photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
social change
social relationships

culture and customs
employment and income
environmental knowledge
family life
food security
justice and crime
livelihood strategies
social institutions
spiritual beliefs
traditional skills

introducing the area

community activities

 quotes about community activities
 key testimonies featuring community activities

Several different systems of community work and cooperation are described in the testimonies, with many of the narrators commenting that these traditions of mutual assistance are now in decline. Beedh refers to the mutual exchange of labour between villagers, most often during construction of houses and harvesting, but also at other times when the labour power of one household would be insufficient for the task. Village members join together in panchayati work, which is obligatory and is generally used to complete tasks which benefit the whole community, such as maintaining irrigation channels, or constructing bridges or roads. The panchayat's functions extend beyond cooperation for development work to embrace festivals and religious activities.

There are instances too of different villages working together. One narrator (India 3) describes this happening during the building of a school: "As we had good relations with the people of the neighbouring village Tyudi they also helped in the construction as they felt this was very good and auspicious work." Padiyali - a specific time for mutual aid and collective work among village groups - is also mentioned. In winter this was a time for getting together to spin and weave wool and cotton, often while telling stories. Again, this is in decline - not least because much less cotton is grown, and less wool produced as flocks of sheep have been culled because of shrinking pastures. However, it continues in some areas: ".during padiyali we spin wool. There are around 10 to 11 spinning wheels running together and this is how everyone's wool is spun". (India 20)

Some say the decline in collective work is in part because fields are so much smaller and fragmented now, so there's less need for many people to work together on them. Migration is another factor; there's simply less labour available, so those who need extra hands tend to have pay for it. Several narrators also describe how in the past all the villagers would come together to help put out forest fires. India 1 explains: "But now fewer people come... Earlier people regarded their forests with a great deal of compassion that 'our' forests are burning. Now they do come, but most of our men are living away, and the women are busy with their household work in their villages.." Another (India 10) also says that state ownership of the forests has been a factor, as people no longer see the forests as theirs: "if there is a fire today then people are indifferent as nothing which belongs to them is burning; it is the forest department's." But he, like others, cites a general rise in individualism - and this is one of the main social changes identified by narrators: "all that talk of community is over. Today each person is isolated and wants to depend on his own resources. It was not like this earlier."

It is significant that several say the greater the proximity to roads and "modern" practices, the weaker the community spirit. One narrator (India 28) says: "This feeling of mutual help has completely died in all the villages located near the roadside. Now all the help rendered during marriages, festivals or house construction is being done by paid labour. But in the far-flung interior villages, which so far have not been spoilt by the so-called modern culture, a lot of jobs get done with mutual help."

Despite the apparent decline of systems for mutual assistance, these testimonies illustrate a relatively high level of collective action for social and environmental causes, some of which has led to the wider establishment of community-initiated movements. Chipko - which became an internationally known movement - began in these hills when local people protested against unsustainable exploitation of forest resources. Women, who were the first to notice and had most to lose from the erosion of fuel, fodder and other resources, spearheaded the movement. Many women also talk of their involvement in local anti-alcohol campaigns.

quotes about community activities

"... this thing of a community spirit that is being brought forth today existed in the people naturally earlier. For example, for canals and ghul there is the irrigation department, but earlier. everyone went and did the work without wages. if the canal had to be repaired then the entire village went for that [work].The work was so well done that it remains strong even today."
Jagat, M/44, self-taught forester/farmer, India 10

"There was a lot of cooperation. If a panchayati house had to be constructed then there would be a roster of 10 families. [One person from each family] would hew the stone, another 10 would cut the wood. Similarly the duties of the artisians would be allocated.For example, the building of the primary school of our village [took] a mere 18 days.The main reason for this was that there are people of different castes in our village and they all contributed to finish the work very fast."
Mahesha, M/67, shop keeper/ farmer, India 3

"There was a good system in those days. Everybody's work got completed in the village. they used to plough the fields of widows with their own bullocks and they did it thinking it to be their own duty. If the widow did some work in exchange for this service so much the better. If not, they did not bother about it. Today if one does some work for others they want this obligation to be remembered and highlighted always."
Avatar, M/75, mason/carpenter/ farmer, India 5

".most of our agricultural work is done collectively. We call working collectively padiyali. We go in turns to each other's house for transplanting, hoeing and weeding. Earlier everyone used to help even during construction of a house, but now. people have jobs so they bring mules and Nepalese labour, they do everything. The poor, that is those who do not have jobs today, are all alone, they have to bear all the pain. Earlier both the rich and poor had their houses constructed easily. But today money has eradicated mutual love."
Ramchandri, F/55, Hindu, Rajput, farmer, India 35

key testimonies featuring community activities

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   10   Jagat   male/44   self-taught forester/ farmer   Kot Malla village, Alaknanda Valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   11   Attar   female/60   midwife/ farmer   Sunara village, Rawain, Yamuna valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   28   Vijay   male/41   activist/farmer   Jardhargoan, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal  
Summary Transcript   3   Mahesha   male/67   shop keeper/ farmer   Khumera, Mandakini valley, Chamoli  
Summary Transcript   35   Ramchandri   Female/55   farmer   Pata village, Bhagirathi valley, Uttarkashi  
Summary Transcript   5   Avatar   male/75   mason/carpenter/ farmer   Kumali village, Henval valley, Tehri Garhwal