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Increasing Risk of Dementia Among the Tribal Population Migrating from Himachal Pradesh



Dimentia in tribal people of himachal pradesh

By – Vinay Kumar, Research Scholar, Department of Pharmacy, Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer

Ageing is a natural phenomenon, but with ageing comes the risk of various disorders like dementia which is an emerging public health concern and a significant reason for mortality amongst older people.  Currently, over 50 million people are suffering from dementia across the globe and by 2030 that number is expected to reach 82 million. In relation to India, dementia currently affects 1.5 million individuals, and this figure is expected to escalate three folds in the coming decades. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh alone will have more than 500,000 patients by 2026. But the same may surprisingly, also affect the hilly scheduled tribe population of Himachal Pradesh in a big way especially the ones who are migrating to the plains and major metropolitan cities.

Dementia and the tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh

Dementia is a clinically recognized disorder that is chronic or progressive in nature, and majorly it affects the memory functions specifically targeting the reasoning or unresponsive thinking ability, learning capacity, decision making etc. The same is also associated with deterioration in emotional control, social behaviour or motivation and reduction in the lifespan of the affected person. It is not a normal part of ageing and is caused by severe damage to the brain cells that affects one’s ability to communicate. This health condition is often associated with physical, mental, and financial burden. This disorder is affecting millions all across the globe and in India also there are close to 1.5 million cases of dementia but different studies conducted from time to time in different areas of Himachal Pradesh have shown that the hill people of the province (especially the tribal population) are less susceptible to dementia and related diseases. The tribal population of Himachal Pradesh which constitutes about 4.02% of the state’s total population are majorly concentrated in the high-altitude districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti and some parts of the district Chamba. The major reason for these findings is that in most areas of these districts there is a presence of a variety of staple foods such as barley, wheat, maize, and phulan in comparison of the largely wheat and rice dependent populations in the rest of rural and urban India. The districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti are also known to produce many varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables that have rich sources of nutrients like vitamins and antioxidants which help in the process of reducing the risk of dementia.

Migration and the Risk of Dementia

Nevertheless, in the current times due to fewer job and education opportunities for especially the youth, massive migration is happening to the mainland plains from the tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh. This migration is especially happening to metropolitan cities which are ecologically and climatically very different from the hilly areas and this may, in the long run, lead to severe problems for habituated hill people, especially the tribal areas. As evidence suggests that whenever people from higher altitudes move to lower altitudes especially the pains the risk of having dementia and related neuro degenerative disorders increases, the same may also lead to cardiovascular diseases. Important findings relating to how the cases of dementia increase when migrating in this way came up in a study conducted some years back in the Mishriwala IDP camp in the plains of Jammu City where a community cluster of Kashmiri migrant population lived since 1990 after they had left Kashmir in the wake of militancy. The results revealed that the cases of dementia among that Kashmiri migrant population aged 60 years and above, were higher than reported from other parts of India, the major reason being the migration from habituated high-altitude regions to the lower-altitude regions.

Mainland India and the migrating Himachali tribes

On the other hand, another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that in the Hindi Belt and other mainland areas of the country, where a lot of the tribal population is migrating are suffering from a lot of ecological and food-related changes which is increasing the risk of dementia in these areas. In Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh alone, it is expected that by 2026 there would be around 500,000 patients of dementia. Also, processed foods as well as massive adulteration in food items is being reported time and again in these areas, which is again contributing to the increase in the number of people suffering from this disorder. The same could be more devastating for the hilly tribal people of Himachal Pradesh as their living and food standards are very different and the one’s migrating to these areas may be more susceptible to dementia in their old age if they live in these areas in the long run. Though no study has been conducted on this issue till now, there is scope for such a study in the future.

Thus, ecological and diet-related factors can be seen as the key identifiers in detecting the problem of dementia and especially the tribal populations of the districts of Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti and Chamba who are still not affected by this disorder in large numbers may be more at risk especially the ones who have migrated or are planning to migrate to the mainland plains. For this purpose, the need of the hour for everyone, especially the tribal habituated people of these districts to whom this issue is relatable, is to understand that they need to take special care of themselves as they may be at more risk of getting dementia with age.

Prevention and Control

Some tips for preventing dementia for everyone and especially the people migrating from high altitude areas to lower altitude areas are regular exercising, avoiding high calories, shunning smoking, and alcohol consumption (especially red wine) etc. Also, other necessary steps which can be undertaken is the intake of antioxidants which are generally regarded as safe molecules, as they reactivate the body from time to time, they can be traced in Vitamins like A, C, E and Minerals like Zinc and Selenium. The intake of Vitamin E “anti-ageing vitamin” is the most important out of all these and aids in slowing down the onset of wrinkles, hair loss and muscle weakness process which invariably causes dementia and related diseases. Vitamin E is present in sunflower seeds, almonds, red grapes, and alfalfa sprouts. Vitamin C is also very useful as it plays a key role in boosting immunity, which is required to tackle such disorders. It is obtained from broccoli, cauliflower, kiwi, papaya, plums, guavas, bananas, berries etc. Further, Vitamin A plays a key role in the maintenance of the skin, eyes, and digestive system. The major sources of Vitamin A are obtained from plant foods like carrots, papaya, apricot, cabbage, sweet potato, and spinach, ghee, cod liver oil, egg yolk and milk fat etc. Then, Zinc is available in beans, red meat, and soya. Selenium is present in Brazilian nuts, tuna, milk, and milk products. Thus, all these foods can help in generating antioxidants which help immensely in keeping away the risk of having dementia and related neuro degenerative disorders

Image Credit: Olivier Galibert

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.


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



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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Drugs and Himachal : Recent Trends and the Counterstrategy



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.


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



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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