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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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Marriage Between a Male And a Transwoman is a Valid Marriage

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Transgender marriage Valid in India says Cout

There are times when one feels proud to be a part of the legal profession, one such moment has come due to a recent judgment passed by a bench of the Madras High Court. The judgement was authored by J. G.R Swaminathan.

The High Court has recognized the marriage between a male and a transwoman. It has held that when both the partners are professing Hindu religion then the marriage is to be recognized under Section 5 of the Hindu marriage Act 1955, like any other Hindu marriage.

Though a path-breaking judgment, the Hon’ble Judges were humble enough to state that;

“By holding so, this court is not breaking any new ground. It is merely stating the obvious. Sometimes to see the obvious, one needs not only physical version in the eye but also love in the heart”

It so happened that Shri Arun Kumar got married to Miss Sarija in a temple as per Hindu rites and customs. The temples authorities though permitted the performance of marriage, but they declined to vouch for it or issue a certificate in this regard. When the parties approached the Government authorities for registration of marriage, the Authority also refused.

When the couple approached the High Court it was argued by the State Govt. that a ‘bride’ can only refer to ‘a woman on her wedding day’. Further they argued that the temple had rightly rejected the certificate as the bride wasn’t a ‘woman’.

The Court would have none of it. The court referred to the judgment on transgender rights in NALSA case and stated that the transgender person’s right to decide their self-identified gender has been upheld by the Apex Court already. The Court in the NALSA case noted that the existence of a third category outside the male/female binary has been recognized in the indigenous Hindu tradition from time immemorial.

Hon’ble High Court further stated that;

“Sex and gender are not one and the same. A persons’ sex is biologically determined at the time of birth. Not so in the case of gender. “

Transgender persons who are neither male/female fall within the expression person and hence are entitled to legal protection of laws.

The court also observed that often the state and its authorities either due to ignorance or otherwise, fail to recognize the identity of such persons or stop discrimination which they are made to face in the society. For too long transgender’s have been made to languish in the margins.

It said

“A person who is in the Third Category is entitled to remain beyond the duality of male/female or opt to identify oneself as male or female. It is entirely the choice of the individual concerned.”

The Court further directed the Tamil Nadu government to issue a Government Order to uphold the NALSA judgment and to “effectively ban sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children.”

The Court also noted that the state should undertake awareness programmes to de-stigmatize the birth of intersex children.

“The parents must be encouraged to feel that the birth of an intersex child is not a matter of embarrassment or shame. It lies in the hands of the Government to launch a sustained awareness campaign in this regard.“

The stand of the court is applaudable and takes our commitment to the constitution further. The dignity of human life, one’s privacy, one’s right of a life partner is a basic part of an individual’s personal autonomy. This autonomy is guaranteed by the constitution, this autonomy is what we fought for in our freedom struggle. This autonomy cannot be made a plaything of the narrow-minded society, government, and political parties which come and go. The judiciary is the only institution which can be a custodian of this autonomy and a protector of the dignity of people in face of such societal, cultural and even governmental imposed discriminations.

A transwoman is a person and she enjoys equal rights. Her self-determination to find a partner and her expression to identify her gender as that of a woman is protected and is guaranteed the same recognition which is enjoyed by a male or a female (person) of the society.

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Group of Youth Try Cleaning Part of Shimla’s Jakhu Hill, Finds More Garbage Than Expected

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Trek A Tribe Cleanliness Driver in Shimla

Shimla-Every year on April 15, Himachal Day is celebrated to mark the day when Himachal Pradesh, among other 30 princely states, came into being as a centrally administered territory. Since the inception of this state, the people throughout the world have admired Himachal Pradesh owing to its tall standing mountains, forests, nature, adventurous trekking trails and the peace and serenity it offers.

However, during the last decade, this love and admiration from tourists have turned into filth and carelessness. Rivers and forests alike have been polluted by broken beer bottles, single-use plastic cups, water bottles, wrappers of crisps and biscuit. Not only do they harm the soil, but also poses a threat to the lives of animals like cows and dogs, who consume littered plastic, causing them extreme physical ailments.

The menace of littering continues despite the claims of the civic bodies as well as the government of India that Swachh Bharat has almost eradicated this ill practice.

As an initiative Trek A Tribe, a tours and travels company, organized a cleanliness drive at Shimla on April 15, 2019 to celebrate Himachal Day. Total 18 youth participated in the cleanliness campaign. As per this team, the campaign began from Sheeshe Wali Kothi and was supposed to end at Jakhu Temple. But they had to abandon their plan of going till the top since the amount of waste was much more than these youth had expected.

Just the starting point consumed over four hours of their drive. We collected 35 bags of garbage at the starting point of their drive,

the team said.

Most of the trash is the plastic left behind by youth who come to the forest to drink and eat, causing harm to the environment,

the team said.

The end solution, however, does not lay in repetitive cleanliness drives, but in the conscious awareness of the people. They should be aware enough to not leave their trash behind, it said.  

These cleanliness drives, the team said, do help in cleaning the surroundings but they do not solve the purpose if the people keep littering the same place over and again. The team said that the purpose of its cleanliness drive was also to raise awareness among the people by initiating a dialogue towards the protection of the environment. This drive urged people to raise voice against plastic pollution and to lead their lives more consciously. They need a more aware lifestyle.

The Municipal Corporation, Shimla, provided transportation and disposal facility for the garbage collected by these youth.

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Now, Himachal’s Private Schools Warn Govt of Protest, Term Ongoing Inspections Wrongful

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Himachal's Private Schools Inspection Report

Shimla-Under immense pressure from parents, who have been protesting for last one and half month, private schools in Himachal Pradesh are finally undergoing inspections from April 9, 2019.  As per reports, the committees formed by the Directorate of Higher Education, H.P., inspected dozens of schools in Shimla and took records related to fees charged during last three years, salaries of staff, number of students, facilities, qualification of teachers, expenditure on school etc. into possession.

Though the Department did not comment about these schools officially, the inspected schools of Shimla included St. Edwards, DAV Lakkar Bazaar, Dayanand Public School, Auckland House, St. Thomas, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Secret Heart Dhalli, DAV Totu, Mount Shivalik in Jubbarhatti, Rising High etc. There are over 150 private schools running in Shimla.

Internal sources from some of these schools, on the condition of anonymity, told Himachal Watcher that committees are executing directions of the Directorate strictly. The officials are not soft on the management. It has created a stir among these schools.

By issuing a notification, on April 8, 2019, the Directorate had formed committees and had asked them to file a report of private schools running in District Headquarters by April 13. However, inspections still continue and the Directorate has not received reports of all schools yet. The report of schools in subdivisions and others is expected by April 22.

As per the student-parent forum, total 1472 private schools are currently running in the State. Further course of action would be decided only after the data of all schools is available, the Director Dr Amarjeet Kumar Sharma  had told media.

Similarly, at least six teams were constituted for inspection of over 180 private schools in Kullu district. Reports from Bilaspur said there are over 80 private schools in Bilaspur and 20 percent of them had not provided data that the Directorate had sought two months ago. It is expected that now these schools would be made to comply with the orders strictly.

It’s pertinent to mention that the Directorate had asked schools to submit various data related to their fee structure, annual hikes, audit reports, funds etc. However, a large number of schools had not responded to it. Moreover, the Government appeared reluctant to take action for this non-compliance. But now the pressure from protesting parents now compelled it to take action.

Private Schools Terms Govt Inspections Wrongful

Reports from Mandi said that managements of several private schools expressed their anguish over allegations labelled by the student-parent forum. In a meeting with authorities of the Education Department, they claimed that annual fee hikes are not as high as alleged by the forum.  The schools said it’s absolutely wrong to term them as looters. Justifying annual hikes, they said that in order to provide facilities to students and to hike salaries of teachers every year, it becomes unavoidable to make hikes in school fees and funds.

Association of Private Schools in the State has submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister and warned that they would stage a protest at the Directorate of Higher Education, Shimla, if these inspections weren’t stopped. 

The Association alleged that the government did not provide them with any aid despite fulfilling criteria of reserving 25 percent seats for poorer section of society.

The Association argued that the government’s interference in deciding fees of these schools is unwanted and wrongful as they do not receive any funds. They also argued that parents send their children to private schools willingly.

The Association asked that if the schools are not running as per the government rules, then how they obtain renewable every year. The Association termed this action as a haphazard response to the protest of the student-parent forum. 

Management or owners of these schools termed it a favor to the society to make quality education accessible to them through private institutes.

Schools Targeting, Mentally Harassing Children: Student-Parent Forum

On Friday, the forum alleged that a reputed private school based in Khalini of Shimla targeted children of those parents who had participated in the protest held on April 8.  The convener of the parents’ forum Vijender Mehra alleged that children complained to their parents that they were threatened in the classroom. The forum demands that action should be taken against this school under the Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act 2005.  Also, it violates rights and protections given to children under Article 39(f) of the Constitution.

 Mehra, who had been leading back-to-back protests against various schools and the Education Department, terms it a victory of the parents who came together to protest. He expects that now parents would receive some relief.

The forum is demanding that the Department should ensure solid action at the ground level.  The forum has warned of more protests if the government tried to manipulate the situation to protect private schools.

Enrolling children to private schools is a huge financial burden on parents.  Deteriorating quality of education being provided in government schools has facilitated the monopoly of private schools. The people do not trust government schools when it comes to education and the future of their children. The government’s will to improve academic standards in public schools is absent. At the same time, the government had been avoiding regulation of private institutes in the State.

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