahat (type of lentil), jhangora, koda, bhatt, kauni (proso millet), cereals etc.

Would you tell me something about hansraj basmati (type of rice)?
That does not grow here. There is only un-irrigated land here. It grows only where there is water, irrigated land.

You were talking about the forests. Would you elaborate on those differences?
As I was saying, we used to hold meetings but we did not know anything. All the forests were being cut and our Mahila Mangal Dal (rural womenís council) could not do anything. Goats also used to come here for grazing, every year for two seasons.
Section 5
Where did they come from?
From Rishikesh etc from below and they lived in Devta Ka Mulq (Land of the Gods) on top.

Where is Devta Ka Mulq?
In Kedarnath, Badrinath, etc. Gangotri, Yamnotri in the summers. They come in the winter. Then these goats came in Chaitra (March/April) and ate up all the grass. The shepherd used to cut down large branches and feed them. And then our elder brother-in-law came (Yogesh Bahuguna) and asked us what our Mahila Mangal Dal was doing about it. We told him our position. We told him that we could not do anything for the forests. Then he said what kind of a Mahila Mangal Dal is yours, why arenít you increasing your strength? We asked how we could do that. Then he said - canít you scare these goats? All the women should go there. Then we felt strengthened. We felt that somebody was supporting us, and we became very brave. And when the goats came, we told everyone to join us but the men refused. So all the women gathered; we were at least 1500 women and four or five men came with us. We went there and started chasing them (the goats).
The shepherds shouted that they had a grazing permit. We got scared and came back because we did not know what the permit looked like! We consulted the men who had taken our side. They said that if these people have a permit, then ask them to show it. Let us also read it. So we went back again, and began calling out loudly among ourselves, referring to each other as ďpradhanĒ (head of panchayat) or ďpatwariĒ (officer). We asked them to show their passes so that we could check them. Some of the shepherds got scared and we started scaring the goats by throwing stones. We told them that they could take the goats through, but should not let them loose in the forests. Otherwise we would fine them Rs.25 per goat. That is how we tried to save our forests. After that those goat people never came back again.
The fault is not theirs but our peopleís. Because there [pointing] the people have given their fields to the Gurkhas (Nepalis) and the Gurkhas have settled there. We tried fencing many times. But the Gurkhas cut all the trees and plants to grow tomatoes..... Our real problem is that our people have given them shelter. We have decided that in the next meeting we will put up a proposal, send an application to the DFO and one to the DM stating that all our forests have been cut down by the Gurkhas. But they have settled here because of our villagers only. Had they had encroached illegally, then we could have thrown them out. So now we want the district administration to take action.

What is the condition of the water if the forests are disappearing?
When a forest is created, water appears on its own.

If there are forests, then the soil does not get eroded. In the absence of forests, the erosion of soil takes place. When the soil disappears where will the moisture remain? In the presence of forests, rains occur and moisture remains. This moisture then takes the form of various streams. That is why we donít remain thirsty in the forests because of the numerous sources of water.
Section 6
Are you satisfied with the condition of your forests?
We were satisfied but the Gurkhas have again made us unhappy.

What types of trees are there in your forests now?
Oak, rhododendron, bhamora, tita, kauntiya, kafal, hinsar, tontar, kingod, jhingra, and also pine.

What are your views on the chir pine tree?
We donít consider chir good because where they exist in large numbers there is a lot of resin. They are useful only to themselves. There is much more dryness in a pine forest. And other trees and plants donít grow there. But where you find oak and rhododendron, you will find dampness, moisture.

What is the reason behind the conversion of oak forests into pine forests?
An oak tree makes seeds after a long time, while pine trees seed faster. And the forest department also donít allow them to be cut. We grow them but they donít allow us to cut them, because it is of use to them.

How can we bring back our existing forests in place of pine forests? How can we reduce pine?
I believe we should uproot the young plants of pine. Because if we cut or uproot the big trees, then we would be fined. And we should propagate the useful plants so that they can give seeds. My experience is that naturally grown plants are better for forests instead of the plantation plants.

Is fencing (enclosing) appropriate for our forests?
Before enclosing (forests) we should impose restrictions on ourselves: fencing comes later on.

Is there a Mahila Mangal Dal in Sabli?

For how long has it been working?
For 10-12 years.

Who is the head?
I was the head till some time ago. But now Lila Devi is the head.

You have been working with the Mahila Mangal Dal for the past 10 to 12 years. What changes do you observe between then and now. How did you collect the people together?
We sat with the women talked and made them understand a little. We told them about the uses of forests etc. The uneducated women have to be made to understand a little. One has to sit with them. But ultimately the illiterates understand better when compared to the educated ones.

How did you get the idea that you should provide inspiration to them?
It is a matter of my mind. Earlier we sat with the women and made them understand that the roads were meant for everyone and that one should not dirty them. Animals should not be allowed to go into peopleís farms and so on. So people began to listen to our words.
Section 7
And did they agree to what you said?
Yes, because women agree if they are made to understand.

You said that you are illiterate. Despite that, how did you manage to do so much?
There are some people who are doing something or another, through writing (with the pen) or otherwise. In my mind, only one thought remains that one should first work, and then think about name and money Ė this is my principle. If we work, then money will come on its own. When the elections took place I was elected as the head, so I did it. But then I thought it proper to give others a chance. And work can be done even without the position, designation. Position is not everything.

What do you think is the role of Mahila Mangal Dal? Has any development taken place due to its presence in the village?
Earlier there were no toilets in the village. Then we inspired the people to build toilets. We got assistance from an organisation so we built 60 toilets. And then almost every house had them, and now people build them along with the houses.

So you awakened the village to the need for sanitation?

Have you done anything in particular?
We drew special attention to the cleaning of roads. Earlier, the women were not agreeing but later on they agreed. The roads were damaged and we repaired them, mended them etc.

Does the Mahila Mangal Dal have a role to play in a villageís progress?
For those who work, it has a role. Earlier down below (foothills) Ė many people sold liquor and used to gamble. Then we took a silent march there, and had everything closed down. We shouted slogans etc. and gave notice to the Sub-divisional magistrate (SDM).

What was your role in the anti-liquor movement?
We told the SDM about the matter, took his help and got those people arrested. We protested and staged dharnas (sit-ins) etc. More people started crying then we took pity. We told them to apologise and not to repeat it in future and left the scene. On doing so again, they were made to stay in jail for a couple of days and after their release, they started vegetable shops in place of liquor.

Nobody drinks liquor (wine) here?
They must be drinking, but not in public. They may be drinking in their houses that we donít know.

You are a farmer woman and you also have your housework. How could you give so much time to the Mahila Mangal Dal?
Firstly, it is something I am interested in, and secondly, if I normally wake up at 7 oí clock then that day I will get up at 4 in the morning and complete all my work. For instance when I have to go on a foot march or we have a meeting, then I get up early and finish my work. We have to do our work under any circumstance.
Section 8
Personally, are you quite happy with your life as it is now?
Yes, I am content. I still have no position (in society) but I keep working.

In the future, what changes would you want the Mahila Mangal Dal to make in the village?
Like what we did for Chipko. When the contractors came to cut down the trees in Pantnagar, we all went with rakhis (special threads) and tied them to the trees. We told them that the trees were our brothers and that they could use their axes on us in place of our brothers. That is how we saved our trees. And I would like to see that the educated daughters-in-law who come here in the future should do this work, as we are illiterate. They should save their forests. The people from Pantnagar are coming here to live, while our younger generation of boys is going out. The future generations should fight to prevent this migration, they should become capable. Capable people should get deserving positions.

The youngsters are moving off the mountains. What are your views on this?
It is not right. But when there is nothing to eat, then in order to earn a living, they have to do something, even if it means going to the cities to work. Educated boys donít want to do ploughing (farming).

You were saying that Bahuguna gave you a lot of inspiration. So what are the voluntary organisations doing here?
We got inspiration, and also a little financial help from them. We donít know from where they get it. But for us they are the only source. They gave us assistance for the nursery, ran a balwadi (creche) in the village, helped us with the toilets. Encouraged us to rear angora rabbits which is good for people who have no employment.

Would you tell me something about the rearing of the angora rabbit?
I have not reared them. But others are doing it in this are

How would it be if we promote angora rabbit rearing in this whole region?
It will be good.

Because rearing angora rabbits is not very difficult. They eat bhanj (oak), bhatt, wheat etc. and all those things grow here. There is also enough water. The organisation also looks after them from time to time. They also eat maize and barley. These too grow here. So, rearing them is not so difficult.

Besides angora, what are the other activities of the organisation?
They contributed in the protection of the forest, gave us the nursery, ran the balwadi, built toilets. We also planted trees with their help.
Section 9
Do trees help in preventing soil erosion? How?
Yes, why not? Trees bind the soil to the land. This is my experience.

Which trees would you keep for our fodder?
Except for pine, every tree like oak, rhododendron etc.

Nowadays people are putting a lot of stress on planting trees. What do you think of it?
They are all useless trees. They donít come to any use; neither for wood nor for grass. What is the use of such plantation of trees?

From where do you get fuel?
We cook our food on the chulha (traditional stove) and get our wood from here - from the forests.

What is your opinion of gobar (cow dung) gas?
Gobar gas is good for the village, but only for those who rear buffaloes etc. One does save fuel through this, though. Its manure is also good. There is no smoke.

In your opinion, is cooking under pressure (in a pressure cooker) good or do you prefer the bhadd (traditional round cooking vessel).
The problem is that it takes more time to cook in a bhadd and it cooks faster in the pressure cooker. But the food cooked in bhadd tastes different. And then changes take place in everything.

Would you tell us about the drinking water scheme in your village?
Earlier we used to get it from the stream. But now, it comes in taps and we take it from there.

Why doesnít it rain now, do you know anything about this?
When there are no forests from where will the rain come? Rain is not possible without the forests.

The Hill Peopleís Development Committee is working on water catchment schemes. Does the village need it?
If it is done properly, why not.

See, they are talking about building a tank, so that the water will stop flowing and erosion will also stop. And unlike the check dams where the water runs on, this does not happen with a tank. They are asking us to build trench bunds on the farms. That is also right. They gave buffaloes (cattle) to improve the breed; that also was a good programme.

Will the water catchment scheme help in protecting the forests?
Yes, why not? Due to the prevention of land erosion, moisture will be retained and if the moisture is retained then the forests will be protected automatically and will grow.
Section 10
Should villages have such schemes?
Yes, of course.

Is there any provision for increasing oneís income in the scheme? How do you think one can increase peopleís income?
Some organisations support such schemes. They teach sewing, embroidery, rearing, angora rabbit, etc which can be sources of income for the village.

There are roads running up and down your village, has this affected your culture?
Yes, we canít walk any more and we donít even feel like walking, also. Earlier, we lived in peace, there was no fear of any kind. Womenfolk used to walk without fear, there were no bad characters. These seem to have come in because of the road. Now the situation has changed completely.

Did it even happen earlier?
Earlier, we did not know about these things.

Do you feel that being near Pantnagar University has been an advantage Ė say in technology?
No. They introduced soya bean once, but we suffered losses in that also. There was nothing of any use after that.

Would you like to do farming with your old popular methods or by the Pantnagar universityís methods?
No, earlier we used to give it a thought, but now definitely not.

Do you think it is proper to build large dams, roads etc in the name of progress?
No, there is no progress in these, only destruction. At least, I think so. All of you are seeing the results of this progress.

The government is making big schemes today, do you think it is proper?
If they are made properly, run and implemented as they should be. If they are of use, then it is all right, otherwise not. Nothing happens by mere filling up of the registers.

What do you think about the Tehri Dam?
The Tehri Dam should have been stopped at that time only. Now when everything has been done and the villages have been displaced, there is no sense in stopping it.

Is it proper to displace people from such a large area?
No, I think that if I were a resident of that area, I would have preferred to remain there.

What is your opinion about the rehabilitation of the Tehri Dam?
Now so many villages have been displaced. The [anti-dam] movement should have started earlier, not now. I donít know much about this issue, so it is not right to talk much about it.
Section 11
Tell us about your religious beliefs?
Religion is religion. Like boys can marry again, but girls donít Ė this is also religion.

These are our ancient beliefs and this is our religion. Just as we offer flowers to the Ganga Mata (Mother Ganga) and regard her as our mother, this too is religion.

Is there any sense in these beliefs?
Yes, why not? We still believe that gods and goddesses are there. A stone may just be lying on the ground, but later on we worship it and consider it to be God. Similarly, we have our Ganga Mata. And people are falling prey to her anger. Sometimes there are no rains, then people from the villages go to the temple with drums. They appease the goddess and rains occur.

Tell us about your village gods and beliefs?
Our family goddess is Pund Pisini. Earlier we used to offer sacrifices but now we only offer fruits, flowers, roti etc. And once a year in the month of Chaitra (March/April) we offer leaves and young seedlings (hariyali). These are our beliefs and our religion.

Do you think that the coming generation also follows these beliefs?
Yes, our children are following them. We impart the old values to them, so they follow them. If not to a large extent but in small ways they are following them.

Would you narrate any incident from your personal life that you can never forget?
There is nothing as such Ė neither anything bitter nor very sweet. My mother had died early and my father brought me up. I was from a respectable family. So I did not go to the school. After coming here, my father-in-law was a teacher, but I never saw him. Now I have my children, and life is going on.

There is no such incident?
By the grace of God, there is no such frightful incident.

No, no, not frightful - any happy incident, any kind worth remembering?
Earlier, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law used to live in a disciplined way. Firstly, the head should always be covered, there was to be no sitting in front of the elders and slippers were never to be worn. My eldest brother-in-lawís wife was the first one to wear slippers, and she told me to wear them secretly! So after going some distance from the house we used to put them on and then take them off while coming back! Thatís how it used to be in the old days. Nowadays everyone is doing everything. They even talk freely to the elders.

Do you approve of these changes which are coming in?
Yes, it is all right. The daughter-in-law is not a servant. The in-laws house should be exactly like oneís own house. Changes must come. This is progress.