Gojal area of the Karakorum mountains
Pakistan glossary

Johar Ali











8 December 2002



Section 1
Today on December 8, 2002 we had a three-day meeting with the members of the task force of the Shimshal Nature Trust (SNT) in Islamabad and we had a very good opportunity to discuss with many educated people from Shimshal who got their education outside the village and who are currently living outside Shimshal. They are you can say a kind of successful people and they are thinking about the development of their village. So today we got with us one such a person Mr. Johar Ali and I think in our interview he will cover many things, many aspects of life, which we could not get in other interviews we collected for the Oral Testimony project. Because his experiences are a bit different from others’ because he was in one of the first batches of students who got formal education from the village in those isolated and remote area and then travelled to the urban areas for higher education. They succeeded in getting higher education and they are currently working for the Government services and thinking about the development of the village also.
Bismillah Rehman-e-Rahim (In the name of God the magnificent and the most merciful) Assalam-o-Aliakum Johar bhai (peace be with you brother Johar)
Waallaikum Salam (Peace be with you too)

So today we are having a very good opportunity to have an interview with you. First of all I will expect that you will tell us about your personal life
Inayat bhai (brother; term of affection used between peers) thank you, first of all I would like to thank you for this very nice hospitality which you are extending to us for the last few days, secondly for giving me this opportunity to share my views with you. So thank you very much. My name, as you know is Johar Ali. I was born in Shimshal in 1959. We are four brothers and one sister. I am the second born son. I just started my first education in Shimshal informally with the late Master (teacher) Ghulam Sultan. We were lucky to have a formal education system in Shimshal.

I think you were the first batch of students to receive formal education in Shimshal?
Well, probably we were the second batch, but I started my formal education with Mr. Daulat Amin. We are the first students of Master Daulat Amin and I would say that I am proud to be his student. I was educated up to class 6, I think, in Shimshal, then I left for Gulmit and I studied there for about two years.
Section 2
How far, I mean what distance is it [between Shimshal and Gulmit]?
It is about 70 to 80 kilometres I think, but [the journey] was difficult because of the lack of road links - the infrequent communication at that time. There was used to be a single track (linking Shimshal), which was not so accessible. So I remained in Gulmit for about three years, I passed class 8th and then I went to Gilgit. I remained in Gilgit for two years and I passed my secondary school certificate in Gilgit. It was a very good opportunity to live in Shah Karim hostel, a very good environment for study, but for some reasons I could not get very good marks, so I was not so motivated about my future. I went back to the village. It was the time of poverty, and my parents also needed some support because my elder brother - he was also dependent on my parents, all my brothers and sister were dependent. So they also thought that I must join them, and to help them I must join a service (find employment). So I was looking for a service after my matriculation and I was inspired by some of my friends who had trained as medical staff, so I wanted to join the hospital as a male nurse. I went to Gilgit and tried to get admission to the hospital but the admissions were over, so I was disappointed. In the meantime someone suggested going to Karachi, so without consulting my parents I went to Karachi. There I started my education. I got admission to the evening college in commerce, but it was not so interesting to me because in my matriculation I had studied science subjects. I wanted to continue my education in science subjects. So I got admission in S.M Science College, Karachi, which is the college where our great leader Quid e Azam was also educated. At that time it was known as Sindh Madrasa tul Islam but now it is known as Sindh Muslim Science College. So I was very enthusiastic because I wanted to continue my education in science.

In this process of continuing your education, how did you manage, who was supporting you financially?
Well it was… yes it is interesting because my father was very enthusiastic about my education but he had no resources. The only thing he had was the land, some fruit trees and some livestock. He was always ready to sell these things (for my education) but in the meantime my elder brother joined the Pakistan army. So there was a little bit of support for me. My parents also supported me and my brother supported me and I continued my education. I passed my higher secondary school certificate in Karachi, from S.M Science College, and then I went back to Shimshal. I was lucky to get the first position in the Northern Areas in that year and I got admission to the Engineering University in Lahore. Since I had the first position I was allotted the civil engineering place as it was the first on the merit list, but I was not interested in civil engineering and I did not want to be a civil engineer. I was interested in joining the army and for that I was interested in electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, so I tried to change my discipline (faculty) and after few months I changed my discipline and then I continued my education. I remained there (university) for about four years. I graduated in electrical engineering, majoring in power engineering. I got my engineering degree with first class and then I joined one of the Pakistan’s state institutions. I served there for one year and then I was offered a job in the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and then I adopted WAPDA as my career. Since 1987 I have been working for WAPDA. This is something about education… My parents provided us with all the opportunities, all the means to get education. Unfortunately my elder brother, he discarded his education after class 6 and he joined my parents in agricultural activities but I always preferred education rather then being involved in agricultural activities. My younger brother also got the opportunity but could not get sufficient education. So this was something about my personal life.
Section 3
So currently you are working for the Water and Power Development Authority of Pakistan, and you have also remained in the Northern Areas. What kind of services are you rendering to WAPDA?
Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority is the only state-owned power company in Pakistan. It is responsible for the development of all the water and power resources and distribution of the power in the country. First I worked in a power station as the operation and maintenance engineer, looking after the equipment and machines of the power station. Then I was given the responsibility for the construction and installation of a new power station in the Northern Areas. As resident engineer I worked in the Northern Areas to look after the overall activities of the project and also to supervise the electrical installation in the power station. When this power station was completed it was handed over to another organisation, the Northern Areas Public Works Department, which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of power stations in the Northern Areas. When I handed over this project to them then I went back to my original place, Lahore. I was assigned the job of planning and designing of hydropower resources in Pakistan. So I remained associated with GTZ. Now I am working in the head office as design engineer. I design the electrical……..

Thank you very much. This is sufficient explanation about your education and your career. People normally work hard for a better career but you are giving lots of time to your community. Why are you giving so much time to your community? What is the idea (motivation behind it)? What is the rationale behind it?
Thank you, normally I do justice to my job. When I am in my office I perform well. I try to work to the best of my capabilities and knowledge in my office. My performance in the office and in the field is outstanding. That is the reason that I got a commendation certificate from the chairman of WAPDA for excellent management in the field. So it is not something like that I share my office time, my duty time with my community. But instead of wasting my free time I try to utilise this free time for the wellbeing of the community, because I got strong aspirations from my tradition, from my social set-up, which is based on the voluntary service system. Everyone in the village renders free service in many forms. Being away from the community I cannot join them in their works in the village so I thought that I must do something for the community and SNT was the only means, the only source through which I could contribute something to the community. So I manage my time. I give my full duty time to my office work and in my free time like holidays/vacations I try to work for the community. It is not only I but also every individual in the village does the same because it is part of our tradition; everyone renders free services to the community according to their capacities and skills.
In my understanding this is the inspiration that comes from the feeling that we are so closely linked (in a social set-up). And I get the support of many individuals in my personal life so I must respond to their help and contributions and that could only be possible through SNT for my community. It is a source of satisfaction to me and I get satisfaction from for working my community, and I think it is an appropriate way that every one contributes to the common objectives of the society beyond individualism in order to build a better society.
Section 4
So you think this is the way (reason) that the community survived? Do you respect and want to continue this spirit of community voluntary service or kind of communal spirit?
Yes, Shimshal was, and until today is, an isolated community having no external exposure and external assistance. It was only the inter-communal linkages that enabled the community not only to survive but to flourish in the course of time. The history of communal linkages and voluntary service is very long. The day when Mamusing (the original founder of Shimshal) came to the village he was the first person, and then his children (kin) struggled to build their society and to have control over their geographical area. For that it was necessary to make a strong community with strong institutions based on voluntary services – not formal but informal – that could at the same time build the society and protect the community from external intrusions too.

What kinds of intrusion do you mean were there at that time?
Well! There was no formal political system or government in Shimshal’s neighbourhood. There were tribal systems or small groups living around Shimshal. There had always been troubles or rivalries among these groups, intruding on and capturing each other’s areas. There were small states….. [started speaking in a mixture of Urdu and English]

Maybe it is a good idea – we can float between English and Urdu and can speak frankly
Yes, small states based on small nomad groups with no formal regulations and governing system all around the Shimshal territory, and it is also quite possible that Shimshal originally belonged (before Mamusing) to these nomad groups. These nomad groups in accordance with their interests would migrate from one place to another and more often would invade Shimshal and try to capture the territory. We had faced a lot of troubles and fights (over this land) in the past. Several times these groups captured part of our territory and we liberated the areas time and again.
Under these circumstances our society developed, which entails the importance of strong unity and cooperation among the people for survival. It is natural that if a community (elsewhere in the world) is in isolation and at the same time has a strong enemy around its territory the society would naturally emerge as Shimshal community emerged (in the process of time). The community retained their control over their land for centuries and that happened only because of its unity and spirit of voluntary service. It is very important to have strong voluntary institutions for safeguarding such a vast territory, which is normally the responsibility of a regular army. But for a village or community it was not possible to keep an army and there were no such arrangements in the state (Hunza State), so the only solution to the problem was the voluntary service system that safeguarded their geographical boundaries as well as strengthened their social set-up, agricultural and other livelihood bases.
Shimshal community evolved over the centuries through such a process: that is very interesting and informative. Voluntary service is one of the processes that we retain as the basic element of our society even today. Secondly the philanthropic activities are also part of this process. For a society that is isolated and that depends solely on its indigenous resources, it is very important to have economical linkages (among the community) where people share their resources and help each other economically. And there must be such an established system that could sustainably meet the needs of the society. Philanthropic activities were such an initiative of our society. It served as the foundation stone and today the entire development activities of our society rest on this concept. This concept established such a strong tradition and ideology in our society that community members even in this materialistic era, where people (elsewhere) use all tricks and unfair means for personal gain, still carry this tradition and render voluntary services, they contribute their excess wealth/resources for the welfare of the community.
I would also like to tell you one thing: that in modern societies, wealth is defined as personal belongings such as cash, property, material etc – the man who possesses more money, material or property is known as wealthy – but in our traditional society we have a different definition of wealth. One definition of wealth in our society is the same as in modern society, that is possession of more resources; but the second and more important definition of wealth in our society is that a strong and healthy person is potentially wealth for the society, the family possessing more members (community volunteers) with diverse skills and expertise are also potential wealth for the community, because they contribute their skills and physical strength for the community’s benefit. So the concept of wealth in our society is not only possession of excess resources but it is good health, physical strength, skills and good ideas as well, which they offer and share with the community.
Section 5
In my view the objectives for collecting wealth were also different, as today people use wealth for individual security but in our traditional society people would collect and save wealth in order to donate it to the community. Would you agree with my views?
Exactly, yes, as I told you that even in this materialistic age there are people who offer their excess wealth to the philanthropic activities. In olden times it used to be [people’s] objective of life to work hard and earn wealth not only for themselves but also for the community. Their needs were limited, people would only require food three times (a day), and there were no materialistic competitions in the society, such as to have property, a bank balance and buildings. All the efforts of the people were to get more and more agricultural production/profit from their lands and contribute the excess profit/production to the society. They would sponsor a community project and would dedicate this charitable works to their loved ones/relatives. This was the system that kept the community alive in that isolated valley and carried them to this stage.
Section 6
Johar bhai what were the traditional social institutions in the village? How was the village run traditionally, and how has it changed over time, and what are the institutions now in the village?
At that time (in the past) there were no formal institutions like there are today but there was an established system. The system, though not formal, developed over many years – such as the clan (working groups) system. Traditionally we had three major groups, working groups you can say, these were actually agricultural activity based groups that would gather for agricultural activities. But for pasture management, marriages and other such activities, the community was united. There were sub-groups within the clan, which were known as skuin (extended family group, sub-group of clan). This would further divide the agricultural activities into specific tasks on a close kin basis. For example delivery of fertiliser to the fields, and ploughing the fields were known as the major agricultural works and these activities were carried out by the major clan/working groups. There were minor agricultural tasks such as fodder collection, crop harvesting and threshing, watering the fields (before ploughing); these tasks were carried out by minor groups. Then there were some major tasks beyond the capacity of the major clan; these works were carried out collectively by all villagers. So all the activities were naturally institutionalised in this manner.
There were formal institutions of the Mir (ruler of Hunza up to 1974). There was the representative of the Mir of Hunza, which was known as arbob. The second institution was the yarpa that was responsible for looking after the livestock and livestock products of the Mir in the village (pasture), he was also responsible for tax collection, though the tax collector would normally come from Hunza, but the yarpa was the Mir’s local representative for tax collection in the village. Then the yarpa was also responsible for the Mir’s treasure (food grain store) in the village. The fourth institution was the chorbu (public announcer); he was responsible for conveying the orders of the Mir and the arbob to the people. He would not communicate with the Mir, but he was only responsible for conveying the orders of the arbob to the public. He would inform the individuals about their communal work duties, and would assign tasks to them on the orders of arbob.
Then there were religious institutions. The first religious institution was the khalifa (local religious leader), who was responsible for all religious activities, such as marriage ceremonies, and ceremonies when people died. The second religious institution was the qazi (religious literate); he was only responsible for reciting nikah (verses from the holy Quran recited on marriage occasions).
Then there were some occupational groups in the community such as carpet weavers known as jelho; there were carpenters also. These were professions (occupations), but for the community they were the institutions. The community would treat them as an institution not an individual. Because when the community required the services or skills of a certain profession, they would not consult the individual but would assign them the task as an institution, leaving the management to their discretion. So the informal institution at that time was working in this way.
Section 7
Were these occupational groups such as jelho solely dependent on their occupation or would they also earn from other sources?
The occupations of all the people living in Shimshal were agriculture and livestock herding. These two were the main occupations of the people, and then people also had additional activities, adopted as a hobby or skill. At the community level there was no discrimination regarding the occupation or additional skills as to whether it was inferior or respectable. From the job/occupation point of view there was no discrimination; instead they would praise their skills and would give them due respect. I think this was the source of inspiration/motivation for the individual and whenever the community required the services of (people with) certain expertise and skills, the group would come forward and volunteer for that work.
When I was talking about the informal institutions, I was actually talking about these people. For example on the occasion of a journey, normally no one was assigned a specific task but a system based on age was developed which needed no formal institution and training. They would know by experience what assignment their group had to carry out. There was no need to teach them about their responsibilities. Traditionally it was transferred from generation to generation, and every individual would know his responsibilities with regard to his age group.
When there was a journey there would normally be people from all age groups – that is, young, old, physically strong and weak. But the young ones would know it by experience that besides helping the weak and old members (sharing their loads), their responsibility also included cleaning the campsites, fetching water, collecting firewood, preparing food and arranging beds for the senior members in the group. Such practices were virtually institutionalised, but informally.
The same concept is practised even today but in a more formal way. We now have the institutions (Imamat institutions) of boy scouts, female and male volunteers, girl guides and social welfare institutions, working under formal command. Everyone knows at a certain age which institution they have to choose for community service and everyone knows about their duties. The only difference is that in olden times there were no institutions, people would own it by experience. They would manage things through participative management/collective decision-making but today we have established institutions working under a certain rule/command.
The same system was also practised in philanthropic works; for example, the carpenters, the young people who can make things, and the designers, who would design projects, were different groups. But these groups would offer their services as an institution not as an individual. So these were institutions without formal name, these were groups but working as institution. This was the system (in olden times).
Today we have about 10 to 12 institutions including jamati (of the Ismaili community) institutions. The religious institutions consist of mukhi, council, social welfare, and arbitration, which deals with the local disputes. The council is overall a supreme institution in the village, which looks after the entire activities including religious, social and political issues. Then there are Tariqa (religious education) board, economic planning board, education committee, volunteers and scouts, rovers; girl guides, and the water and shoe company. The water and shoe company is responsible for serving water to the community members on the occasions of celebration; the young children in the 6 to 7 year age group are the members of this institution. The concept behind this is to train these young individuals for community services. So that they improve their interaction with the community, develop the sense of teamwork, understand how to follow the command, improve personal flexibility and become well trained before they join voluntary institutions.
Section 8
Well sir, my question is how it (institutions) developed, as you talked about transformation – that there were no formal institutions but the system was in place, and that informal system with its essence wonderfully transformed into new institutions? How did it happen and who made these institutions?
First I will talk about transformation (of the system). We celebrate festivals about a dozen times a year and this gives a regular demonstration to the youth of how people (community volunteers) work. As I said that there were no formal institutions present in former times, hence there were no formal training systems or guidelines. They would learn through observation from this festival and would get into the chain.
Then in modern times the “Imamat institution” formed modern institutions under Ismaili constitution. Under the umbrella of these institutions the community channelled their practices and brought these practices under the relevant institution. Now these modern institutions run smoothly…..

Did you observe any conflict among these (informal) institutions during the transition period? For instance were the community reluctant to accept it or did they resent these changes?
As far as my knowledge is concerned, I witnessed the institutions developing almost throughout these forty-two years (of my age) and I never observed any conflict [among them] and the transformation took place very smoothly. As you know, change always causes unrest and confusion at the beginning and this disturbance causes resistance towards the change. But at least in Shimshal I observed no such disturbance from these changes. It was probably for the reason that we were practising all these things under the informal system and our informal system was very similar to these institutions, so we only needed adjustment of our activities into these institutions, as these (institutions) matched our psyche.
There was a minor confusion between the community volunteers and the boy scouts as to what age group must join the volunteers and the scouts. It was generally considered that the mature age group people should join the community volunteers and the young should join the boy scouts. This confusion got clear with the passage of time – that there is no age limit for joining these institutions and any age group can join any one of the two institutions. One can join voluntary services after serving in the boy scouts and one can directly join the volunteers. The cooperation between the two institutions is exemplary. Basically these are community workers and any project that comes to these institutions (from the community for implementation), they discuss the project among themselves and define the scope, and hand over the project to any one of the institutions for implementation. If the project is large and beyond the scope of one institution (due to a limited work force) then both the institutions implement the project through combined strategy/efforts, but if the project is small one of the two institutions takes the responsibility for completion of the project. The coordination among these two is excellent and there are no such problems.
Section 9
I want to ask you that as you said that traditionally people would volunteer for such activities. People would offer their good physical strength, ideas and their resources. What was the motivation behind it? How would the community motivate and reward these volunteers?
In fact becoming a volunteer is a feeling: the one who possesses the passion becomes a volunteer and offers his wealth. It is similar to generosity as not everyone can be generous. Only those possessing inner passion can be generous. Similarly, people with a particular feeling become volunteers, and this tradition has very deep roots in our society – it has become almost part of our psyche and a basic element of our physical and mental development. Becoming a volunteer (for a community member) is as important as looking after his children, property, livestock and agricultural activities.
Similarly philanthropic works (nomus - system of donating resources for a community project in the name of a relative) have the same importance for a member of the community. It is almost a lifetime assignment for an individual [to perform nomus] and for this they need no formal education. It transfers traditionally from generation to generation, [the older generation] informally educates them that it is part of their duty. People offer their wealth, their knowledge, profession, expertise and physical strength to the community. Now inspiration is very important for such activities… the source of inspiration was the reward and recognition from the community.

What type of recognition?
The recognition was in such a way that the community would praise them, for example those who were physically strong - they were praised in their songs and [the recognition was] shown in their customs. One who would donate part of their wealth to the community… people would appreciate it and would look after or guard his property.
For example, in those days if one person would possess more yaks, people would look after them because they would know that some of these (yaks) would come to the community in any nomus. Today people feel envy towards those who possess more. This is due to the feeling that today wealth is considered an individual right and this has created a class difference in the society. People get envious about someone having more money. But this trend/attitude did not exist some years back. If one person got more money or wealth the community would feel pleasure, as this was their combined wealth, therefore people would look after each other’s property, guard each other from life-threatening risks; in short the wealth one person possessed was considered common wealth. This was the feeling.
This cultural heritage – though it’s in decline we still own it. Today in this modern time, particularly in cities, people use every fair and unfair means for monitory gain, people kill each other, one brother kills another just to get his share of property/a house; but in our society even today, one who retires after service of about 15 to 20 years, whatever he brings at the end of his service, he offers part of his life-long earning for the philanthropic work (community). He feels satisfaction and pleasure by offering part of his earnings for philanthropic work in the name of one of his dearest. People at all levels offer whatever they possess, because it has become part of community’s psyche that whatever they earn, it includes the community’s share.
Section 10
How do you take it – is this the definition of life for the people? I mean they define life in this way: that life means living for others?
Yes of course, this is the definition of life: that you don’t live your own life only but you must live for others. Your skill/expertise must not remain confined to yourself, but others should also benefit from your skill. People don’t deem their resources as exclusively their property, they don’t use the term “mine” but “ours” This concept of sharing resources is still very strong in Shimshal as compared to other communities in the area. Shimshal is striving for collective development of the society but our immediate neighbours are making more efforts for individual than communal progress. It is in Shimshal that individuals offer tens of thousands of rupees for community projects and this is for the reason that people want to progress collectively in order to make the society stronger.

Thank you, Johar bhai, you talked about the internal issues of the society, how the society was organised internally and functioning at that time. Would you tell us how people were feeling about (their community) and what was their sense of place? Would they feel isolated and deprived? And what would they…. …..?
Yes surely, there are several things. The first thing is how was the people’s feeling of being Shimshali at that time and how they feel now and what would be their feeling in future about being Shimshali. Secondly how we define poverty, if we define poverty in the context of the area (in general) and to say whether Shimshal was a poor society or not, so first I would like to talk about poverty.
When we talk about poverty we talk in the context of the whole area. There was poverty in the entire region, the Hunza state and Gilgit – even beyond that. People of Gilgit would go to Punyal (a place: Yasin and Ishkoman valleys) to fetch food grain. In Hunza the division of agricultural land reached a point where people started migrating from Hunza towards Gilgit. The massive land distribution made people’s subsistence difficult in Hunza as the entire dependency (for existence) was on agriculture, but in the upper valleys there was sufficient land possessed by the people.
Upper Hunza which is called Gojal was in a better position, and Shimshal was even better than the rest of Gojal, in terms of agricultural and livestock products. Therefore it was called ganj khana (the home for livestock products; treasure) of Hunza. From that point of view Shimshal was not a poor society; rather, it was a self-sufficient community. It was a common proverb about Shimshal that it is a place of “butter and meat”, the place of wealth. And people were inspired by that. And many of the elite in Gojal got their daughters married in Shimshal – it was for the reason that they deemed Shimshal safe and comfortable for their daughters. They thought that their daughters would be safe and comfortable in terms of foodstuff in Shimshal. In this way many arbob from Gojal got their daughters married in Shimshal, they were inspired from Shimshal.
Almost all the supply of livestock products, such as qurut (local dried cheese), wool, meat, butter and animal hides as raw material for making shoes, were made in Shimshal. The only supply we would import from the down valley (refers to Hunza and Gojal) was the dried fruits. Salt ore was also supplied from Shimshal to the whole Hunza state, so, as a whole, Hunza and Gojal were dependent on Shimshal for some of the essential supplies such as salt and dairy products. Therefore we cannot say that Shimshal was a poor community. It was rather a prosperous community in comparison with other areas of Hunza but the entire region was in poverty at that time as compared to that of today. In that sense (in comparison with today) we say that Shimshal was in poverty.
Secondly we talk about isolation, so I would like to define isolation. There are several types of isolation, for example there is social, communal and geographical isolation. In Shimshal there was geographical isolation, it was not at all that people isolated (discriminated against) Shimshal as a community. It was geographically located at a distant place where all-weather communication was not possible. In summer the water level would rise in the gorge and block the trek (passage) and in winter freezing of the water would hamper communication with the down valley. It was only the lean flow period of the river when people would travel (to down valley). The term isolation was used in the sense of remoteness and lack of communication.
Someone has written that Shimshal was a prison (for the Mir’s political opponents). It is strange and not true that Shimshal was a place like that – for political opponents – as it had viable communication links with China via Raskam (Shaksgam river: the Shimshali owned their settlement and agricultural land at Raskam which became part of China in the 1963 boundary demarcation, until 1963 people frequently travelled to and from Raskam). If we trace back more to the past there were a caravan route via Braldo glacier to Baltistan and via Hisper glacier to Nagar and Hunza. So the statement that Shimshal was a prison looks unrealistic as the prisoners had more opportunity than other areas to flee to China.
In general it was the tradition of the Hunza ruling family that they would kill all the princes except the crown prince. They would keep the princes away from the crown prince and for this reason they would send them to different places to be brought up. In this way a few princes were also sent to Shimshal to be looked after (till they reached puberty and were then killed). The Mir’s family would send the princes to Chipursan, Ghulkin and Hussani to be looked after. There were some political opponents sent to Shimshal but they were imprisoned in a local house. It was partly for the reason that Shimshal was geographically distantly located and partly for the reason that these prisoners were fed by the community free of cost. There was nothing like social isolation.
Section 12
There were interactions (with other areas), as you talked about marriages. Was there intensive interaction with Hunza and other areas……?
Traditionally we had no interaction with Hunza in terms of marriages in the past but more recently we developed this relationship with Hunza. But with Wakhi speaking people in Gojal we had a very strong relationship, and we had mixed marriages as I told you that Shimshal was a prosperous community and it was famous for it until the recent past. The social and economic difference started with the linkage of Karakoram highway to the area. It caused a visible difference. People along the highway got more prosperous than others because their dependency shifted from internal to external resources, and means of communication became easier for them and they got access to the regional markets. But Shimshal remained dependent on its own resources. This is the reason that a difference developed over the past twenty to twenty-five years.
Now I will talk about the sense of place. From the perspective of sense of place I will divide it in to three phases. The first phase was the era of Hunza state when Shimshal was known as a self-sufficient and prosperous community in the area. Shimshal had an importance in the area particularly in the darbar (assembly in the Mir’s palace) and people would feel proud of being Shimshali.
Then in the second phase the situation changed. When the Karakoram Highway linked the area, people established communication links with surrounding areas and got access to markets but Shimshal remained in isolation. This was the time when Shimshal as a community felt discrimination (for its inaccessible location). There developed a minor social and economic difference, which created the feeling of deprivation and discrimination; people felt as if they were lacking something. Although the community is self-sufficient even today, due to lack of communication it has not been able to fully integrate into the national life.
The third phase would be the post road linkage era. Though the road has been linked to the village this year it would be fully operative in the coming years. My perception of the future of Shimshal is very encouraging. Shimshal was a prosperous community in the past; there was a lot of potential. A vast land was under their control and the sense of ownership (of such a vast land) made them feel proud (of being Shimshali). Now when we will fully integrate into the national life (establish communication links) and developments will take place, then we will again be prosperous because we still possess the same potential. We own a vast geographical area (2700 square kilometre), full of scenic beauty. We have plenty of agricultural land for crop production and fruit orchards; we have tremendous potential for tourism. Shimshal is the only community which can conduct a 30-day round trek on its own land as it has (so many) areas of immense scenic beauty (from the tourist point of view).
I personally feel proud and rich when I think about the future of Shimshal, as we possess everything (required for development). We have real potential. I think that in future people will again feel proud to be called Shimshali. They would be proud of being Shimshali. This is my feeling about the sense of place.
Section 13
Johar bhai! I would like to ask you a question with more questions in it. As you said, we have lots of potential, but how would we utilise these resources when we are being exposed to a new era which is quite different (from the past). It is the era of globalisation and people have access to our resources. Are there sufficient resources present in Shimshal, and does the community make efforts for the utilisation and control of these resources?
Exactly, with regard to the management of the resources of Shimshal, the effects of globalisation or modernisation have certainly changed the scenario. I am talking with reference to globalisation – no place today is owned by an individual or group (it has become part of the global society). For instance, a few years back I was of the view that Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pastures) is exclusively my personal property and I would always feel bad sharing it with others (outsiders) but today I am convinced that it is the era of globalisation and no place is confined to a certain community or people.
There are impressive landscapes and scenic beauty in Shimshal; anyone from any part of the world can share this landscape. Anyone from elsewhere can get inspiration from its wonderful snow-covered mountains, lush green meadows, and can enjoy it. But still we have a special emotional relationship with this landscape; we have made a lot of sacrifices and endured a lot of hardships for this land. Therefore we believe that anyone can see it and enjoy it but we are the legitimate owners of this land and from that point of view it is necessary for us to manage this land. We must have the authority to use our land in a way that is consonant with our tradition and requirements. It should not be that (just because) Shimshal has an impressive landscape and mountains the community should be flooded with tourists and anyone who comes here can act in whatever way he likes.
As we are the owners of this land, we have a centuries-long emotional and spiritual relationship with this land and we have the right to regulate/manage our resources. There is a sense of ownership and sense of place and certainly people (the community) have a strong feeling that the community must manage it in accordance with their own requirements.
When we talk about tourism there are several categories of tourism, it should be us to decide what type of tourists we want. We have to decide to what extent we can afford to contaminate/pollute our landscape and everything must run according to certain regulations. Just as regulation is needed for a family or community affairs, it is equally important for the management of this landscape.
There is also the question of how such a vast land was traditionally managed. The answer is that we had a well-established management system in place, but when we are talking about modernisation and modern management systems, there are certain requirements, certain norms which we are bound to adopt and that we are doing through our community based organisation, the SNT. The creation of SNT is also based on this concept that whatever experience we have comes from centuries-long practices and we think that these practices were sustainable in the sense that they did not disturb the balance (in our environment) [and we need] to present these experiences to the world in such a way that the world understands it. We have formalised our practices, beliefs, management system, community interactions and all our activities under this organisation in a bid to explain it to the world. It is the basic objective of SNT to record and promote the traditional practices, which include the charity work, volunteer work, community participation, group decisions and all these things. We tried to incorporate all these things in SNT’s management plan. Since we are not native English speaker lots of our feelings remain unexplained in the management plan but we are striving to show them through our actions.
The organisation has framed its rules and regulations to keep our traditional system running, prepare the community for the changes, guide the community in accordance with the changing scenarios and to regulate the activities. For instance, tourism is an issue; it has several positive points but at the same time it has negative points too, and to monitor the impact of those negative points on the society’s values and traditions we have established sub-organisations with their own regulations.
Modernisation doesn’t mean that your culture ceases to have importance, it means carrying your culture with you while development [takes place], and adapting your culture. For this reason we developed this organisation and I think that we plan our resources for sustainable use through this organisation [so as] to strengthen our traditional practices and try to document and display it in scientific ways. So these were all about….
Section 14
Sir, you talked about the management of resources and about the management of the area and explained how we managed our resources without any disturbance/ damages (unbalance to the environment). I would like to ask you particularly about the wildlife, what the management system was and how it worked. As hunting was a source of livelihood in Shimshal, but despite that what caused the survival of this plentiful wildlife that is present in our area even today? What were the rationales for the opposition of the community to the international interventions?
Before replying to your question I would like to talk briefly about our livelihood and the source of income. When we say that we were self-sufficient it is important to know in what sectors we were self-sufficient and what was our means of earning.
There were three major sources of livelihood but two were dominant and the third was a minor source. The first was agriculture, which was spread over an area from Shimshal to the Chinese boarder as far as Raskam, a small village on the bank of Shaksgam River, but today it is not in our possession. It went to China in the boundary demarcation. Our agricultural activities were spread over almost two hundreds fifty kilometre long area and we cultivated different crops in different localities. Our last settlement was on the bank of Shaksgam River called Raskam.
The second major source (of livelihood) was livestock herding. The land of 2200 or of 2700 – I forget, oh yes it is 2700 square kilometres - we used for livestock herding. This whole area of 2700 sq-km has been under our exclusive control except for a short time (captured by nomadic groups) and we used it for livestock herding and we earned our sources of subsistence from this land.
The third minor source, which supplemented our two major sources of livelihood, was hunting which was considered a symbol of gallantry and pride in former times. It was adopted as a hobby or occupation and was [a source of] respect in the society. For people it was a source of livelihood. But it was so calculated and cautiously formulated/regulated that people engaged in hunting with great care. A norm or informal regulation based on centuries-old practice was developed and everyone was bound to follow that regulation.
For instance, traditionally hunting in the breeding season was completely banned. The person who would hunt by mistake a female or pregnant animal were disliked and admonished by the community and sometimes socially boycotted (by rejecting the meat of the game). It was acceptable to hunt the old animals, it was an established system. They had made the hunting practices and the wildlife part of their culture and their system of life. For example they would express [their attachment to the wildlife] in their folk songs and cultural events as a means of reminding the people time and again about the ethics of hunting and reiterating their attachment to their environment and educating people not to hunt as a hobby but in times of need.
We have a famous and melodious song, containing a sad dialogue between a baby ibex and her dying mother. It is so touching that I still remember when this song was performed on occasions, people would virtually weep. This was the practice of their care and affection towards wildlife. This was the practice and the community set boundaries for each activity and the community members were bound to live within those boundaries. Mostly hunting took place at Pamir because of the shortage of food supply. In some cases when there was a risk of starvation they would go hunting to feed the community (people at Pamir).
It was an established rule that no one would use the game individually but would distribute it among the community. It was in a way a check and balance system and the community would benefit from it. Secondly the shepherds who would remain in Pamir with the livestock the whole winter – about 6 people would stay with the yaks and goats in pasture – they were allowed to do a limited amount of shooting (hunting) for the reason that they possess a limited food supply as it was difficult to transport food in winter. All these practices were calculated and this is the reason that when Khunjerab was designated as a national park and WWF intervened and introduced the modern national park practices in Khunjerab National Park (KNP) Shimshal opposed to the so-called park rules implemented in KNP. Then there became two different management models (modern and traditional management models) and we observed in a very short period of 10 to 15 years that the endangered species (Marco polo sheep) inside the park boundary reached the verge of extinction. About 750 Marco polo sheep that were present at the time of the formation of the park (1975) decreased to only 34 Marco polo sheep in 1992.
But at the same time if you look at Shimshal (where a traditional management system was in place), the population of blue sheep has reached thousands in number. Secondly the government tried to ban hunting with all its might and incentives (in Shimshal) but failed (for lack of community participation). But when SNT made the community realise their obligation towards their environment and reminded them of the songs that reflected their connection with the wildlife the community responded positively to SNT’s appeal and without any use of force and without incentives the community banned hunting completely.
The community accepted the decision and went back to its original practices and ethics. [The opposition] was for the reason that the government changed their (community’s) perception (of environment). They had developed a perception based on love and affection for their environment as a result of centuries of association and interaction. The government (the authorities implementing Parks regulations) destroyed this very perception. The community was provoked to such a level (of frustration) by these authorities that it started thinking of the wildlife as its enemy (and tried to kill it). But when we (SNT) made them realise that this is the wildlife with which we have shared our environment for centuries and these [animals] are the beauty of our landscape and the potential wealth of our community the community understood. It is now about for ten years since we banned hunting. This is the clear example of our sustainable practices, beliefs and ethics.
Section 16
Johar bhai, I would like to divert your attention to a very important issue. As you talked about development, my question would be about the half of our population that is women. What has been the role of women in our traditional society and what would be the role of women in the new changing society?
Thank you Inayat bhai; traditionally in our society, there is no discrimination as such between men and women. From the management point of view both are integral parts of the society and have defined roles. Viewing it traditionally, all the household activities i.e. management of foodstuff, guest management and all such activities are carried out by women. Apart from that, women also share some agricultural activities with men.
Then Pamir where the major share of our economy comes from is totally managed by women. This includes management of pastures, and women deal with livestock management and the related problems. This was our traditional management system. The same practice has transferred to modern time with the exception of a few changes. Some decision-making [about] issues and activities, which was traditionally done by men, has now shifted to women. It is due to more involvement by women in agricultural activities for the reason that many young people have left the village (for studies and work) and more men go with tourists. The burden of agricultural work has now shifted to women, therefore they make decisions regarding these issues.
In recent years one more task has been added to women’s management (responsibilities, that is the education of children at home. Because in our society, men remain busy with tourists and the agricultural activities, therefore they cannot concentrate on their children’s education. Women also look after the decision-making, monitoring of educational activities of their children and related matters. In this way I would say that the role of women in our society is very important and they are almost on a par with men in decision-making, and more important is that they are independent in their decision-making. The women do not have so many restrictions on the expression of their views in our society as exist in some other societies.
Section 17
Now would you please tell us about education? As men are more educated, what is the state of women’s education?
If we look at primary level, the enrolment is above 90% or it may be 100%. It includes both girls and boys, but this percentage sharply decreases in the higher classes because in Shimshal there are certain limitations. The schools go up to the middle standard (class 8) and boys, after passing class 8, manage to go out of the village and live independently in other cities and continue their education but….

Do they cover their educational expenses by themselves or do their parents support them……..?
No their parents support them. Well, I was talking about girls’ education, the problem is that our society as a whole is such that girls cannot go out of the village and live independently in other cities. We don’t have proper educational institutions in our surroundings. Even if there are some institutions available these are so expensive that parents cannot afford to send their children (girls) to these institutions. For example, the schools or colleges in the big cities having hostel facilities with proper security arrangements are very expensive.
Unfortunately there are no such facilities in our immediate surroundings like Gilgit and Hunza, except the girls’ academy at Karimabad which has limited capacity and is also based strictly on merit. So these are the major hindrances in the way of girls’ education, they don’t have the opportunity to get education beyond class 8. There are a few people who afford to move their girls to big cities and educate them; these are marginal..… {Cassette-1 ended}
Despite these hardships and constraints, Alhamdullillah (thanks be to god) many of our sisters and daughters have moved to the cities and they are getting education. Many of them have returned to the village and are now serving the community at different levels, for instance there are teachers, health workers and women working in other community institutions. And those women belonging to (coming from) other parts of the area [but who are] married to Shimshal and highly qualified have a vital role and influence in promoting girls’ education in Shimshal, because these women act as role models for the community and the girls get the motivation and inspiration from these educated women for continuation of their education. From this point of view there is a visible improvement in girls’ education.
Section 18
You mentioned hindrances to further education, such as lack of institutions, lack of security and lack of opportunities for the girls to get education. Are there any efforts/planning underway from the community or SNT platform toward resolving this problem? Has anything been done so far in this regard?
Yes, it is certainly a great concern at village level and for the individual too, whose (female) children are deprived of education. They are seriously thinking about this issue. People try to reach a solution at individual levels but SNT as an institution gives special attention to this problem. We recently discussed different ways and options in accordance with our capacity and decided to establish an education fund. The theme of this fund is that all earning people and the businessmen of the village must regularly contribute a certain amount to this fund in accordance with their capacities. We will appeal to the well-off community members to donate/contribute to this fund. Then we would also appeal to national and international donor agencies for contributions to this fund. The prime objective of establishing the education promotion fund is to provide a viable solution to the problems/hindrances to our youth, particularly girls, in getting education. The objective is to provide them with proper hostel facilities at Gilgit or Hunza so that they can get education in a peaceful and safe atmosphere. Secondly we are also exploring ways and means to get scholarships and subsidised hostel accommodation so that the maximum number of female students come out of the village and continue their education.

You talked about education. The high rate of education in such a far-flung area is quite significant in our country’s educational perspective, when we compare it (with elsewhere). So what is the main reason for this high education rate?
If we compare it with other communities of Pakistan or with other communities in northern areas, we find Shimshal in a much better position from the education standpoint. Despite the geographical isolation and lack of facilities, the education rate of Shimshal is quite a bit higher than other (rural) areas and is even better than some urban areas of Pakistan. The reason in my opinion is the education network of His Highness (the Aga Khan), which started in the early 1950s and also influenced Shimshal in the 70s. The first formal school was I think, established in the 70s. I can’t say for sure when exactly it started but I guess it started in the 70s, and some of our senior colleagues such as Farmanullah, Mirza Amin – and even before them there were Mohabat Shah, Rajab Shah Yousuf etc – these were the first batch of this D.J. (Diamond Jubilee) school in Shimshal. In fact it was the Aga Khan education network that introduced education in the area and later on [this was] followed up by the government.
The two schools, the government and the D.J. schools, created a competitive environment and at the same time provided better educational facilities on the doorstep. We also got the inspiration from the surrounding areas to get education, so these were the major reasons for being in a better position as compared to other communities despite our geographical isolation. At the moment we have many of our friends having master’s degrees and professional degrees and who are working in important positions. If you look at your own family you have about six, seven graduates; and three or four more students are in this process and will graduate in a year’s time. So this trend is encouraging and provided the obstacles we mentioned earlier are removed, the education rate can even get better.
Section 19
Remaining on (the topic of) education, can we go for a moment back to your schooldays? What was the situation in relation to teachers, classrooms and basic teaching facilities such as text books, note books, pens and other related things? Would you please tell us the story (of your school time)?
When we started education, I would not call it formal education based on today’s concept. It was not like this, there used to be only one teacher (in a school), he would teach about five, six classes. I mean there was only one teacher for students from class one to class 6. The students were seated in one hall in groups and he would teach them one by one. I mentioned in the preceding parts of my interview that at the beginning when I was admitted in class one for a very short time, I started my education with the late Ghulam Sultan. But formally I started my education with ustad (teacher, sir) Daulat Amin, when he came to Shimshal after his matriculation.

The first Matriculate (one who has passed their secondary school certificate) of Shimshal?
The first matriculate of Shimshal – and when he returned to the village with the spirit of serving his people, we were the first batch to start schooling with him. We were the first batch of students who started formal education from the start of his career. At that time we used to study in the big hall of the community centre and several classes used to sit in groups in the same hall and the teacher would sit in the middle of the hall and would monitor and teach all the classes one by one. The teaching aids and techniques and other required facilities were not available at that time; in one class only one or two students would have a book and that book was placed in the centre and we would read it collectively. Before exams we would arrange to sit in one place and learn it as there used to be only one book.

In the entire village….?
Yes, in the entire village and class [laughing]. We starting writing on papers (notebooks) in class 6, we would normally write on wooden slats with wooden pens. We studied in this way up to class 5. I studied in Shimshal under the same atmosphere but when I went to Gulmit I noticed no visible difference in teaching style, instead I found Shimshal better in some cases. The seating arrangement was the same; about two to three classes were seated in a single room. I must say with particular reference to my experience that I got the opportunity to be educated by two very important personalities and I am proud of that. One was Daulat Amin ustad and the other was Sultan Ali ustad. You know very well that Sultan Ali ustad has made a tremendous contribution to the education of the Northern Areas, particularly Hunza and Gojal. I got education in Gulmit under his patronage and he had the same style of teaching (as it was in Shimshal) but in addition he would emphasise physical activities and cleanliness. Apart from the curriculum he would give importance to physical activities, so this was the teaching style at that time.
But when I reached college level – as I told you before I came first in my [class at] college – there were students from English medium schools in my class and I learnt the basics of English in class 6. But I think that the basics were so strong that I faced no problem in the years ahead; instead we competed with them and achieved better results then them. So it was the…
Section 20
Johar bhai, my question is that yours is an exceptional case, that you emerged from that environment and condition and performed very well, you acquired a professional degree. You had with you some other students (from Shimshal), did they get the opportunity to continue (their education), I mean did they get access to the cities and how would they live there and get education? Who were supporting them? Please tell us something about it.
You said my case is an exceptional case, I think it is not so. There are so many examples, you are one in front of me, there are Muzaffer, Farman, Karim and other friends who came out of the same school and performed well, they also got master degrees and are working in good positions. Yes I agree that it was a matter of chance, some got the opportunities (to get education) but some did not get the opportunities. They unluckily did not get access to the cities. I myself got access to the city accidentally. Otherwise I had neither the objective of studying further nor anyone to guide me (to do so). I really didn’t know what to do next after my matriculation.
Matriculation used to be the endpoint for us, there were no one to guide us properly, and nobody was available for career guidance or career counselling. Therefore, for this reason many of my friends could not continue their education despite the fact that they were more intelligent and could have got professional degrees. It was either for the lack of resources or lack of information and knowledge (of education) that they could not continue their education.
Then those friends who went to the cities, they got no proper guidance or they didn’t find the atmosphere where they could continue their education. Some of them could not continue for financial reasons and some for lack of a good environment. But as a whole, all those who came out of those schools are doing well, they got degrees of one type or another, and today they are earning their living. Those who remained in the village are the same (have not changed their conditions). I think that whoever came out of those schools did something.

Well Johar sahib; you went out of the village to such far-flung cities where there were no such institutions or guidance available. So please tell us in what conditions you lived there.
It is very interesting. I will tell you my own experience. There was a good environment (for education) at Gilgit; there was a well-furnished hostel, with a proper vigilance and monitoring system. So it was an education-friendly environment there (at Gilgit) but when we went to Karachi, first of all Karachi is a crowded city and secondly you must have lots of money to arrange reasonable accommodation. There were limited earning sources in Shimshal at that time; they were dependent on their indigenous resources, i.e. earning through the sale of dairy product, livestock, there was no tourism as there is today. So the earning sources were quite limited in terms of cash at that time and in a city you need a lot of cash. From this point of view there used to be a lot of problems, so we would live collectively, both students and working people. All of them would live collectively in a rented house; these would include students and some of the working people with shift duties. Some would go to work in the morning and some of them in the evening so the environment as a whole was not favourable for study.
Section 21
How did the accommodation used to be, how many rooms were there in the house?
There used to be one or two rooms (in the house)……

And how many people would live there ..?
Two to three persons would live in one room. I would like to give you my own example: for about three to four months I lived in a place where there was only one room available without kitchen, bathroom, gas and water facility. It was a simple room. We would go to the community centre (Jamat Khana) for washing and bathing. We were three friends in this room. But the thing is that I had one objective in my mind and that was getting education. I never wanted to live in the city just wasting time. I had the objective to get my FSc degree (Faculty of Sciences; higher secondary school certificate higher secondary school certificate) as early as possible and get out of the city. Keeping that objective in mind, I never had the feeling of (really) living in such places, I was there just for a short time and I tried to get maximum advantage of that time (my stay). This was the common case with many of my friends in Karachi, that they would share a small room and would not concentrate on their studies. But despite these problems many of our friends continued their education along with their jobs and bore their own educational expenses. They earned good degrees and today they have reasonable jobs.

Well Johar sahib! Now I would like to ask you another question. You said with reference to education that many young people move to the cities. In a way what impacts does this mobility or migration to the city have on the village? Will these people return to the village or not, and what impact would it have on the community?
Basically we have two types of migration in Shimshal. One is the seasonal migration -that part of the population goes to Pamir and after 5, 6 months they return to the village; this is a temporary migration. And second is the migration where people migrate to the cities in search of education or employment. This is a healthy activity that people migrate from the village for good purposes. If the purpose is to get education, then after completion of their education the student tries to go back to his area for service (employment), if he does not see any opportunity in his area then he stays in the city, seeks employment and supports his family. He takes the students from his family to the city and educates them and also supports his parents and brothers and sisters in the village.
So these people are playing a very important role in improving the economic conditions (in the village). Anyone who migrates from Shimshal to the cities, they get their inspiration from the village, they frequently visit the village to keep alive the attachment and connection with the village. They usually visit the village once or twice a year to see their parents. One example of attachment of people to their village is that they never think to build property in other cities, their ultimate destination is the village and they try to strengthen their bases in the village and try to improve their living standards in the village. Instead of getting lost /absorbed in the crowds of the city they want to return to the village and live a peaceful life in the village by improving their conditions.
I personally want [that] and it is my idea. And when I plan my future I never think that when I retire from my service I will stay in Islamabad or Gilgit; I will rather move to my village after retirement and will live a peaceful life there. It is due to the strong conviction that I feel that we must ultimately go back to our village and strengthen that society. The civic problems in the cities are the result of the trend that people like to migrate to the urban core from villages and nobody wants to go to the villages from the city. This causes pressure on civic life; cities are expanding beyond their limits. In my opinion it is not the right way of development, instead development must take place equally in rural areas too. This will solve the migration problems.
Section 22
One more question with reference to migration. It is unusual [here]. When you look from a global perspective you will find the same problems in the developed world that the rural population migrates to the cities, and villages are emptied of people despite the availability of development opportunities there. You talk about Shimshal with a different view - that the trend here is such that people want to return to the village after their retirement. What reason do you think [there is] for this, what is the special reason for it?
Well! People migrate to the cities for the availability of opportunities – jobs and business opportunities – and secondly facilities are available in cities, which are not there in the villages. When I talk in the context of Shimshal, in my view there are two reasons why people like to return to the village after service or business and want to get back to their society. One reason in my opinion is that we have very a strong connection with our area. We have a very strong attachment to our landscape and in any case we cannot afford to lose this, and secondly we’ve got relatively more (potential) opportunities in the area and every educated person realises this potential [is there]. Although there are limited opportunities at present it will increase with the passage of time and the opportunities would be sufficient for living a comfortable life. I think these are the motivations behind it.

Do you think that mental and spiritual peace is the source of motivation as it is not in cities?
Yes sure, it is the reason too. We live in mountains in a completely natural, clean and peaceful environment, and when we go to the cities we face many problems related to these cities. There is hectic and insecure life in the city, there are lots of fears in the city and all these things create tension and people never get peace of mind. They live a robotic life every day with the same routines and problems, and this continues for many years and mentally they get fed up. As a peaceful life is part of our psyche, we think that we have an impressive landscape, peaceful environment, peace of mind; we have no conflicts in our area, hence no fear and worries. There is not much materialistic competition in the society, so these are all important for peace of mind. People prefer to forego material benefits for peace of mind, therefore they return to the village and live a peaceful life in the society.
Section 23
So Johar sahib! Thank you very much for sharing very important and valuable information with us. I hope that you will successfully complete your professional life and that after retirement you will return to your beautiful environment as you dreamed of it. Thank you very much.
Thank you.