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The Forgotten Women: Half Widows of Kashmir (Women’s Month Special)

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half widow

By – Hamzah Hassan, a Programme Coordinator at ActionAid Association, working with marginalised and vulnerable communities in Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, and Gujarat.

In 1987, March was officially declared as the Women’s history month in the United States of America to celebrate the achievements of American women. But on the flip side in Kashmir, since the March 1987 elections, things have not been so great for the unfortunate Kashmiri women. One such saga which can be highlighted in this concern is that of the Kashmiri Half widows who since the last two decades on the 10th of every month organise a silent protest in Pratap Park, near Srinagar’s Lal Chowk to seek some answers on the whereabouts of their husbands who have been missing for decades. They have long back given up on the idea of justice and all they want is to get some information upon as to whether they should count their loved ones as dead or alive. Their struggle has no spectacle, no glamour, just dwindling hope that fades every time they have to repeat their story afresh.

 Who are Kashmiri Half Widows?

The term ‘Half Widow’ in the context of Kashmir refers to a woman whose husband has gone missing and has been made so through involuntary enforced disappearance. Subsequently, the legal as well as the social status of these Half Widows is yet to be clarified and established by the clergy, the law and the society at large. The tag itself represents a stark open reality of the dangers and the gruesome nature of the conflict in Kashmir and its impact on the lives of the common people. Defined by the lingering hope of the return of their husbands and the reality constrain which ties in with the eventuality of the death of their loved ones, this prolonged tragedy creeps into every aspect of the lives they live. Also, giving rise to the constant state of conflict and the dismal erosion of their basic rights concerning marriage and social status as well as economic and property rights.

One such interview which I would like to highlight from my own field study relating to the Half Widows is that of Tahira* who was rendered the status of a half widow in 2004 when her husband who was working as Maison was taken allegedly by an armed security personnel.

She was left to fend for her 3 children and according to her she has been in a constant state of alexithymia since, she says, I was a wife, I had a husband, we had a family. Then I was nothing for a long time, my children had no father and that was it.  Later people like you told me that I am a Half Widow, a name that has no equivalent word in Kashmiri (Koshur) language. It took me a long time to pronounce the name Half Widows, my children keep correcting me because I keep saying it differently even now. This conflict has taken from me my identity and in return given me a name that speaks more about my tragedy than who I am or what my life was before. Leaving me with scrapes of memories and for my children a fragment of imagination. Ever since my husband disappeared, I have been repeating the same story a thousand times to a thousand different people that came to see me or to the people I have gone to meet regarding the matter of my husband’s disappearance.  All I want to know for sure is whether I will die as his wife or as his widow, I want to be buried right next to the grave of my husband, so that at least in the afterlife I can be united to my beloved (janaan). I don’t want to die a Half Widow.”

This is not only the story of one Tahira alone but thousands like her who await their husbands or any information concerning them. By conservative estimates, more than 8,000 disappearances have been reported and many Half Widows still await their beloved husbands.

The Problem of Maintainability

The disappearance of a family member has an impact on the lives of the entire family, not only in economic terms but also in social and psychological terms. Facing multi-dimensional problems have impaired their coping mechanism and ability to live constructively as a family. One of the daunting questions that the half widows and their families face is that of the immediate maintainability. Furthermore, several other potential sources of relief such as issuance of ration cards or transfer of husband’s property or bank accounts have also been closed to the half widows. This is because these processes require death certificates, which they do not have since their husbands are not officially recognized as deceased.

Then concerning government verification procedures, things also get complicated as mostly the inquiring officers note them down as “missing”, which allegedly often creates a suspicion that they are underground militants. Then, the economic hardships and social challenges combined also have an everlasting effect on the lives of these women and in turn this deeply affects their children as well. As per credible data concerning the half-widows, 98% have a monthly income of less than Rs 4000 and 65% of the them live in houses with minimum amenities which is a worrying factor and highlights how maintainability is a problem for them.

 Struggle for basic Human Rights

There are legal frameworks and protection mechanisms which are required to be followed when dealing with such issues concerning human rights and it is the moral, social, and political obligation of the government to maintain a just adherence to the recognized principles of humanity. But when it comes to this issue of the Half Widows and enforced disappearances things have not been so clear on part of the one’s in power. The region being under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, Public Safety Act,1978, and Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Area Act, 1990 to counter the prevailing militancy can be seen as one reason behind this status.

Although, various human rights groups have tried to raise such issues, but none have been successful thus far. Though, the efforts of groups like the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Kashmir (APDP) is commendable and needs special mention, the group was co-founded in 1994 by Parveena Ahangar, a Human Rights activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She, through this organisation, has aimed at collectivizing the struggles of the families affected by enforced disappearances.

half widow Parveena Ahanger

Parveena Ahangar, a Human Rights Activist

Her own son, Javaid Ahmed Ahangar also disappeared in a similar fashion in August,1990 and this personal struggle to search her son, led to the formation of APDP and a movement against enforced disappearances in Kashmir. Parveena Ahangar as well as Parvez Imroz (Human Rights Lawyer and President of the globally renowned JKCCS) have long been at the forefront of this struggle and campaign, which is solely aimed at promoting dialogue and seeking peaceful solutions in Kashmir against such abuses.

Parvez Imroz (Human Rights Lawyer and President of the globally renowned JKCCS)

Parvez Imroz (Human Rights Lawyer and President of the globally renowned JKCCS)

Over the years, APDP has become an important space for a continuous engagement with issues of justice and accountability for the victims of enforced disappearances. The organisation is not only engaged in documenting the lives of half widows through its Digital Archive initiative but has also supported the victim-families both economically and socially.  APDP has been a focal point in organizing solidarity networks for victim-families through collaborations with students, academics, filmmakers, musicians, writers, journalists, and human rights lawyers.

 Responsibility structure and beyond

Every state and its institutions have a certain moral and legal obligation which as such covers the entire population. To put it in a different way, every citizen who lives in a modern democratic nation state is guaranteed protection by virtue of the law of the land, but in the case of the half widows that seems to be missing and successive governments since the 90s at the centre or in the erstwhile province have not dealt with this issue in a proper and appropriate manner. Due to all this the vulnerabilities of half-widows have exponentially increased through multiple variables and dimensions and therefore the mitigation of these vulnerabilities can only happen if governments and communities intervene positively in creating a responsibility structure.

But till then these Half Widows are at their own mercy and it seems that these Kashmiri women will have to keep repeating their stories on 10th of every month for a long, long time…

*The name of the Half Widow has been changed to protect her identity.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

Opinion

2021 Census in England and The Quest of Pahari Speaking People to Preserve Their Linguistic Heritage

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Western pahari language

By- Vishal Sharma who holds an LL.M. in Legal & Political Aspects of International Affairs from Cardiff University (UK). He is currently working under Dr. Serena Hussain as a Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University (UK).

This piece has been published in collaboration with The Wire.

Pahari (Western Pahari) surprisingly is one of the largest minority languages in the United Kingdom. Close to a million people living in the country speak dialects of the language which is mostly  spoken in parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir as well as the areas of bordering Pakistan, which together lead to the formation of the Western Pahari Belt. The recent efforts of the Pahari speaking people of England to have this significant community language recognised in the UK, through encouraging people to state their language as Pahari in the national census, deserves praise and the people of the entire Western Pahari Belt, especially Himachal Pradesh, can also learn from this move in order to preserve our linguistic heritage.

Western Pahari Language System

Western Pahari was classified as a language category by renowned linguist Sir George Abraham Grierson for languages spoken in what can be referred to as the Western Pahari Belt, which includes parts of present day Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and areas of Pakistan. Due to migration, the language is also spoken in the United Kingdom. Western Pahari dialects were written mostly in the Tankri script before the 19th century, but now uses multiple scripts. Its written form is said to have originated in Sharda. Dialects of Western Pahari include Pahari-Pothwari, Mirpuri, Poonchi, Hindko, Gaddki, Chambeali, Kangri, Mandeali, Kulluvi, Bilaspuri, Mahasu Pahari and many others. 

Pahari speaking people of the United Kingdom

Dialects of Pahari (Western Pahari) are spoken by nearly a million people living in the United Kingdom, which is reported to be the second most spoken mother tongue in the UK after English.  The Pahari speakers of the United Kingdom mostly comprise of people who originated from the Mirpur District of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir princely state, currently administered by Pakistan. They started settling in Britain in the 1960s, transferring their workmanship on British merchant navy ships to the industrial needs of the growing British economy. The migration fast-tracked after the construction of the Mangla Dam in 1966, in the Mirpur district due to which massive flooding left many villages submerged, leading to the displacement of over 100,000 people. Simultaneously, Britain was experiencing an acute labour shortage in many sectors due to the aftermath of World War II, and thus visas were offered to those who would fill positions. Many of the displaced Mirpuri Paharis travelled to England for work, having already established links during the days of the Merchant Navy. They would, generally, travel back and forth to their homeland every few years or so. However, because of stricter immigration laws, their families joined them in the UK and both the opportunity and necessity to travel was decreased as children commenced schooling and communities became more established. As a result, by the end of the 1970s it became common for Mirpuri Paharis to be settled in the UK, leading to a massive increase in the number of people from the community living in the United Kingdom. Today, their population stands at 1 million with many members of this Pahari community serving in influential positions of the country.

Preservation of Pahari language in the United Kingdom and the 2021 Census

The Pahari speaking people of the United Kingdom have worked for years on the preservation and promotion of the Pahari language in the country, which has also resulted in a number of a lot of language initiatives including, the Alami Pahari Adabi Sangat, established by Adalat Ali, a well-known Pahari writer; and scholarly studies on the sociological and linguistic aspects concerning the Pahari language, such as the works produced by British academicians like Dr Serena Hussain and Dr Farah Nazir. Also, organisations like Portmir Heritage Foundation which was founded by Reiss Haider have come up aiming to preserve the cultural heritage of British Paharis. Furthermore, numerous social media influencers like Ruksar Naaz known for her Award-winning YouTube Channel Browngirl problems1 , and Tehseen who runs the Tik Tok and YouTube favourite the Nana G Show have also worked on promoting the language through Pahari language content.

However, the current 2021 Census has taken the efforts of the Pahari speaking people in the United Kingdom to an all-new level. Taking place every 10 years, people in England are currently filling in the census forms, which will be mainly online for the first time since it started in 1801. The Census asks questions on topics such as a person’s age, ethnicity, language, occupation, and relationship status. In that connection the Pahari community is seeing this Census as a golden opportunity for them to make their voices heard concerning the preservation, promotion and who knows a possible official recognition of their Pahari (Western Pahari) language.

Online campaigns are being run to create awareness amongst the community especially youngsters who mostly have no clue upon as to what name shall be given to the language they speak with their parents and family members on a day-to-day basis. British Pahari social media influencers are also creating videos to raise awareness on the issue and are being well received by especially the younger second and third generation individuals who were born and brought up in the United Kingdom. Videos from  TikTok star Wafa Hussain (whose real name is Taiba) and The Nana G show, asking people to mark their language as Pahari in the Census form were trending all across the United Kingdom and are being well received.

In this connection, I had the opportunity to talk to an individual who is at the realm of affairs in all of this, British academician Dr. Serena Hussain under whom I am also working as a Visiting Researcher in the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University. She is actively involved with the 2021 Census through a research funded project by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Dr Serena is one of the leading experts on the National Census, a topic on which she completed her PhD, therefore she is fully aware of its importance for identity and language recognition.  She gives an insight on what this is all about, “The Census is one of the most important ways that any community can gain recognition. Even if a category isn’t listed on a Census form there is an option to select ‘Other’ and write in the identity or language you want to be recognised by. One thing we know about the Census is that it’s usually a benchmark for all official government data collection exercises, so in other words, if a category gains recognition on a Census form, that category will make its way into other forms as well.

Dr. Serena Hussain

Dr. Serena Hussain

My research confirmed that Pahari is still very much alive in the UK, it’s one of the largest minority languages and the fact that young, British born people are speaking it after three generations, shows us that it is something which our community takes in pride and enjoys. They identified very strongly with their mother tongue, but also on a practical level, they discussed how it is important for Pahari to gain recognition.A million speakers are not insignificant, and we require interpreters for our growing elderly population in the UK, so that they are able to obtain the services and help they need, as many of them still only speak Pahari.”

How this effort of British Paharis can be of help to Paharis of J&K and HP

Pahari speakers of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh could do something very similar to what the Pahari speakers of United Kingdom have done, as a census like the one currently happening in England is about to take place in India this year which could also be online. In the recent years nothing significant has happened in Himachal Pradesh and J&K concerning the promotion of the Pahari language.

The Pahari language was removed from the list of official languages of J&K by the Indian government recently, after it was made into a Union Territory in August 2019. This was damaging for the Pahari community in J&K, who have asked for Pahari to regain its official language status. On the other hand, the people of Himachal Pradesh have been waiting patiently for Pahari to be officially recognised by the Indian government, under the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. A resolution was in fact passed in December 1970, by the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly declaring Pahari as the language of the state, but nothing has happened since then. Thus, the people of J&K and Himachal Pradesh could do something similar to what British Paharis are; especially Himachal Pradesh as the dialects of the language system are spoken within most areas of the province and according to the 2011 Census, the populations of nine out of the twelve districts reported their mother tongue as dialects of Western Pahari. Districts like Kangra, Chamba, Mandi, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Kullu, Shimla, Sirmaur, Solan, listed their dialects as Kangri Pahari, Chambeali, Mandeali, Bilaspuri, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri.

All this leads us to the fact that Pahari speaking people of Himachal Pradesh especially the academicians, poets, musicians and social media influencers can work towards the promotion and preservation of the language. Pahari social media influencers can be of a lot of help in this and can do a similar job like that of British Pahari influencers. YouTube channels can follow in the footsteps of  Kangra Girls, Kangra Boys and HI RAI, which are very popular and are loved by the youth of the province. This can help Pahari linguistic heritage in Himachal Pradesh to be preserved and a combined campaign centred around requesting individuals to mark their language as Pahari in the 2021 Census of India, which if successful, can even result in achieving the long-term goal of getting the language recognised under the 8th Schedule, which people across the political spectrum have mooted in the past decades. This would also fulfil the dream of the founding fathers of Himachal Pradesh like Dr YS Parmar and Dr Narain Chand Parashar, who always supported the promotion and preservation of the Pahari language, which later Chief Ministers like Dr Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh also endorsed in some way or form.

In conclusion, the fate of the Pahari language in the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan is still unknown, but the efforts of Pahari speaking people in the United Kingdom needs to be cherished as they are doing substantially more than the people of the other Western Pahari speaking areas in the current times. Such active efforts should be prioritised in J&K and Himachal Pradesh also, as recognition of community languages is even more important in today’s India, where there is little official support for minority language empowerment movements.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

 

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Opinion

Drugs and Himachal : Recent Trends and the Counterstrategy

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By – Neha Tanwar, Research scholar, Department of Public Policy, Law and Governance, Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer

Drugs have become a reason to worry for all of us considering its rampant rise all over the world and in our country, but one province which is at the centre of all this in the recent months is the Western Himalayan province of Himachal Pradesh which is not only becoming a national and international destination for drug peddlers but also is emerging as India’s Drug abuse hot spot which is invariably affecting the youth of the province in a huge way.

Drug Abuse in Himachal Pradesh

Drug abuse is the illicit, non-medical use of several substances which includes alcohol, heroin, cocaine, opium, marijuana. The main causes of such abuse are peer pressure, society negligence, mental stigma, and curiosity. The Constitution of India in this concern directs the state to secure the health for each individual and guides to preclude the utilization of drugs which are harmful to health. It was a direct result of this promise that the NDPS Act, 1985 was passed, yet drug abuse has been rampant in the country and Himachal Pradesh is emerging as the new hotspot in this concern, as considerable drug addiction among especially the youth of the province has been noticed at a high rate and the situation is very alarming.

In fact, it is estimated according to a recent report that close to 3.2 per cent of the population of Himachal Pradesh use Charas and Ganja — derivatives of cannabis — which is much above the national average. But the more dangerous trend in the recent months have been the shift of the population to chemical drugs, according to a latest report concerning the 1,170 patients (drug users) lodged in 27 de-addiction centers of the state, the count of addicts of Chitta (also called Diacetylmorphine, a semi-synthetic adulterated form of heroin) has surpassed that of cannabis (Charas) and other hard drugs as 34.61 per cent of the drug addicts in the centers are Chitta consumers. Another major cause for concern according to the same report is that the highest number of addicts are in the age group of 15-30 years which is scary.

Drug Trafficking in Himachal Pradesh

Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Himachal Pradesh strangely due to its land location and borders with Punjab, Ladakh and J & K has become a market for the drug supplying networks from the Golden Crescent, a space which allegedly produces massive quantities of heroin which is sent to India via Pakistan. On the other hand, due to the province being a tourist hotspot the drug supplying networks from the Golden Triangle, Israel and Africa have also become active. All these interests of drug networks started building at a massive scale during in the early 2000s when large scale production of illicit opium and cannabis resin or hashish was reported in Himachal Pradesh especially in the districts of Kullu, Mandi and Kinnaur. Poor law and order situation during that time needs to be blamed for that and probably the careless attitude during that time by the people in charge has led to the current turmoil in the state, as drug peddlers from Himachal Pradesh have increased a lot in number and are not only involved in drug trafficking locally, but also to other parts of the country which have in many ways tarnished the image of the peace loving Western Himalayan people.

Many cases in the recent months guide us in this direction, one being the case involving the arrest of a hotelier from Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh by the Maharashtra Anti-terrorism squad (ATS), in a covert operation, for allegedly supplying charas to Mumbai, Pune, and other parts of the state for several years. Further, the arrest of a 38-year-old African national from lvory Coast residing in Delhi by the Himachal Pradesh police, on the basis of clues provided by two youths earlier arrested in connection with drug peddling at Bhuntar (Kullu) also showcases how Himachal is becoming an international destination for drug suppliers, the police had seized  6.297 kg of heroin and 362 grams of ganja estimated to be around Rs 25 crore from the house of the individual. These cases have invariably showcased how important a market Himachal Pradesh is becoming for drug traffickers and peddlers both nationally and internationally. The HP police had registered close to 1342 cases in 2018 concerning drugs and had recovered 8.50 kg of heroin, 327 kg charas and 17.05 opium along with other narcotics substances. The cases rose by 7.2 percent in 2019 when the registered cases were 1439. Also, according to latest figures over 6,000 NDPS related cases are still pending in numerous courts of the province.  Not only that, in Una district alone which borders Punjab 300 people have been arrested in the last 3 years concerning drug related cases. The district is quickly emerging as a drug capital of the state and many allege that influential individuals have a major hand to play in that.

Counterstrategy

Drug Abuse can be dealt with by counselling. “At the national level, an expected 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults need support for their inhalant use (unsafe use/dependence).” Counselling is the best instrument to rehabilitate drug abusers and plays a crucial role in rehabilitating them. It includes supporting individuals to roll out required improvements in perspective, feeling, and carrying on and is an objective-based shared cycle, including a non-critical, sensitive counsellor. It is known as the best way to reduce the dependency on drugs and leads to the building up of confidence in the counselee. 35million people are estimated to suffer from drug abuse disorders and who require treatment services according to a 2018 UNODC report. There are several types of evidence-based behavioral therapies used against drug abuse like Cognitive behavioral therapy, Dialectic behavioral therapy, Motivational enhancement therapy and Solution focus therapy which have helped a lot of individuals. But in Himachal Pradesh such therapy centers seem to be missing and many changes are required in the de addiction centers of the state.

On the policy end though, many anti-drug regulations have been proposed by United Nations and other international bodies like the UN drugs conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988, UN Political declaration and Plan of action on drugs, 2009, UN Office of Drug and Crime, International Standards on Drug use Prevention, UNODC, Commission on Narcotic Drugs, resolutions, and SAARC Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, but no such regulation has also been effectively implemented in the country. On the provincial level, the Himachal Pradesh government had decided in late December last year to frame an integrated Drug Prevention Policy including Drug Prevention, Treatment, Management and Rehabilitation Programme for better coordination between the police, media and the Nasha Nivaran Board. Also, numerous awareness missions and a special task force has been setup by them in this regard but noting considerable has happened in that connection.  Efforts have also been made from within the community, like the recent example set by the Mahajarna panchayat of Baijnath, Kangra District (HP) where the newly formed panchayat in its general house announced to impose heavy fine on the persons found involved in drug trafficking, illegal sale of liquor and other illegal activities. Mahajarna is the first panchayat of Kangra district, which has come out against drug trafficking openly. The panchayat proposed to slap a penalty of Rs 10,000 on violators. Besides, the panchayat will also debar them from taking the benefits of government schemes like subsidized ration, financial assistance for the construction of house under the PM Awas Yojna, grants for marriages, free LPG stoves and cylinders, etc. But only time will tell how things work out on the ground.

Concerning drug trafficking in the state the need of the hour on the administrative end is to specifically focus on a combined drug policy for the entire northern border region in which Himachal Pradesh needs to work closely with its neighboring Western Himalayan UT’s of J&K and Ladakh as well as Punjab. In such instance pre-engagement policies are necessary for preventing and mulling drug crime in Himachal. Another significant aspect for preventive methods is to engage in a dialogue through a post-engagement policy analysis, which leads to formulating strategies for overall drug control. Further, a fresh and strict Pan-South Asian drug policy is also required which will largely help Himachal Pradesh and the Far-North region of India to work with the neighboring regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan on this issue, which can lead to prosperity in the province and the entire region. But this can only happen when peace exists in South Asia especially between India and Pakistan. Till then all we can do is hope that things will change for the betterment of the people of Himachal Pradesh and especially its young population.

Image Credit: Palash Kapoor

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Opinion

The Western Himalayan Kinnaura Tribe – Composition, Customs and Social Transformation

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By- Dr. Devender Sharma, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Centre of Excellence Government College Sanjauli, Shimla (Himachal Pradesh).

The focus of this piece is on the Western Himalayan Kinnaura tribe, majorly concerning their composition, customs and social transformation. Their ethnic-religious and socio-linguistic composition has been discussed as well as birth, death and marriage related customs of the tribe have been elaborated. Also, a brief evaluation concerning their recent social transformation has been done and issues related to the modernization and developmental drives furthered by the mainland has been highlighted. Lastly, a discussion has been laid concerning how all this directly or indirectly impacts the socio-cultural compactness of this tribe in many ways.

Ethnic-Religious Composition

The major tribes of Himachal Pradesh include Kinnaura, Lahaula, Gaddi and Gujjar. These groups were included in the schedule of the tribes at different point of time and under different presidential orders. These tribes as well as other related minor tribes fall in the scheduled list under the Fifth schedule of the Indian constitution. Sticking to the Kinnauras they are considered active, generous, frank, peace loving and hospitable people who are the inhabitants of the border district of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. Since time immemorial this area has been outward looking and has economic, social, and cultural ties with other parts of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and even Western Tibet (specifically its Ngari Prefecture). They belong to the Mongoloid race but have been considerably intermingled with the Indo-Aryans and are strongly marked with features of the Tartar physiognomy. The people of Upper Kinnaur are of a fair complexion and have small oblong eyes. Then, Central Kinnaur is inhabited by a slightly fair muscular race of mixed origin known as Kunets. In Lower Kinnaur the people vary in color and are mostly dark brown or yellowish white.

Co-existence of Unorthodox Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism defines the religious space of Kinnaur. While, Lower and Central Kinnaur have large influences of Hinduism which in many ways is very separate from the mainland Hinduism practiced in specifically the Hindi Belt states, as mainly deity worship is followed. On the other hand, in Upper Kinnaur Buddhism is what is dominant. But overall an amalgamated culture exists in the area where the tribal people mostly live-in peace and harmony.

 Socio-Linguistic Composition

The Buddhists who are majorly in Upper Kinnaur do not follow the caste system, but the caste system is followed by the Hindus which are mostly in Lower Kinnaur and in some areas of Central Kinnaur. The Hindus divide themselves into the Khasia or Khasas and Berus. The Khasas are treated as upper caste and includes Rajputs or Kanets and has been at the highest rung of the social ladder for generations. Meanwhile, the Berus are treated as lower castes and includes Chamangs, Domangs, Ores and Kolis. The Chamangs were traditionally shoemakers and weavers, the Domangs were blacksmiths as well as gold and silversmiths, and the Ores were carpenters.

Concerning the linguistic composition of the Kinnauras they basically speak the Kinnauri language which is part of the Tibeto-Kinnauri language family which includes languages spoken in neighboring Lahaul as well as Western Tibet, Ladakh and even Baltistan. Mainly Kinnauri/ Hamskad or Milchan is the most spoken linguistic dialect and is majorly spoken in Lower Kinnaur. According to some experts, this linguistic dialect shows close affinities to Mundari (spoken in Chota Nagpur), as they believe long back an amalgamation in this area had taken place between the Munda aboriginal tribes and a Tibetan tribe. Then, the Chitkuli dialect is mostly spoken by people living on the Indo-China border in the Baspa Valley, the Jangshung dialect is spoken mostly in the Morang tehsil and the Sumcho, Sunnam and Chhoyuli dialect is spoken in the Poh administrative division. Bhoti Kinnauri is spoken in border areas with Lahaul-Spiti, and Pahari Kinnauri which has some similarity with the Western Pahari languages is spoken by mainly the scheduled caste groups of Nichar, Kalpa, and Sangla tehsils in Kinnaur.

Birth, Death and Marriage Related Customs

After the birth of a child in the Kinnaura tribe, the naming ceremony is performed by a Buddhist Lama (For Hindus also in majority cases, as due to absence of Brahmins in Kinnaur the Lamas are given that status). In most areas when the child is of one or two years his head is shaved and this ceremony is called karachogmig. An auspicious date is taken from the Lama for removing the child’s hair, during that time the Lama also performs the ceremony of hom after which a feast is held and khura, luchi and chhoma is cooked and distributed.

Concerning death, again the Lamas are consulted, and advice is taken from them concerning the method to be followed for the disposal of the dead. There are three methods prevalent among Kinnauras for the disposal of the dead i.e., Dubant (drowning), Phukant (burning), Bhakhant, (eating by vultures and birds). However due to rapidly increasing contact with the mainland, they are abandoning these old customs concerning death and are mostly burning the dead bodies. The elder son or the nearest relatives lit a person’s funeral pyre and then the ashes are collected and thrown in the river Sutlej or taken to either Rewalsar in Mandi District of Himachal Pradesh or to Mansarowar in Western Tibet. On the thirteenth day a ceremony locally called damkochung which literally means the good and bad has been performed. A feast is then offered to relatives and friends and after that the family leads a normal life. After one year of the death a ceremony called ukhyang or phulech something like an annual shradh is performed by especially the Hindus. At that time, the Lama receives food and clothes in the name of deceased and a goat dressed in a dead man’s clothes is sacrificed and eaten by the members of his kindred. This finally ends the period of mourning.

Though variations in the performance of the custom of birth and death exist from village to village both in Hindus and Buddhists but this description is widely applicable. In relation to marriage there are four recognized forms of marriage through which Kinnauras marry namely the janetang or janckang (arranged marriage), the dam tangshisor or jushis (love marriage), the daroshor dab-dab or kuchis (marriage by capture), and har (enticing away some one’s wife). But in the modern times arranged and love marriages are the most common. Marriage alliances in the especially the Buddhists does not concern caste but in the Hindus caste and gotra system is followed like elsewhere in India. The marriage ceremony is done again by the Lamas by chanting certain Hymns. Shockingly, polyandrous marriages are also still happening in the Kinnaura tribe and in some places several brothers share one wife. The eldest brother marries, and his wife becomes the common wife to the rest of the brothers. The male children of a polyandrous marriage inherit the property jointly and it remains intact from generation to generation.

Social transformation of the Kinnaura Tribe

Currently, since the last few decades the Kinnaura tribe is in the phase of transition. Kinnaur had old trade relations with the Western Tibet which was primarily based on trade of woolen cloths but since the late 1960’s there has been a change in their economic activities especially after the Indo-Sino war which led to the establishment of more connectivity with mainland India. A significant change which has been noted since then is the transformation of the tribe from a pastoral community to an agricultural community. Also, the tourism and hospitality sector has been on the rise and such an economic transformation combined with education and awareness related efforts of the governments as well as NGOs has further propelled socio-cultural transformation in the region and a lot of progress has taken place. Polyandry and Polygamy marriage practices are on the decline and the proportion of social and economic progression is on the rise amongst especially the youth, housing and sanitation conditions have also improved considerably. The tribal people who earlier shied away from outsiders have now become more sociable and confident and are more receptive to new ideas and technological innovations. Electrification and internet connectivity has also added to the economic potential and prosperity of the tribal area.

On the flip side, with this transformation new classes have emerged in the region which have created further differentiation in the peasantry. A new rich class who entered economic activities like tourism, hydal projects, government services, and cash crops have come up, while to serve them a new local workforce has also emerged which is creating more class divide within the tribe. Simultaneously, the caste-based discrimination in especially Central and Lower Kinnaur has still not gone away and progressive modernization has not arrived even after more connectivity. Allegedly, according to some locals many ultra-left organizations are running ideological agendas using discrimination on caste and class-based lines to create cades which according to them invariably is worsening the situation more. On the flipside, again allegedly according to many local’s mainland Hinduism’s sanskritization element is creeping in through ultra-right organizations, who are trying hard to influence the unorthodox deity-based Hinduism practiced in Kinnaur and are imposing Vaishnavism based practices which according to them is creating more divide between the Hindus and Buddhists and are hampering the harmonious religious and cultural linkages prevalent in the tribal region for centuries. All this may further lead to more divisions in the Kinnaura tribe, majority of whom till now believe that the tribe comes first for them over religion or any ideological inclination.

Equally, more developmental projects have led to increased governmental interference creating more ecological damage in the region. Especially hydro-power projects in the name of development, are spelling doom in the tribal area and ruining the environmental balance. Those opposing these projects argue that a mere visit by tourists or a heavy influx of vehicles can damage the fragile ecology of the area and that the building up of massive hydropower projects will simply ruin the beautiful environment of the area forever. A recent study conducted by Indian Council of Forestry Research and many other organizations found out that out of the 38 hydro projects taken for study in Satluj basin of Kinnaur district, 20 have threatened the faunal species. Out of 368 bird species recorded, 51 are broad endemics distributed in South Asian mainland. Also, these projects are causing climate change in the region which is affecting the agricultural sector in a massive way.

Therefore, the ongoing social transformation of the Kinnauri tribe has many pro’s and con’s, on the one hand more connectivity has opened additional avenues for the tribal people by connecting them to the outer world. But on the other hand, the same has created serious problems for the tribal people and their area which may have a lot of consequences in the long run.

Image Credit: Palash Kapoor

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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