If one was to walk through a village in Himachal Pradesh in the early 1940s, there would be the sound of many wooden wheels turning. One of them would be the spinning wheel (charkha) used to make thread from sheep’s wool for weaving coats or chola and pattu on a loom (khaddi).Another would be a water wheel (gharaat), which rotated in the water of the kuhlsor canals, grinding the wheat in the mill or chakki above. While these first two wheels continue to exist, albeit in small numbers, the third village wheel has almost completely disappeared. The third wheel, the oil mill or kolu, used the force of ox and buffaloes to turn a heavy stone, which in turn would grind mustard and flax oil seeds into fresh oil.Although Himachal does not produce as much mustard as the larger states in North and Western India, it has always been an essential crop to everyday life.
Spinning the wheel of time back to the 1940s again, we learn that the kolus or oil-press mills were run mainly by Muslim families. As Pradan Ram of Rakkar village, Kangra district said,
The Muslim families that were our neighbours ran these oil mills. They were the telis. Some of them also played shehnai at the temple, but most of them ran the oil mills. We would take our mustard or flax seeds and get them ground at the mills. In the higher up regions of Kullu- Lahaul, people made walnuts, apricots and other oils. Nobody bought oil from any shop! We would pay the teli with our grain.
Post-partition, the Muslim population in most parts of Himachal Pradesh diminished, and now stands at around 4% living mainly in Chamba, Una and Solan districts. From a history of great syncretism, and communities living and sharing resources together, what followed were times of great division. These divisive times were seen in agriculture with the impact of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, where the Barah Anaaj or 12 mixed crop system, of which mustard is an important crop, began to disappear in favour of monocropping. These 12 crops used to include combinations of maddua (finger millet), ramdana (amaranth), rajma (kidney bean), mung (green gram) lobia (black-eyed peas), kuttu (buck wheat), kulath (horse gram), makki (corn) and math (a local soya bean), alsi (flax seed for oil), sarson (mustard seed), sorghum (jowhar), pearl millet (bajra), chana (chickpeas). In addition to this gourds, greens and wild vegetables and flowers were grown and collected.
Each of these crops has a different resilience, some thrive acidic soils, some can survive floods, while others can survive droughts. In fact, the traditional seeds of our region are treasures that also have unique tastes and health properties.
shares Mansingh of Nain village, Kangra district.
As wheat and rice became more popular, in the 1990s, farmers began to practice mixed farming, however no longer of twelve crops. Mustard continued to be the main crop, grown in almost every farmer’s field. While the Kharif crop would have corn in the higher fields, rice in the lower fields mixed with chickpeas or lentils, the rabi crop, would have wheat along with math and mustard. While the math seed provides nitrogen to the soil, the mustard was known to support the wheat crop.
When it rains heavily, the wheat crop can fall, therefore we grow mustard alongside so that they can bear each other’s weight,
shared Kavitha Devi a farmer of Sukkad village in Kangra district.
Another turning event for farmers was in 1998 when the Indian government ordered all traditional oil mills to shut down and they were deemed unsafe. Coincidentally, this was the time when cheap GMO soya oil began to flood the Indian markets. Many farmers who did not grow enough mustard for oil and depended on the shops were now caught in a dilemma.
There was a time when we began to receive refined oil in the fair-price ration shops at one time, which sold cheaper than mustard oil. While some of the people bought it, they realised that they were increasingly getting joint paints. We complained in our panchayat and then demanded sarson oil,
Says Jagat Ram the owner of a fair price shop in Rakkar in Kangra district. Both Tibetan and Ayurvedic doctors in the region back up this claim saying that mustard oil eases joint pains and is good for health in general, whereas refined oils cause mass arthritis. Although the mustard oil in the ration shops comes from Punjab and not their own fields, farmers in Himachal stood up for the mustard seed as an important part of their lives.
However, since the 2000s, this intrinsic importance has begun to be questioned. This is for several reasons, one of them being the financial pressure to grow cash crops (apples, ginger, kiwis, off-season vegetables) that can sell at a higher price. Another big factor is climate change, where unpredictable weather patterns have set in. The Agriculture Department has identified that the local mustard varieties are facing a major aphid insect problem due to climate flux and recommend the use of hybrid seeds.
The University recommends the gobi and farm hybrid seeds and this is what we distribute,
says a worker at the Agri Department outpost in Sheela Chowk, Kangra District. Most farmers nowadays grow their wheat crop without intercropping with mustard. They grow the two crops separately.
As traditional seed saving dwindles, adding in the problem of monkeys and furthermore erratic rains and hailstorms, farmers are in crisis. In what scientists of Delhi University and the Deepak Pental team feel is the solution for agriculture, seeds of GM Mustard are being proposed as a move towards the future.
When told about GM Mustard, some farmers like Vimla Devi of Banala, Kangra district outrightly refuse the idea. She says that there are plenty of local varieties of mustard in Himachal and it is a question of reviving them.
We prefer our local mustard seeds, black and white seeds, as the saag is tasty, they give plenty of oil for cooking, medicine and our hair and we can use the dried stalks as a broom as well,
Small farmers across India have gone on a Sarson Satyagraha to prevent GM Mustard from being released. Although India illegally imports GM foods, if GM Mustard is approved, it will be the first GMO food crop being grown in India. Governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and W. Bengal have said NO to GM Mustard stating that GMOs have been proven to have health effects but more to take away farmer sovereignty and make them dependent on companies, Universities and the State. GM crops also destroy diversity, meaning that they require a monocrop plantation, and cannot co-exist in mixed farming fields like earlier.
At this critical juncture, in times of climate change, one can only hope that the “wheel of time” in Himachal Pradesh withstands the pressure of the future, looks to its small holder farmer with their history of successful mixed farming and manages to revalue what the past has left behind. After all, without mustard oil in the madra curry in the village dhaam feast or pathrode made of mustard and collocasia leaves in the monsoons, and even more ‘makki di roti and sarson da saag’ in the winters, life for pahadi people is incomplete!
Author Aditi Pinto is based in Rakkar, Himachal Pradesh. She uses writing to give a historical perspective to the current environmental crisis.
This story is being published as part of a GIZ-CMS Fellowship
Wah Re Corona: Himachali Folk Artist’s Lyrical Satire is Factual Rendition of India’s Agonizing Catastrophe
Shimla-Otherwise blatantly vocal and distinctively mass-mobilizing government of India is suddenly in the most subdued self after its proclaimed victory over the deathly virus; participation in uncontrolled election rallies; and permitting maha melas. The stalwarts are in the hiding, while helpless citizens – who voted them into power not once but in landslide victories twice – are dying due to lack of oxygen, poor – unavailable – medical facilities, and the denial stance of the ignorant in the helm.
Drawing a comparison between the fatal coronavirus and the mismanagement of the entire situation by the appalling government; a Himachali folk artist has released a factually appropriate lyrical satire that will tickle your mind and leave you to imagine what has brought this catastrophe onto us. The song is written by Rameshwar Sharma and music by Lalit Sauta.
With Neighboring States Going to Curfew, Himachal’s Tourism Sector Again Comes to a Halt
Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government may not have imposed restrictions on tourist movement, but the industry is facing the heat of second wave of coronavirus pandemic, which has now reached an alarming level. Alarmed by massive spike in new cases and fatalities, Delhi yesterday imposed a curfew for six days.
Further, with neighboring states including Panjab and Haryana going into a lockdown-like situation with the imposition of weekend curfews, tourist influx in Himachal Pradesh has dropped drastically, hitting the tourism industry in Himachal Pradesh. Last weekend the hotels claimed the occupancy was almost zero. The hoteliers and other stakeholders said the current situation is similar to what they faced during the lockdowns last year. After lockdowns spoiled the peak tourist season of the last year, the industry is hardly in a position to take another blow, hoteliers said.
Conditions in Himachal are no better. In 19 days of April month alone, the state has recorded over 14,000 cases and the infection has claimed 155 lives, which is a massive surge in a very short duration. The rates of the surge in new cases and fatalities have also been recorded to be much higher as compared to the previous year.
The state government on Monday said that all educational institutions of the State would remain close till May 1 2021, and faculty of schools, colleges and universities wouldn’t have to come to duty.
The State Government also decided to put a complete ban on transfers of field functional staff.
Right after getting a nod from the Centre, the state government had also postponed the board and UG examinations. Further, the HP Board of School Education is reportedly mulling over promoting class 10 students.
Chief Minister on Monday also said that the government could take more decisions to contain the spread in the meeting to be held on April 22. Some media reports said that the state government has hinted at the imposition of a curfew. While interacting to media yesterday, Chief Minister had also said that there are no plans for a complete lockdown, but if the situation continues to worsen, a curfew can be imposed. The Chief Minister had been maintaining that a lockdown would be the last resort as it would hurt the tourist influx, thus, cause economic damages.
However, if the businessmen and hoteliers are to be believed, currently keeping the state open for tourism is hardly providing any relief. Moreover, they are not able to differentiate between a curfew and lockdown. They have begun to seek relief from the state government.
On the other hand, in case the state decides to impose a curfew, the situation would get quite difficult for the poor, especially migrant workers, daily wagers, and small street-side vendors too.
Further, fear of the collapse of health infrastructure haunts the state as the government is still in the phase of passing directions to the officers to enhance the bed capacity in the hospitals. As per the statement given by Chief Minister on Monday, the state is yet to take steps to ensure the proper availability of oxygen and staff.
“Steps would be taken to ensure the proper availability of oxygen and medical staff in the State. Bed capacity would be enhanced in Nerchowk Medical College, IGMC Shimla, Zonal Hospital Dharamshala, Tanda Medical College, Sunder Nagar Hospital and various other hospitals. Health workers would be posted in appropriate number for the care of Covid-19 patients,” Chief Minister said.
Chief Minister is being condemned for not completing make-shifts hospitals during the lockdown period along with strengthening the health services the way the it was required.
With the re-notification of Shimla’s DDU hospital- one of the busiest in the state- as a dedicated COVID care hospital, the OPDs has been closed. With the ongoing surge in new cases, more hospitals are likely to be re-notification as dedicated COVID care hospitals, and regular OPDs would be closed for other daily patients.
Moreover, for setting bad examples for the people, all political parties and their leaders, including Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, had faced severe criticism over blatant violation of COVID-19 protocols during campaign rallies for the elections to the Municipal Corporations. As a result, the public is hardly taking the second wave seriously and lowering their guards against the infections, which is only worsening the situation.
HP Govt’s Guidelines Formed in Defiance of GoI and Court Directions Leave Disabled Students Troubled
Shimla-The rights of the disabled aren’t only a human rights issue, but it is also a developmental issue. Yet, in India, this section of society is struggling to get into the mainstream and compelled to go to courts to fight for their rights, including equal access to education. Himachal Pradesh is no different when it comes to adopting a comprehensive approach and modern technology to level the field for these students. Display of sensitivity is limited to showing sympathy and feeling sad for persons with disabilities that undermines their potentials and individual capacities to excel in life.
Owing to erroneous attitude towards persons with disabilities, children trying to access education often face neglect from governments that makes their already hard lives harder.
Very recently, such gross negligence and defiance of court orders on the part of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, HP Government, came to light after an autistic student of the first year at Government Degree College, Kandaghat, couldn’t take his exams because the current guidelines of the state government make it a mandatory condition that the qualification of his scribe should be one step below the qualification of the candidate taking the examination.
Contrary to these “Guidelines for conducting written examinations for the Persons With Benchmark Disabilities” Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India (dated 4.12.18) has clearly directed the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India, to not fix any qualification and age criteria for scribes until the examining body doesn’t have its own panel of scribes. Following these orders in the said case (a writ petition), and Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment and the University Grants Commission had sissued fresh notifications with special clarification on the criteria of qualification and age on January 6, 2019, and February 26, 2019, respectively.
Moreover, the principal of the college was not clear on the guidelines.
The college told the father of the candidate, Mr Vishal Gupta, that it had forwarded the matter to the University for further clarification, which did not come as quickly as it was supposed to. Himachal Watcher also spoke to Mr Gupta.
“My son is suffering autism (60%) and recently got admitted to BA Part-1 course at Government Degree College Kandaghat, Solan. The previous principal was very co-operative and had allowed a scribe after consulting the University. But now, ahead of my son’s house exams, I was asked to visit the college. The college asked me to provide a copy of the guidelines. I told the Principal that the college was supposed to have these guidelines already,” he told Himachal Watcher (HW).
“The Principal told me that the exams of my son will be put on hold and would be considered only after receiving a copy of the guidelines from the University. While all other classmates are taking examinations, my son couldn’t take two exams which begin from March 13, 2021,” he further told HW.
“I don’t blame the college for this. This entire issue and inconvenience stem out of a grieve negligence on the part of the HP University as it did not circulate directions of the UGC in this regard to the colleges,” Mr Gupta said.
However, when HW took up the issue with the University authority, it turned out the varsity was not at fault either. The varsity was yet to adopt the new guidelines issued by the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2020, hence, previous guidelines (2013) were already applicable. Therefore, the varsity wasn’t supposed to issue any new notification.
Mr Gupta contacted Ajai Shrivastava, Chairman of Umang Foundation (NGO) and Expert Member, HP State Advisory Board on Disability, HPU, and brought the matter to his attention.
It’s pertinent to mention that Mr Shrivastava had been fighting vigorously for the rights of the disabled in Himachal Pradesh, especially for their right to equal access to education at all levels for over a decade now. It was on his PIL that the State High Court had given a landmark judgement directing the Himachal Pradesh Government to provide free education to the students with disabilities up to the university level.
The court had also enhanced the amount of their scholarship and awarded Rs. one lac to the Umang Foundation to be spent for the welfare of the disabled children.
Mr Shrivastava, on being contacted by Mr Gupta, immediately wrote to the Chief Minister requesting him to make the Social Justice and Empowerment Department to withdraw its guidelines which are illegal as these did not comply with the court decision and UGC notification. He also held a press conference at the Press Club, Shimla on March 14, 2021.
“Addl. Chief Secretary (SJ&E) to the Govt. of HP has issued and further circulated the “Guidelines for conducting written examinations for persons with benchmark Disabilities 2020” for implementation on 16th December 2020,” he wrote in the letter.
“In fact, the above-mentioned guidelines have been issued by the HP Govt. in violation of the orders of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India, dated 4.12.18. In this litigation, Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment, GOI; Ministry of Education, GOI, and UGC etc. were respondents,” he further wrote.
Mr Shrivastava clarified that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on dated 1.1.2019 issued an Office Memorandum for the “Compliance of orders of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India.”
He also clarified that the UGC dated 26.2.2019 wrote to all Registrars of Universities across the country for compliance with the order of the Hon’ble High Court for implementation. The Ministry of S.J. & E. and the UGC, both have reproduced the order of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi as under:
“Till the panel of scribes is formed if any examination is conducted by any of the departments wherein the petitioner and similarly situated persons appear in the exam. the guidelines dated 29.8.2018 shall not be applicable, however, the candidate shall appear in terms of guidelines dated 26.2.2013. ”
Mr Shrivastva further went on to say that it very unfortunate that despite the above, the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Himachal Pradesh ignored the directions of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and issued its guidelines.
“It’s gross negligence on the part of the state government. And, the Department of Higher Education whose examinations are governed by UGC through Himachal Pradesh University, has already implemented the said illegal guidelines. HP State, he said.
Further, he wrote that the Education Board has also implemented it.
Mr Shrivastva asked the Chief Minister to keep in view the directions of The Ministry of S.J. & E. and the UGC, withdraw these guidelines of the State Government issued on dated 16.12.2020 in the interest of justice to persons with benchmark disabilities.
However, the Chief Minister Office seems to have its priorities.
Currently, one of the topmost priority of the current government led by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur appears to be the preparation for the Swarnim Himachal” celebrations and Swarnim Himachal Rath Yatra. Chief Minister is personally looking into preparations and has even constituted a High Power Committee regarding preparation for the said celebration. As a matter of fact, yesterday, the Chief Minister held a review meeting for the same at Peterhof, Shimla. Another priority, which huge billboards placed across the state indicate, is to advertise the “Swarnim Himachal” celebration.
The state of these students is a spoiler for the “Swarnim Himachal” celebration as it contradicts claims of achieving milestones in developmental works.
It should be kept in mind that fighting their battle in courts for their rights wasn’t enough to make the state government attend to this section of students. Further, the deliberate contemptuous approach of the bureaucracy is also clearly visible.
Before jumping to some references to the government’s grieve world of neglect for the disabled, try to realize the sensitivity of the matter with comments provided by Deven Khanna, a practising advocate at the HP High Court.
“It is necessary that an explicit, unequivocal and comprehensive procedural mechanism are constituted for the benefit and betterment of disability rights. It is pertinent to fathom that human rights of those living with disability cannot be fought for and secured in a vacuum,” Deven says.
It is apparent that the issue of disability is linked with several other social, economic and political aspects including those of chronic poverty, gender inequality, mal-administration and political victimization. This must be eradicated to create the ‘disability right’ an actual reality. As far as planning and policy-making process about lives and complete recognition and implementation of the human rights of the disabled and other associated rights are concerned, there must be active inclusion of the disabled people in the same process, he says.
India, one of the first few signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities, has not complied with the provisions of the same, he says.
The Constitution of India, under Article 41, imposes a duty on the State to generate necessary and effective provisions for securing the right to work, right to education, and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement.
Laws Relating to Disability:
- Constitution of India – Article 19, 21, 41 and 226
- The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
- UNCRPD Article 9
- Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992
- The National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities, 1999
- Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
- Mental Health Care Act, 2017
“The State must conduct a discussion of human rights for the persons with disabilities in-depth, so that benefit can be availed out of it. As human beings along with access to and realization of all fundamental and elementary rights, persons living with disabilities require a safe, secure, convenient, beneficial and accessible environment which respects their human dignity,” Devens adds.
Now, consider the following references:
In May 2016, Mr Shrivastava had highlighted how the government was violating orders of the High Court by not providing library facility to the blind and deaf students in the special school at Dhalli. Blind students needed digital library apart from Braille books.
There was no science laboratory in the school. The dead line fixed by High Court to appoint new teachers had also expired on 3rd December 2015, he had alleged.
The government had completely failed to implement the High Court orders that had given relief to the disabled children studying in special schools at Sundernagar and Dhalli, Shimla on the PIL filed by Ajai Srivastava.
In September 2016, the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) from the Centre was visiting Himachal Pradesh to take stock of the status of facilities for disabled persons, Mr Shrivastava had alleged that the state government of portraying a misleading picture of the disability sector. He had submitted to the CCPD alleging the government had not implemented the CCPD’s examination guidelines for the blind persons despite the High Court’s order on his PIL. He had apprised the CCPD that special school for blind and deaf girls at Sundernagar and a special school for boys at Dhalli, Shimla were poorly managed and lack basic amenities.
In a separate case, Indu Kumari, a poverty-stricken girl from the backward region of Chamba district, in her letter on July 21, 2017, told the Chief Justice that she completed her BA from Rajkiya Kanya Manha Vidyalaya College, Shimla.
However, she was denied admission in MA (Political Science) by HP University despite a provision of a five percent quota for disabled candidates under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
Not just Indu, but several other students were also told that the provisions of the new Act were not implemented in the university. These students had to return disappointed.
However, the High Court had come to the rescue of these students by considering the letter as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
In August 2017, as a tight slap on the face of Himachal Pradesh University and the State Government, the State High Court had asked them to explain reasons for not ensuring a five percent quota in higher education institutes for disabled students.
Earlier, the division bench comprising Justices Rajiv Sharma and Tarlok Singh Chauhan has passed a judgment on 4th June on the PIL filed by Umang Foundation (No. 30 / 2011). The bench had directed the Dr. YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF) Solan, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla and CSK Agriculture University, Palampur to provide free education to disabled children within a period of six weeks. But despite court orders, the UHF Nuani had denied doing so and Ajai Shrivastava had to write to the Registrar of Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, warning that if the university does not provide free education as per the court’s order, a contempt petition will be filed.
In September 2017, the Disabled Student Association had alleged the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment of withholding scholarships of the thousands of disables studying at the government educational institutes.
When these students approached the Directorate of Scheduled Cast, OBC, and Minority Affairs; they were simply told that there was no budget for their scholarship. Pertinent to mention here that the majority of these disables belong to economically weaker sections of the society and come to the varsity from remote regions in hope of higher education.
In October 2017, The Disabled Students Association (DSA) wrote to the Governor of Himachal Pradesh Acharya Devvrat and urged him to immediately demanding the implementation of reservation of seats in MPhil and PhD under the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016.
However, it did not bring any relief to them.
Further, this indifference toward disabled students is apparent from the fact that the accessible library for the disabled students of Himachal Pradesh University was inaugurated by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur on July 22, 2019, didn’t have basic facilities like a washroom and students, especially visually impaired girls faced huge inconvenience. For a toilet, the Disabled Students and Youth Association (DSYA), Himachal Pradesh, had to submit a memorandum to the Governor and Chancellor, Bandaru Dattatreya, on December 13, 2019.
It was not surprising that the Chief Minister inaugurated a library facility without basic facilities because it was merely a formality performed in response to an order of the State High Court passed in a PIL filed by a disabled student, Banita Rana, in 2014.
In March 2020, visually impaired and other disabled candidates, who were qualified for teaching posts, had to approach the Himachal Pradesh High Court complaining that the government is violating the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 by not implementing reservation to visually impaired and other disabled candidates, who are qualified for teaching posts, in schools, polytechnics and colleges.
Considering the way disabled students were made to fight for their right to equal access to education and even the most basic facilities, previous and current governments laid more focus on their political interests than attending to the hardships of these children.
Unfortunately, while the previous Congress Government failed these disabled children, the current BJP Government went one step ahead in making their lives harder by passing new Guidelines of its own in 2020 which contradicts court orders and directions of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
The topmost priority, not only of the current government but also previous ones, is to ensure retention of power through politics than attending to very sensitive and urgent matters, like making education equally accessible to disabled children of the state.
Regarding Court Orders in Writ Petitions Filed in 2013 and 2018 Over Availing Scribe for Written Examinations
On a Writ Petition filed in the Delhi High Court (Subhash Chandra Vashishth vs Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) in 2012, the Court in its judgement given on 11, 2013 had directed the Government of India “to abolish current restrictions/conditions imposed on scribes in terms of qualifications.”
Later, in Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India case dated 4.12.18, the Delhi high court clarified on revised guidelines and made it clear that “Till the panel of scribes is formed if any examination is conducted by any of the departments wherein the petitioner and similarly situated persons appear in the exam. the guidelines dated 29.8.2018 shall not be applicable, however, the candidate shall appear in terms of guidelines dated 26.2.2013. ”
But no such panel was formed and the responsibility of availing scribe still lies on the candidate.
Based on a notification issued from the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare in January 2019, in February 2019 UGC issued a notification to all concerned Universities directing them to communicate the same to all colleges/institutes affiliated with it.
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