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In times of climate change, how do Himachal’s people want their mustard?

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Farming of Mustard Oil in Himachal Pradesh

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,

she said. 

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

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Students Arrested, Stone Pelting Breakout in Himachal: Is Internal Tension Required?

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Kashmiri Students in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla– Two students of the Dr Y. S. Parmar University of Horticulture, Nauni, in Solan district, were suspended following a complaint that these students were allegedly supporting the most dreadful suicide bombing in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019.

The local police, following the complaint, detained both students, who hail from J&K. A local court sent them to a three-day remand, the district police confirmed.

As a case has been registered by the police against the two students of Jammu and Kashmir. The Deans of respective Colleges in which they were studying i.e. College of Forestry and College of Horticulture have on Monday suspended them,

a university official told Himachal Watcher, confirming the report.

Additional SP (ASP) Shiv Kumar Sharma also confirmed the news and identified two students as Peer Jada Tabish, a student of MSc first year, and Auqib Rasool, a BSc student. As per the SP, the action came following a complaint from the university authorities.

Reportedly, students of the university carried out a rally demanding the suspension of the students while shouting anti-Pakistan slogans. An FIR was registered under Section 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the two students.

On Saturday, local police had detained a Kashmiri student of Chitkara University, Baddi, over alleged comments on social media, supporting the suicide bomber.

The police department has reportedly asked all the universities to provide a list of all Kashmiri students enrolled in their respective institutes.

On Tuesday, as per a report by News 18, a scuffle was reported between two groups of students at Abhilashi Memorial Institute of Engineering and Technology in Mandi district. An unverified video of the scuffle was in circulation on social media sites. However, the police did not verify it as communal in nature. It was said to be just random groups of students, who might have clashed over their previous grudges.

Another news report said a panchayat in Mandi district has passed a resolution and asked Kashmiri citizens living in rented quarters to leave the panchayat. Some miscreants also pelted stones on their quarters. The Superintendent of Police, Mandi, Gurudev Sharma, however, said there was no injury or damage to private property and Kashmiris were safe.
Afraid after the stone pelting, they took shelter at police station Baldwara.

Similarly, there were reports from other States where some Kashmiri students were held for either supporting the terrorist attack, anti-national activities, or posting communally inciting posts/comments on social media.  Such incidents are working as a double-edged sword – infuriating the majority, as well as, making all Kashmiri students vulnerable to violence.  

As a result, other Kashmiri students in other parts are also facing widespread backlash. Reports said Kashmiri students were leaving hostels to return to their homes. 

As per The Hindu, over 300 students were said to have arrived at Jammu and Delhi to return to their homes in J&K after facing back-lash, especially from right wing groups. The report also quoted Kashmiri students alleging of receiving threats from right-wing outfits. 

Another report on The Hindu said that some local youth raised slogans against Kashmiri students studying in an engineering college in Panipat with a demand to expel them from the institute.

Regardless of the need of the hour, a large number of Kashmiri students enrolled in other States of India has come under the scanner of right-wing outfits.

A sort of communal tension is growing in the society, which is exactly what the terrorist outfits want. Harassment or boycott of Kashmiris would only make them more susceptible to separatist agenda.

The reports also suggested that natives of the valley were receiving warning from their landlords to evacuate their property, fearing vandalism.

As per a report, some right-wing outfits roughed up a dozen students in Dehradun and forced the Kashmiri girls to lock themselves inside hostel rooms.

Feeding over the distress and anguish among the people over the Pulwama massacre, the right-wing outfits are upto fueling the nationalist agenda they had been cultivating since last five years.

Patron media channels had straightway started demanding revenge through bigger surgical strike or a full-fledged attack on Pakistan. Hashtags like #BadlaKab trended on Twitter.  

Though the police did not confirm it, a video appeared on media websites showing a bunch of people allegedly assaulting Kashmiri labourers (Khans) in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, which also lost one of its bravehearts, Tilak Raj, in the attack. 

To deal with this problem, the J&K Police has established a helpline for the assistance of students and general public who are presently staying outside the state.

In case they find any difficulty. The students are advised to call for any kind of assistance on 0194-2451515,

said J&K police advisory. 

The Union Government has already issued warning to all states to ensure safety of Kashmiri students and citizens.

The J&K administration on Monday said that the local administration and college authorities have given full assurance about safety of the students.

The state administration is advising all the students and their parents, not to pay heed to any rumours, try to stay put at their respective places and contact the LOs or local police administration for help. The mobile numbers of LOs have already been distributed among the students,

a spokesman said.

The Union Government had defended the demonetization move by citing it as a deterrent to terrorism in the valley. The terrorist organizations would be financially drained, thus, rendered helpless, the government and the leaders of the ruling party had claimed.

However, there seems to be no let up in the situation. Terrorist activity and attacks have not declined. Instead, more encounters were reported in 2018. 

Terrorist incidents in J&K increased 177% over four years to 2018, from 222 to 614; 838 terrorists were killed over the last five years, a 134% increase from 110 in 2014 to 257 in 2018. As many as 339 security forces died–a 94% increase from 47 in 2014 to 91 in 2018–in 1,708 terrorist attacks over the five years ending 2018 in J&K,

the J&K minister of home affairs had stated in his reply in the Lok Sabha on February 5, 2019,

The fact that the suicide bomber responsible for the Pulwama attack was a home-grown terrorist is a big reason to worry. 

Stories regarding the suicide bomber suggest that while the young boy had already been inclined towards militant groups, his bad experiences with Indian forces or local police pushed him further to join Jaish-e-Mohhammed – the militant group that claimed the full responsibility for the Pulwama attack.   

Negativity would only fuel negativity, which J&K cannot afford right now. Indian Government will have to fight this war at International level to isolate Pakistan and convince other nations to cut supply of resources to Pakistan – a patron of these terrorist organizations.

The only way to ensure that no more lives are lost is to break the cycle of violence. As witnessed in the past couple of decades, the call for counter-violence has become a part of this vicious cycle. Ending terrorism in J&K depends on the will and vision of the political leaders of the country, and not in using defense forces to roast political cookies.

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Viral Video of Overloaded Bus in Sirmaur Points at Inadequate Transportation Service

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OVerloaded Bus In Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-Overloading in private as well as the government buses in Himachal Pradesh, especially, in interior areas has always been a hazard. Despite several bus accidents that claim thousands of lives every year, there does not seem to be any let up in the situation.

As per the statement made in the State Assembly by the minister of the opposition party, MukeshAgnihotri, over 1200 lives were lost while thousands of others sustained injuries in various accidents across the Stateduring 2018.

While the government tries to justify itself over road accidents, a fresh picture and a video of an overloaded private bus are making rounds on the social media, raising questions over the efforts of the government to discourage overloading.

As per reports, this bus was on its way to Manva from Rajgarh in Sirmaur district on Tuesday. The bus was jam-packed and over a dozen passengers could be seen sitting on the roof of the bus. On a complaint, the local police intercepted the bus near the Forest Colony.

When the police counted passengers standing inside the bus and those sitting on the roof, it was found that the bus was carrying 95 passengers, excluding the driver and the conductor, against its seating capacity of 37.

However, when the police questioned the driver for grieve violation of traffic laws and endangering lives of the passengers, the driver argued that it was not only his bus that was overloaded, that this is a normal scene in all buses. The driver can be heard saying that government buses were also overloaded.

When police told the passengers to avoid traveling in overloaded buses, they replied that they don’t have any option, suggesting inadequate public transportation servicesas the cause. Police advised the people to approach their Sub-Divisional-Magistrate (SDM) to solve any problem relating to inadequate public transportation.

The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Rajgarh, DushyantSarpal, confirmed that the documents of the bus have been confiscated. He said the police has taken such actions on several occasions but the situation doesn’t get any better.

It’s notable that pictures of such overloaded buses keep appearing on social media. There is no dearth of examples that highlight flaunting of traffic laws and rules defined under the Motor Vehicle Act.

The school bus accident in Nurpur in April 2018, which claimed lives of 28 persons including two dozen children, had highlighted carelessness on the part of the government. However, the government washed its hands off putting all the blame on the driver, who had also died in the same accident.

In January 2019, seven children died when their school bus met with an accident in Renuka Ji, Sirmaur district. Later, during the investigation, it was found that the bus was too old with little mechanical maintenance. A magisterial probe cited mechanical fault as the cause of the accident.

Despite being in a poor state, the transportation authority permitted this bus to be operational.  Moreover, like in the Nurpur accident, there were no crash barriers of any sort of roadside-safety measures along that road.

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HW Exclusive: Dirt newbie Sushant Thapa and champion Suresh Rana on Motorsports

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Suresh Rana and Sushant Thapa of Himachal Pradesh

He is a ‘One Man Show’ and people know him as the King of Speed. From Raid de Himalaya to Desert Storm, SJOBA Thunderbolt Rally, Arunachal Speed Fest, Dakshin Dar and many more, there is nothing that has not been written about the Motorsports champion Suresh Rana.

Born and brought up in Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh, Suresh Rana got a quick fascination with speed when he saw drivers running fast on the roads near his home during the budding years of Raid De Himalaya in the late 90’s. That stuck in his mind and he started running his vehicle on roads where there was less traffic.

Suresh Rana

Once he was riding in Spiti and on the way to Kaza he was spotted by the officials of Raid De Himalaya and they encouraged him to participate. It was the year 2001 when he participated in the Raid for the first time and since then there has been no looking back for him.

11 times winner of Raid de Himalaya, Rana is a power-packed member of the team Maruti Motorsports since 2009. When he started, he was a novice and the scope for learning professional motorsports was nil.

From Rana to dirt newbie: Sushant Thapa of Team Himachal Valley, is Himachal a place for budding rallyists?

Shushant Thapa

Sushant was born in Kullu and brought up in Nahan of District Sirmaur. We spotted him at the Himalayan Auto Cross Rally which happened in Kullu last month. What made us know him more was his passion and extreme driving skills that reminded us of the novice Suresh Rana of the early 2000’s.

It was for the first time he participated in any championship and he surprised us. Sushant finished his race in 1 minute 54 Seconds and stood second on the podium, which is an unexpected achievement for a beginner. He gave tough competition to experienced participants who had already participated in various national rallies including the prestigious Raid De Himalaya.

A student of legal studies from Himachal Pradesh University (HPU) and former football player, Sushant has represented in 17 National Football championships and 1 International under 19 Football championship in Nepal.

On his first experience in the Himalayan Auto Cross Rally, Thapa told Himachal Watcher,


Autocross is quite different from driving on road experience as there is an off road
track in which you have to keep yourself safe from fouls and drive carefully on the corners and beat the speed timings of the other participants. It was my first-time experience so I had to understand each and every detail myself while driving and analyzing the race track. It was quite tough because the other participants were experienced and they had already participated in many other national level competitions.

For talented aspirants like Sushant Thapa, who are full of energy and have the passion for motorsports but are clueless on where to polish their skills, Suresh Rana has started India’s first Mountain Rally School in Kullu and has already prepared three batches since the inception of Raptors RALLY School.

The idea of the Motorsports School was to polish the skills of the aspirants, promote them and give them the training that is required to make it a career. It is definitely a costly game in which financial and family support is a must.

There are many talented youngsters in Himachal Pradesh who are capable of showing their skills and talent through a full-time career in Motorsports, however, with the lack of proper knowledge, guidance and support from the family, they leave their dreams and look for a regular job option.

Speaking to us, Suresh Rana, who believes that Motorsports can be a career option if the aspirants spend some time in improving the performance and learning the techniques said,


There are many talented youngsters but they are not able to give their time in practice. It requires time, at least five years of practice to polish the skills and Motorsports teams are always looking for young and talented people. It can be a good career option if a person starts working on it from a young age.

He further added,


Motorsports is all about techniques more than having knowledge
and speed it is a must to know the techniques to control the vehicle and understand the breaking points. There are many drivers who drive well but when it comes to driving on the off-road with seatbelt on, they just can’t do it. It is quite tough to practice without a teacher and moreover, we don’t really have places to practice however I personally encourage the aspirants to learn and practice with safety. I am always there to help.

Rana while we finished our conversation said:


Newbie Sushant Thapa can do wonders in the field of motorsports. He has the talent, he understands the breaking points and he knows how to control his speed. If trained well, he can be the new champion from Himachal Pradesh,

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