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Still Existent Traditional Power Structure in the Western Himalayan Mahasu Desh

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Mahasu deity institution of himachal pradesh

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

This piece focuses on the Western Himalayan Mahasu Desh or Mahasu sub-region which cuts across areas of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Effort is made to understand the social structure setting, still prevalent traditional authority structures and the role of the Mahusu Deity in this area. Focus is also laid on the societal change which is taking place due to internal and external influences over the recent years in the area.

Introduction

Mahasu Desh (not a political entity) according to Arik Moran, represents an area which belongs to the cult of the dominant divine ruler i.e., Mahasu Diety (or Mahasu Devta). The area presents a setting of Desh, Lok and Kaal within the greater Western Pahari Belt in the Western Himalayas and majorly includes parts of the Shimla administrative division (Himachal Pradesh) and some parts of the Dehradun and Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. The area has plenty of folk beliefs and legends associated with deities’ and cults which play an important role in the customary practices and strengthening rural power structures. Mahasu Desh mainly cuts across the boundaries of the erstwhile princedoms of Shimla Hill States, (Sirmour, Jubbal, Throach and Rampur Bushahar etc.), the rulers of which played a significant role in the preservation and continuity of the Mahasu Cult.

Who is Mahasu Devta/Diety?

Sticking to the Mahasu cult, it needs to be highlighted that according to folk lore ‘Mahasu’ Devta or Deity is the collective name for four deity brothers who came into existence to protect a Brahmin named Huna Bhatt and his family. According to one of the mythological stories associated with the diety, a demon named Kirmir casted an evil eye and desired to have Kirtaka, wife of Huna Bhatt; when they had an encounter she prayed to Lord Shiva to protect her chastity. In response to her prayers, Lord Shiva blinded Kirmir which helped her run away to her husband. They then prayed to Hateshwari Devi of Hatkoti (Incarnation of Durga) who advised the couple to go to the Kashmir mountains and offer prayer to Lord Shiva for help. Then, Lord Shiva granted their wish to kill Kimir and other demons in his army and told Huna Bhatt to go back to his home and perform certain rituals and worship Devi. On doing so a power emerged from the ground with flames around and told Huna Bhatt to plough on every Sunday a part of his field and promised that on the seventh Sunday the Mahasu brothers with their ministers and the army will come out and kill the demons. Huna Bhatt did accordingly, and instead of the seventh Sunday the deities emerged on the sixth Sunday. The first to come out was Botha, then came Pavasi and later Vasik and Chalda. All the four are called by a common affix of Mahasu (Char Mahasu). Also, from the fifth furrow appeared their heavenly mother Devladli Devi and their ministers. After their emergence they killed the whole army of the demon.

This is probably one of the reasons why for centuries Shaivism (centered around Lord Shiva) and Shaktivism (centered around Devi Shakti) sects of Hinduism grew in popularity in the region as such folk lore’s established links of these sects with smaller cults like Mahasu. Due to the same reason Shaivism and Shaktivism establish deeper roots and became entwined with the network of diverse indigenous beliefs that collectively exists in the Western Himalayas. This is also one of the reasons why at the village level non-mainland religious practices were central to the belief system of majority Hindu communities living in the Western Himalayan region, as they discouraged vegetarianism and believed heavily in animal sacrifice.

But on the flipside, a major problem also emerged in areas like these, as from the 11th century onwards many areas of the Western Himalayas were occupied by especially Chauhan and Rathore Rajputs who migrated from the mainland plains and used the whole Devta/Diety concept in close nexus with the Brahmins they had brought with them. This led to the start of a patriarchal and elitist structure of mixing people’s beliefs with power politics as a tool to establish social and economic dominance in the region for centuries. The same also led to practices relating to discrimination against women and people belonging to the lower castes.

Likewise, Devta/Diety system in the Mahasu Desh with time became very influential and was seen as an important medium of justice, used mainly to further the upper caste hegemony in the region majorly prior to independence. But even after the merger of the Mahasu princely states with the Indian Union, the system did not completely vanish. As even after constitutional authority structures replaced the traditional authority structures and ignited the hope amongst the discriminated communities that all kind of inequalities and discrimination would be replaced by equity and social justice, nothing significant has happened. 

Societal Setting and Configuration

Destroying the evil and administrating reward and punishment, behaviorally, Devta, as a human projection, assumes the role of a divine ruler in many areas of the Western Himalayas. In its societal existence and in relation to its believers, a Devta tends to be multi-dimensional and multifaceted. Spatial organization of the Mahasu Devta has also formed into the structures of Shanthi (also called Shathivil) and Panshi (Panshivil) that are partly mythical and partly political-cultural. The Mahasu cult phenomenon has grown on the local structure of power politcs in which the pyramidal structure of sayanas still occupy a pivotal place although the office of the sayana does not carry any legal legitimacy in today’s times but still plays a role. Management of the Mahasu Cult is also carried through a system of Wazarat, which is caste based and hence, hierarchical and feudal. Wazarat (ministry personnel) consists of two levels of hierarchy: at the administrative level, the strongest in terms of hierarchy, are the Rajputs and Brahmins who fill the roles of the Wazir (ministers), Pujari/deopuzia (priests), Mali (mediums), Thani (priest assistants) and Bhaṇḍari (equipment keepers). At the second hierarchical level are the Bajgi/Dhakis (drummers) and Kolta (carriers). Wazir fully controls and directs the Devta institution but under the authority of Sayanas, who may or may not belong to the clan of the Wazir.

In the hierarchical and pyramidal structure of Sayana (called Syanachari), there are discernible four levels of office viz., the village Sayana, the Khag Sayana (Khag is the subdivision of the Khat), the Khat Sayana (Khut is a subdivision of the tehsil) and the Chauntru or the Chauntra Sayanas (Chauntru consisted of four most influential Sayanas). The Khag Sayana controls the village Sayanas falling under his Khag, but under the overall supervision of the Khat Sayana. Where the Khag organization does not exist, the village Sayana works directly under the Khat Sayana. The four most influential Syanas bearing the title of Chauntra, constitute a senate.  Both Wazarat and Sayanachari move hand to hand. Despite this nexus of power both on the economic and political level, Wazir remains dependent on the Sayanas. The Sayanachari system during the days of national movement was linked to the undemocratic and autocratic system of Zamindari, but after independence nothing has been done to deal with this feudal system, especially the Mahasu sub-region.

The Discriminatory Caste-Structure

The caste structure of Mahasu Desh is in consonance with its usual universal pattern. Yet, it has its own peculiarities. In the structural setting, the Rajput and the Brahman own and cultivate a major part of the land, which has been and even today is a major source of wealth and power. Among the scheduled castes, mostly the people are part of the unskilled labor. Occupationally, they work as agricultural laborers besides working as potters, curriers, tanners, sawyers and wood cutters. There are several discriminatory social practices against people belonging to lower caste groups that continue even today. The most prominent is the Khumbri Panchayat which is predominantly controlled by upper castes and usually discriminates against the lower caste groups. This Panchayat allegedly does not allow the lower caste communities to approach the police for lodging complaints against upper caste groups. Khumbri Panchayat also uses bizzare methods of compensation in cases of heinous crimes, wherein the culprit is ordered to offer a goat and one meal to all villagers. Another such practice during the elections is that of LoonLota, in which salt is mixed with water in a Lota (utensil) and people are asked to take an oath in the name of the Mahasu Devta to side by a particular candidate in elections, and, if one fails on his promise, then he is categorized as a sinner and cursed. Lower caste groups in the area many of whom are not well educated still believe in this practice, while the upper caste groups use it to establish dominance. Budu/Budiachu is also a practice which makes this list and involves lower caste groups mainly Bajgi, performing dance and music at houses of upper castes on Diwali for at least three days. Refusal to do so means social boycott and some other forms of punishment. People belonging to the Lower caste groups are also denied a role in managing devta/deity temple affairs and there is discrimination in participation in rituals along with the denial of entry in some places.

Tracing Social Change

Over a period, growing impact of modern economy does create constraints in the traditional management and certain changes are being witnessed in this respect, but on the surface the political economy has not changed much. During my fieldwork other social changes that can be seen over the years is the increasing influence of the Hindi-heartland centric Vaishnavism in the Mahasu sub-region through many self-proclaimed reformist organizations who further the notion of Pan-Hinduism. But the same is invariably promoting Sanskritic notions which are alien to the region and may lead to more segregation between communities. Also, propagation of vegetarianism and animal worship is also being aimed at and is gradually changing the Pahari way of lifestyle in these areas. Further, there are also many instances of conversion of lower caste groups to Christianity, but most of the groups operating in the region are from the Evangelical school of thought, that again promote rigidity and orthodoxy which may further segregate communities. Thus, greater progressive change based on the constitutional principles of social justice and equality is still missing, due to which soon the social development of the area may suffer which may invariably also target the economic prosperity.

Conclusion

Thus, the still existent traditional power structure in the Western Himalayan Mahasu Desh is consequently affecting the merger of the region with the wider constitutional setup of the country and the global political economy. These traditional authority structures have some peculiarity, due to which they are still predominant amongst the masses, but better sense needs to prevail in order to slowly create a positive change. Inter-community dialogue based on regional progressive lines can be one way out to eliminate the social evils such systems propagate in this 21st century.

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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Himachali Sub-Nationalism: A Counter-Narrative To Tackle Hindutva In Himachal Pradesh

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By – Vishal Sharma, a political science and public policy researcher/consultant. He holds an LL.M. in Legal & Political Aspects of International Affairs from Cardiff University (United Kingdom).

Himachali sub-nationalism can help tackle the Hindutva narrative in Himachal Pradesh which has long aimed at mainland-centric hyper-nationalism, cultural imperialism, linguistic imposition, and demographic change in the peaceful Western Himalayan province. A regional nationalism based counter-narrative that can be centered around the protection of Section 118 of the Land and Tenancy Act, 1972 and the revival of the Pahari (Himachali) language dialect chain is probably the need of the hour to keep away Hindutva and its caste/community and religion-based hegemonic politics from the province.

 

Himachal Pradesh and Hindutva

Himachal Pradesh has been a peaceful, riot-free, and harmonious province for the last 50 years. But as they say, nothing is perfect, similarly, a lot needs to still be achieved by the state on the policy front in relation to becoming economically self-sufficient and tackling the drug menace. On the other hand, in the political scheme of things the state till 2017 was governed on largely centrist lines that were slightly tilted towards regionalism. But post-2017 after Prem Kumar Dhumal’s shocking defeat things changed and Himachal Pradesh got its first purely Hindutva-minded Chief Minister. Jai Ram Thakur was handpicked by the RSS to lead Himachal Pradesh and take forward the Hindutva narrative which was largely on the backburner in previous BJP governments of the state as Prem Kumar Dhumal, a former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh was not from an RSS background and took a regional approach during his tenure, while Shanta Kumar another former BJP Chief Minister who although was from the RSS, but believed that Hindutva will not work in Himachal Pradesh.

Now coming to Hindutva, this idea as envisioned by MS Golwalkar is based on moral universalism and aims to establish a “Hindu Rashtra” (which has nothing to do with Hindusim and in a way misuses the religion) on the notions of civilizational colonialism. This very idea is used by the RSS in the present times to down ride the legal universalism-based constitutional idea of India. Over the last few decades in the public sphere, the idea of Hindutva has overshadowed the idea of India in especially the Hindi heartland, and in the coming decades, the RSS is looking to expand this mainland centric civilizational notion to the culturally different and non-mainland areas of especially the South of India, the North-East and the Far-North (Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, and Himachal Pradesh). Himachal Pradesh is high on their radar as they have their own government at place, and it can be said that over the years their narrative has gained some ground in ideally peace-loving Himachalis who were always seen to be non-supporters of such rigid ideologies whether it be on any side of the political spectrum. But the reverse seems to happen, and social engineering tactics have led to many moving towards Hindutva. On the flip side, those favoring the idea of India and other similar narratives have become silent due to the weakening of institutional setups which gave space to them.

 

The idea of Himachal and the grant of statehood

Moving on, Himachal Pradesh as I understand became a full-fledged constitutional state due to the efforts of our forefathers who envisioned a multicultural hilly province where people from numerous cultural zones like the Upper Western Pahari zone (includes parts of Shimla, Sirmaur, and Solan districts), Central Western Pahari zone (includes parts of Kullu, Mandi, and Bilaspur districts), Lower Western Pahari zone (includes parts of Hamirpur, Una, Kangra, and Chamba districts), Punjabi zone (includes parts of Una and Solan districts) and the Trans-Himalayan zone (includes parts of Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti) could live together, no matter what their ethnicity, religion or caste/community. This in fact can be termed as the idea behind the creation of Himachal, and to bring this idea into fruition in the 1950s and 60s the founding fathers of Himachal Pradesh led by Dr. YS Parmar worked beyond party lines to attain statehood for this hilly region stacked between Punjab (then Greater Punjab) and Himachal (then a UT). Geographical and linguistic parameters were set for the attainment of statehood and its unity, which can be considered as a very welfare-oriented and progressive approach, especially in a country where most of the political narratives are set on caste/community and religious lines.

The statehood movement was not merely an Indian National Congress (INC) exclusive movement and leaders from across the political spectrum did their bit. Some names which deserve special mention apart from YS Parmar were INC’s Tapindra Singh, Padam Dev, Vidya Dhar, Brahma Nand, Guman Singh and Amin Chand, revolutionary leftist leaders like Comrade Ram Chandra (INC) and Paras Ram (CPI), veteran Jan Sangh (now BJP) leaders like Daulat Ram Chauhan and Kishori Lal, and lastly regional stalwarts like Thakur Sen Negi and JBL Khachi. Through a study of the debates of that time, one also comes to know that all of them stood up in their own way and form for the Himachali cause putting aside their party ideologies. The INC and Jan Sangh (now BJP) leaders questioned the centrist attitude of their parties while leaders like Comrade Ram Chandra crossed all limits going to the extent of even warning the government of India in one of his addresses that a revolution may take place if statehood was not granted. Thakur Sen Negi and JBL Khachi were also so much into the Himachali cause that to strengthen the Himachali regional identity they formed the Lok Raj Party which was the first regional party of Himachal Pradesh. Thus, due to their effort statehood was finally attained in 1970-71.

The next steps in strengthening the idea of Himachal were also laid through the passage of Section 118 of the Land and Tenancy Act, 1972 which limited anyone from outside the state to buy agricultural land here, a boon for the Himachali people (who were mostly farmers) at that time, even till now this section is of utmost importance to Himachalis as it has helped in the protection of the distinct cultural identity of the state and has stopped demographic change. Another step in this direction was the unanimous passage of a resolution in the HP assembly in 1970 which declared Pahari as the mother language of the state, though over the years not much was done for the development of the language dialect chain but still people take pride in having this distinct linguistic identity. Dr. YS Parmar, Himachal’s first Chief Minister played a crucial role in both these initiations and paved the way for what according to me are the two pillars upon which Himachali sub-nationalism can be based, i.e., Section 118 and the Pahari (Himachali) language.

 

Need for Himachali sub-nationalism and its conceptualization

As stated earlier, in the initial years of statehood a lot was done to strengthen the idea of Himachal but slowly and steadily things started to change post-1975 and as the Delhi Darbar started becoming stronger, Shimla kept losing hardcore regionalists. Though still with the welfarist and progressive constitutional setup at bay things were going well with a hint of regionalism being used time in and time out by the principal parties in power. But as the Hindutva bandwagon reached Himachal Pradesh in 2017, things changed, and the moral universalism of Hindutva started questioning the constitution-based legal universalism. The public institutions started getting hijacked and the saffronisation of the public sphere started taking place. From RSS backed MLA’s being given Cabinet berths to other RSS ideologues getting appointed in important political positions, from grooming the next generation of BJP Himachali leaders in the RSS Shakhas to efforts towards the dilution of Section 118 of the Land and Tenancy Act, 1972, from imposing Sanskrit as the second official language of the state and sidelining the Pahari language to spreading communal tensions by doing D2D campaigns in favor of CAA and NRC, from spreading Islamophobia by terming Tablighi Jamaat followers as human bombs during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis to actively considering setting up Swarna Aayog (a commission for upper castes). A lot was done over the years which goes against the basic nature of this peaceful province and its polity.

This is in fact just the beginning, as recently the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat launched a three-year roadmap in Himachal directing its office bearers to take Shakhas to the level of gram sabhas in Himachal Pradesh before 2025 (their centenary year). One can only imagine that if so much has been done in a short span of time what will happen if the BJP comes back to power. Many although are skeptical whether the BJP will come back to power as since the last three decades every five years there is a change of regime in Himachal but the recent assembly election results in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand show a different story altogether and nothing can be taken for granted. RSS’s Hindutva narrative is so dear to them that they can cross any limit to bring BJP into power in Himachal Pradesh and a mere tackling them on public policy issues revolving around Roti, Kapada, and Makaan will not help.

Thus, this is where the Himachali sub-nationalism narrative comes into play which the principal opposition parties like the INC and CPI(M) should look to use. In fact, such is the trend in the last few years that in non-mainland states only regional nationalism has served as a counter to Hindutva nationalism. Sub-national counter-narratives worked well in non-mainland states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where local Bengali and Tamil identity narratives were used to constantly keep away the alien Hindutva identity. Invariably, in the long run, this counter-narrative seems to be the only way through which the federal structure of the country can be protected from Hindutva, as well as the survival of the constitutional layers of this country can be ensured. A positive response towards such a counter-narrative in Himachal could lead to a wider wave in especially the entire Far-North.

 

 Upcoming assembly elections a referendum on Hindutva

 The upcoming assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh will definitely be a referendum on Hindutva. With the people of the state having to choose between the narrative of Hindutva or any counter-narrative of the opposition. But the opposition should keep in mind that in order to defeat morality-based narratives a counter morality-based narrative is required and thus Himachali sub-nationalism centered around the protection of Section 118 and the revival of Pahari (Himachali) language dialect chain can be a counter-narrative which the people of Himachal Pradesh may be looking for. They could be asked to simply decide whether they prefer being a “Himachali” or a Hindutva subject divided into castes/communities like Brahmins, Thakurs, Punjabi Refugees, Khatris, Soods, Mahajans, Gaddis, Gujjars, SCs, STs, etc, or into religious identities like Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians.

In the end, all one can say is that we may sadly see the demise of the idea of Himachal if Hindutva is not defeated this time, and if this civilizational narrative is victorious then the traditional political spectrum in Himachal Pradesh will perish and the Hindutva political spectrum will rise. This may further lead to the emergence of new narratives which would be invariably aligned with the idea of Hindutva and not with the idea of India.

 

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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Animal Sacrifice in Shrines of Himachal : Question of Belief and Rationality

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Animal sacrifice in himachal pradesh

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

 The present piece deals with the recent public discourse on the 2014 High Court’s decision to ban animal sacrifice in Hindu religious places of Himachal Pradesh. There are various arguments in favor and against this decision. The historical process of transformation from the practice of animal sacrifice in the temples to the present movement towards vegetarianism and opposition to stop this practice as well as the interplay between two contradictory ideas is the focus of this article.

               On September 2014, animal sacrifice was banned in the religious places of Himachal Pradesh by a Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment. The decision provoked surprise and dismay amongst the people involved in the management of mostly Shaivism and Shaktivism centric shrines of the state. Many administrators and devotees decided to appeal to the Supreme Court against this judgement, in the name of freedom of religion. Others, by contrast, welcomed the Court’s determination to end what the judgment denounced as an evil custom in a civilized society. Later on in 2017 the Supreme Court gave an interim order on the petition against the orders of the High Court and reinstated the old tradition with some regulations.

Public Debate on the Court’s Decision

                Over the years numerous debates have come up on the issue and the most intense debate which started in the public sphere was focused on the court’s decision to adjudicate upon practices that are deemed as being an integral part of Western Himalayan Hinduism which is majorly centered around shrine based Shaktivism and Shaivism. Critics say the decision encroaches on the beliefs and religious practices of especially Western Himalayan Hindus and infringes their fundamental right to the freedom of religion. Such an act, they contend, is an effort to examine diverse traditions and customs through the prism of selective parameters, and to change the existing norms with new ones. Some feel that this decision is an incursion into matters of faith and runs against the principles of pluralism and diversity, which are considered indispensable components of Indian multiculturalism.

Based on the case details and ethnographic data there is something beyond the official and ‘public’ aspects and thus, it is pertinent to understand this practice from a socio-economic perspective as well as by keeping in mind the belief system of the people of major parts of the state.

 Historical Context

             Historians have traditionally made varying analysis of Bali (Sacrifice), through “great tradition” and “little tradition”. According to them “great tradition” means text based religious practices and “little tradition” means a residual set of practices, associated with divinities and spirits. Animal sacrifice is a “little tradition” in which ritual killing or offering of an animal is part of the religion to appease or maintain favor with the divine agency. Such forms of sacrifice are practiced within many religions around the world, from Judaism to Christianity and from Islam to Hinduism. In Hinduism, animal sacrifice was also part of the ancient Vedic religion as is mentioned in scriptures such as the Yajurveda. But over time especially the Vaishnavism sect of Hinduism experienced reforms in the medieval period, and an attempt was made to de-emphasize on animal sacrifice. But the same continued with the Shaivism and Shaktism sects of Hinduism and overtime this got strongly rooted in local popular or tribal traditions of especially the Western Himalayas which many Hindus term as the land of Shiv and Shakti.

Animal Sacrifice in the Shrines of Himachal

                 In Himachal Pradesh and the entire Western Himalayas which also includes Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, Hinduism is mostly centered around the Shaktivism and Shaivism sects and is well known for the deity worship culture. Here many consider festivals like Shivratri and Navratri more important than Diwali which is a Vaishnavism sect centered festival and thus there is a belief among people that without performing traditional rituals, local deities who are incarnations of Shiv and Shakti will bring misfortune to them. In especially many parts of Himachal Pradesh it is a common tradition to sacrifice animals in full public view during religious festivity in many religious places of Upper Shimla Area like Shaand Maha Yagna and Bhunda Maha Yagna, where goats and sheep are sacrificed in hundreds and are symbolically offered to the deity and later taken home by villagers and their guests for eating. Also, at the Mindhal Devi shrine of Pangi (Chamba), herds of sheep and goat are sacrificed to the deity. According to the tradition in many shrines of Kullu also, the sacrifice of animals is done on a massive scale. Further, in the Hidimba Devi shrine of Manali one can spot its exteriors adorned with sacrificial remains of animals including goats and buffaloes. The list goes on and on and many such examples which can be cited from across the state.

Animal sacrifice is also performed for life events such as birth, marriage, and death. There is also a strong faith in especially many communities of the state that without sacrifice of animals their tradition would die out, and therefore, sacrifice is essential for them.

 Practice under Transformation

However, in many parts of Himachal Pradesh, there is constant change in the acceptance of Bali, on the part of the diety or devta. In many places people are coming under the influence of the non-native Vaishnavism which is largely followed in the Hindi Belt and under the influence of this sect people have stopped offering animals as sacrifice and are moving towards vegetarianism. Puja is becoming more Satvic in nature and less Tamsic. The food which is being offered to the diety or devta is also becoming more purified in accordance with mainland Brahminic criteria’s which is mostly being spread in parts of the state by migrant Vaishnav Garhwali brahmans of Uttarakhand whose numbers have risen over the years. Also, wider Pan-Hindu notions of divinity, where vegetarianism is considered Sanskritic and essentially better is penetrating in the local society through the influence of a popular Vaishnavism centric religious movements in the region like ISKON and BAPS., which are gradually changing Himachali and Western Himalayan concepts of divinity and their related religious experience.

Furthermore, another dimension which needs to be explored in this context is that of animal rights activists who moot for ban on animal sacrifice and term it as abusive. They also believe that earlier people were uneducated and thus supported animal sacrifice but now according to many of them education has started creating awareness and is changing the value system of the younger generation. They connect the Bali system with backwardness and emphasize on the encounter between local traditions and modern education.

Thus, historically in Himachal Pradesh and the entire Western Himalayas, communities were meat eating due to different reasons like harsh climate, pastoral economy, scarcity of grains and pulses etc. Over the period meat eating among Hindus got religious sanctity through deities and animal sacrifice started in the Western Himalayan shrines. But in the present times there is no universal support for animal sacrifice due to dominance of Vaishnavism centric Hinduism and thus this practice under Shaktivism and Shaivism is in decline. Also, from the religious standpoint new mediums of sacrifice are being offered to deities by people influenced by Vaishnavism like sacrifice of pumpkin in place of goats and buffaloes etc. More connectivity with mainland India and especially the Hindi Belt is probably another reason for this. Then, education and development of people from pastoral economy to a settled agriculture economy has also changed the food culture of the people in the region.

 Conclusion

            To summarize, over the years material conditions changed in the region and meat eating along with animal sacrifice in shrines are being challenged by animal rights activists and movements related to the Vaishnavism sect of Hinduism. But only time will tell how this transformation will affect locals in the long run, as orthodoxy of any sort can damage communities. There is no doubt that traditional practices in Himachal Pradesh need reformation but outside religious influences especially from the Hindi Belt that challenge the traditional way of life in the entire Western Himalayas on Pan-Hindu lines can create more problems in the coming years leading to the eruption of a different sort of orthodoxy which could be more divisive and harsher. On the other hand, radical moral conclusions on the part of animal rights advocates also can further lead to unnecessary traction within communities. Thus, to avoid all this a modern progressive approach concerning the wider reformation of traditional practices within the entire Western Himalayan region seems to be the best approach as a mixture of tradition and modernity can serve all interests.  

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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Farmers’ Movement and Why it Has Failed to Make Inroads in Himachal?

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

 The present piece relates to the ongoing farmers’ movement in India. An effort has been made to understand the reasons upon as to why the protests have failed to make inroads in the Western Himalayan province of Himachal Pradesh.

 The population of Himachal Pradesh is predominately involved in agriculture and horticulture, but one finds minimal active support in the province for the current nationwide farmers’ movement. There are plenty of reasons for this, which needs to the highlighted but before moving there a discussion is must on the findings of the recent NSS report released on 10 September 2021. As the findings are worrisome not just for the policymakers, but for farmers and the farmers’ movement as well. The NSS’s 77th round on the “Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households and Land and Livestock Holdings of Households in Rural India, 2019”, has noticed that an average farm family makes about Rs 10,000 per month, less than what a domestic worker would earn in big cities. In other words, a farmer’s family earns more from doing labor elsewhere than by working in its own fields. In the background of this report the ongoing farmers’ protest highlights issues like these which ultimately are a result of the policies adopted by governments from the time of independence.

Further, protesting farmer organizations also believe that the recently introduced farm laws are designed to further the interests of the large corporate houses which will make things more difficult for them. They say the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 has the potential of destroying the government led APMC mandis.  Also, according to them the second law on Contract farming puts the farmers in the dock by not just opening them to risks when getting into contracts with companies but also by closing the door of the courts for farmers. Then, they also oppose the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, as corporates are allowed to buy, store, sell produce minus regulation and accountability of any sort. It also according to them seeks to restrict the powers of the government with respect to the production, supply, and distribution of certain key commodities.

Situation of Horticulture and Agriculture in Himachal Pradesh

Moving to Himachal Pradesh and analyzing the situation here one can say that a large section of the population heavily depends on food grains produced by the farmers of the plains, which is distributed at subsidized rates through PDS, and thus these laws could prove to be a death knell for the state which is still run on largely welfarist lines. Though, in the post-independence era, land reform measures in states like Himachal Pradesh have been taken, as well as the policy push to develop horticulture, supported the farm-based economy. But conditions for subsistence in mountainous, forest and farm-based livelihoods only became more unfavorable with this. Fragmentation of land into small farms has affected yields. In addition, transition from traditional crops like millets and barley to cash crops (like apple and vegetables), has led to the younger generations moving out of non-remunerative subsistence farming, along with this the weakening of a livestock rearing economy has happened and these are trends which have largely emerged with state-driven neoliberal market interventions. In the year of the pandemic and resultant lock-down, access to labor and markets was very difficult. As a result, horticulturalists in the upper areas of the state suffered immensely.

Himachali farmers have been traditionally credited with turning the state’s rugged mountain valleys into India’s best farming hubs, especially with the coming up of the apple revolution and high-yield cash crops in especially the upper areas of the state. But the success story has now rapidly gone downhill as the share of agriculture in Himachal Pradesh’s economy has dropped to just 8 per cent in 2017-18, compared to 26.5 per cent in 1990-91. Large tracts of fertile land have been abandoned by farmers in the state for being uneconomical. This land is also used for various development projects of the government leading to scarcity of agricultural land. “The contribution of agriculture and allied sectors in the total State Domestic Product has declined from 55.5 per cent in 1967-68 to 26.5 per cent in 1990-91 and further down to 8.8 per cent in 2017-18,” said Himachal Pradesh’s latest economic survey report, tabled in the state legislative assembly. In comparison other sectors like transport and services have also seen a significant growth graph.

Over the last two decades, farmers have used government incentive to make the best use of controlled-atmosphere farming which is flooding markets across the country with heaps of off-season vegetables and flowers. Himachal produces around 17 lakh metric ton vegetables and almost 40 per cent are off-season vegetables. The production exceeds that of cereals and fruits. Yet there are problems pertaining to the post-harvest technology. The farmers have been pointing out that there are no mandis in the state for the exotic vegetables and flowers. Farmers are forced to take their produce to Delhi which is sold through agents. Thus, the Vegetable farmers in the hill state are facing multiple challenges including lack of cold storage and food processing units.

The horticulture sector in Himachal Pradesh — the backbone of the state’s economy is also facing a major crisis. The area under fruits, which was 792 hectares in 1950-51 with total production of 1,200 tonnes increased to 2,33,300 hectares during 2019-20 and the total fruit production was 8.45 lakh tonnes, while during 2020-21 (up to December, 2020) it has been reported as 4.82 lakh tonnes. Fruit growers have almost run out of packaging material to store their produce, after a 21-day nationwide lockdown was invoked to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Fruit growers also faced depleting supplies of fertilizers, pesticides, micronutrients and fungicides and a lack of means of transport to mandis for sale.

 Impact of nationwide farmers’ movement in Himachal Pradesh

              The farmers protest in Punjab, Haryana, and Western UP and for that matter in the entire Hindi Belt has had little impact in Himachal Pradesh. Apart from a tractor rally at Haroli and Paonta Sahib on 26 January 2021 and a couple of peaceful protests on Bharat Bandh in adjoining regions with Punjab and Haryana due to proximity with these areas, Himachal Pradesh has not witnessed any widespread agitations against the new Farm Laws. Like Punjab and Haryana, Himachal Pradesh is also a predominantly agrarian state, where 93 percent of the state’s population lives in villages and most of them are directly involved in agricultural activities.

To understand why support for this movement is weak among farmers of Himachal Pradesh. It is pertinent to look at three different dimensions. Firstly, the nature of the agriculture production in Himachal Pradesh is of subsistence nature. Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh are the areas where after green revolution, agriculture production has been highly commercialized, and farmers produce wheat and rice largely for the market. Their relations with market made them more organized. Contrary to this, the land relations developed in Himachal after extensively executed land reforms and around 87 percent of the farmers according to government data are small and marginalized farmers who are dependent on subsistence farming. This nature of subsistence economy could not relate to farmers who are market oriented and thus consequently farmers in Himachal Pradesh remained unorganized. Furthermore, the Agro Climatic zones in Himachal are very distinct in comparison to other states. There are four zones; Lower Hill Zone where wheat, maize, paddy, gram, sugarcane, potato are major crops; Mid Hill Zone which has very good potential for the cultivation of cash crops like off-season vegetables and ginger; High Hill Zone ideally suited to produce apple, quality seed potato and temperate vegetables, and finally the Cold Dry Zone suited to produce quality seed potato, temperate and European type of vegetables and their seeds. These distinct climatic zones are making it difficult to organize farmers for common issues.

Secondly, farmer organizations are not that much organized in Himachal as in Punjab, Haryana, or the Hindi Belt. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Western UP have commercialized farming, which makes it inevitable to develop market relations and consequently turns into contradictions. Contrary to these states, in Himachal non-commercial agriculture production could not organize farmers. However, apple economy and off seasonal cash crop production in a few areas is commercialized and has eventually brought together farmers on different issues, from reforms in marketing mechanism to demand of subsidized seeds and fertilizers. The first 1987 statewide agitation of apple growers started from Kotgarh and Rohru for shortage of carton and apple scab disease, but it was a localized movement and did not make impact in other parts of the state.

Thirdly, when the farmers’ movement for abrogation of three Farm Laws got momentum in Punjab and Haryana, few farmer groups from Himachal participated in the movement, limited to mainly the plain areas of Una and Paonta Sahib, which have proximity with Punjab and Haryana. Concerning the majority farmers of Himachal Pradesh, the demands of the mainland farmers for MSP does not coincide with the demand of the Himachal Pradesh apple growers along with other cash crops growers, who are demanding MIS (Market Intervention Scheme).

              Besides that, the direct implications of the three farm laws are difficult to comprehend for the common people, especially when the mainstream media reportage is pro-government and against the farmers’ agitation. On the other hand, the objectives of the farmers’ movement are also centered on mainland issues and problems of the Western Himalayan farmers of India’s Far North which also includes Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh apart from Himachal Pradesh are not being highlighted by them.  

 Conclusion

To sum up, it can be said that the agricultural economy in Himachal Pradesh is largely of subsistence nature, which could not make market relations. Apple along with some cash crops have in some extent commercialized the economy and this has made farmers organized, but not to that level, where they could unite to lend active support for a nationwide farmers’ protest. Secondly, farmers of Himachal are not able to directly relate their problems with these three Farm Laws as the main issue for them is MIS which has not been highlighted strongly by the mainland farmers.

Though it can be said that if issues like Market Intervention Scheme is extensively taken up by the national farmer organizations, then it could lead to more support for them especially from the farmers of Himachal Pradesh as well as Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Furthermore, trends towards high density apple production in hitherto predominantly agriculture production areas could also compel Himachali as well as Kashmiri and Ladakhi horticulturists to organize in a better way and form and support the nationwide movement.

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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