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Language and Scripts: With Special Focus on Western Pahari and Tankri

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Western Pahari and Tankri

By – Nirmal Joseph and Megha Manju Promodu.

Nirmal is a Research Scholar at the Central University of Karnataka and Megha is a researcher based in Kerala who previously worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, New Delhi.

The piece deals with the importance of a script for a language. It attempts to understand the following concerns: Why every language should possess its own script? What are the advantages languages with script have over those who lack it? How is the survival of a language complemented by its written form? Special emphasis is given to the Tankri script of the Western Pahari dialects which is at the verge of extinction. The attempts of linguists, especially Yatin Sharma from Himachal Pradesh, is outlined at the end. This piece is a call to authorities and language enthusiasts to fully recognize the need to preserve minority and scattered linguistic entities.

Emergence of Languages

Communication with the use of a complex system of language is a defining feature that distinguishes humans from other organisms. The same has also kept scientists, linguistics and even historians interested in studying languages and how it shapes the world around us. Initially, language developed as a communication tool and the primary objective was to pass on information in daily life. As man settled down in river valleys and ended the life of hunter-gatherers to farmers it was required that simply passing on information directly to a person was not enough, there was now a demand to retell the information from one person to another. If man wanted to survive, gather, and spread the information he learned of agriculture to his peers then a more complex way that could accommodate retelling of information was required. Slowly it evolved to be an expression of self and humans required more complex ways to express themselves hence language also evolved to meet the demands. Storytelling was an important aspect of language development. It was an act of self-expression as well as storing information for posterity through simple connected bits of information sewed together in the manner of a story. Folklores for children are an example of this.

Language developed in different parts of the world in completely different ways with different sets of rules as people hardly had any chance to mingle and travel. Though it is difficult to pinpoint, but many linguists from around the world accept six major language families and three language groups. The six language families are Indo-European (used in most parts of Europe, Iran, Pakistan, Northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka), Sino-Tibetan (Used in China, Tibet, Thailand, Myanmar), Dravidian (Southern India and even some parts of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iran), Semito-Hametic (includes languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Libyan, Somali, Ethiopia’s Amharic), Ural-Altaic (Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish, Mongolian, Manchurian and even Japanese and Korean are included by some linguists in this group) and Austric (includes languages such as Malaya, Indonesian, Tagalog of Philippines, Malagasy of the pacific ocean and even Santali of India spoken by more than 30 lakh people belong to this family). The three language groups are the African family (Swahili, Bantu, Sudanese), American family (Mayan, Quechua of Peru), and minor language families of old continents (Georgian family, Caucasian family, and some more). Also, according to the national mission for manuscripts 30% of the languages share Dravidian scripts while the rest 70% consist of Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Austric language scripts.

Why a script for a language?

The discussion above majorly consisted of oral language and its history and now we delve into written language and its necessities. Scripts are understood as a symbolic representation of sounds of a particular language according to the national mission of manuscripts. To simply put it, scripts are representations of spoken language in a text format. No one is certain as to how or when written languages originated but the possibility and need for an efficient method of collecting and storing information cannot be overlooked.

Scripts are important components of language and play a major role in preserving it. Language cannot be undermined as simply a tool of communication rather it functions as the guardian of culture, history, and life histories of the people who use it or used it. It even contributes to a sense of solidarity and brotherhood among the users. The use of English to cultivate an English sensibility among the colonised subjects as suggested by Macaulay in his minutes and the subversion of Dravidian languages as layman’s language and replacing it with Sanskrit centuries back in certain areas illustrates how powerful a tool language is to establish or subvert a culture. Another example of this is the introduction of Latin in England whilst it was still part of the Roman Empire. Often the introduction of another language to a culture does not necessarily mean a negative aspect. At times this works to enhance the original language in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and complexity. But it also poses a threat of the original language being overpowered by the imposed language. One such example in this context can be that of Malayalam which as a language did not get overwhelmed by Sanskrit imposition but rather it adapted, forming a mixed language called Manipravalam from existing Tamil, Kerala bhasha (the language used in Kerala during the time), and Sanskrit. Thus, vastly improving upon its vocabulary and grammar. On the other hand, languages like Western Pahari, Santali and other minority languages are under serious threat due to Hindi imposition and various other political reasons. In short, it can work as a double-edged sword.

Another point in this context can be that of how languages began to fade without their scripts. Ganesh N. Devy, an educator, writer, and activist in the field of language study and preservation stated in an interview given to Hindustan Times that the division of British India in 1926 on the basis of languages was the turning point. During that time scripted languages were counted and non-scripted languages without any literature were completely neglected, thus no status was given to the non-scripted language speaking people. This also meant that educational institutions did not recognize these languages further alienating the people who spoke these languages. To get an education and a better chance at life students had to learn any of the already established languages and thus this paved the way for these languages to be further downgraded. While many argue the loss of a minority language may mean nothing to humanity, but Devy points out that by losing a language we lose the repository of a traditional knowledge unique to that area or community.

Consequences of the absence of a script: The Case of Tankri and its revival

There are several reasons behind the demise of many languages. Among them, as stated earlier, the lack of a script or the written form is one of the biggest reasons. The written form of a language is in a way the repository of the cultural capital of the same, whereas the spoken form, if undocumented, has a greater probability of a faster death. Also, the meaning of words in a language is susceptible to alteration in the course of time. Therefore, every word that we use today has a historical background attached to it. Only in scripted languages, this history is identifiable, owing to the presence of a paper trail that sheds light on the past of that language. The example of Latin can be drawn here. With no active speakers for the past few centuries, Latin is considered a dead language. But the language will never be forgotten due to its well-documented nature. There will be thousands of other languages that originated along with or after Latin, but have long disappeared from the face of earth, simply because they lacked their written form. The reasons for the marginalization of a language are many. It may be politically motivated, spatially relegated or culturally side-lined. But whatever be the cause, the mightiest form of resistance is through proper documentation of the language. Documentation will help the language to be etched in the realm of public memory and it will become part of the knowledge stream. Language is closely connected with the individual and collective identity of its speakers. Its flourishment is a source of pride while its decimation is a loss of cultural capital accumulated over a course of several years or even centuries. The loss of a script has irreparable consequences. When a script dies the knowledge system, associated with it also succumbs to its end. Like every other matter, language is also power-centric. Its dominance and subordinance are directly consequential to its closeness to the power structure. It is for the same reason that most of the Tribal Languages are on the verge of extinction in this urban-centric visualization of the world.

In South Asia one such script or written form which can be included in this category is Tankri, the script was used to write Western Pahari dialects prior to the 19th century. The dialects are still spoken in majorly the Western Pahari Belt, which includes parts of present-day Himachal Pradesh, erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir princely state, and some areas of Pakistan. The dialects of the language are also spoken by a large number of people in the United Kingdom. The script originated from Sharda which is one of the oldest writing forms of South Asia. But such is the status of the script that it is almost at the brink of extinction as is no longer being used in official spaces. Simultaneously, the same has also put in danger the future of Western Pahari in especially the state of Himachal Pradesh in which Western Pahari dialects are spoken by majority people (according to the 2011 Census).

At the same time, many individuals and organizations in the state are also working on reviving the script through various means, and in this context, we had the opportunity to speak to one such individual named Yatin Sharma who belongs to the Sultanpur area of District Kullu. He is a young linguist who understands the importance of the Tankri script in the context of Himachal Pradesh and the entire Western Pahari region. He is currently working towards formulating a nuclear Tankri script for Himachal Pradesh and believes that Tankri as a script is very easy to learn but due to it having many forms based on the area and dialect it gets difficult to share and spread it.

yatin sharma linguist in himacal pradesh

Yatin Sharma

The same also, “fails to weave the Western Pahari dialects of the province and the entire belt in a single thread”. Thus, he says “Considering this, I am trying to form a script in which Western Pahari dialects of the state could be fully written. I have worked on a few figures and am currently working on others. I am even taking help of digital methods to give this script a permanent appearance. Also, I am seeking help of persons who are experts in script formation for this purpose.” Further, he says “his primary aim is to work on a nuclear script to aid the Western Pahari, though I know it is a lengthy task but nothing is impossible and with the collective effort of all like-minded individuals I believe this can be achieved”. When asked about whether he would be happy to work on a nuclear script for the entire Western Pahari Belt which would also be helpful for the United Kingdom diaspora he said that “the whole Western Pahari Belt concept is very interesting, I recently explored it after reading the works of Dr. Serena Hussain and Vishal Sharma who are currently researching on this issue at Coventry University, England”. Further, in this relation, he says “a common script for the whole Western Pahari Belt is very fascinating, but to bring it into existence is a real challenge but it is not impossible either. The most important thing in this connection is that there are area variants of vowels and their uses in the dialects which need to be dealt with and that would take a huge amount of time and resources. But I do believe that it would be better if we have a nuclear script for this whole region which would not only be beneficial for Western Pahari but would also be important to establish more linkages in between the region as well as the diaspora. At the right time if given the opportunity I would love to work on a nuclear script for the whole Western Pahari Belt”. Then, when asked upon as to whether revising these scripts would help the languages associated with them, he says “Scripts keep revising, take Tankri for example, from Sharda to Devshesha and then finally to Tankri, the script has undergone numerous amendments as per the requirement from time to time. Not only Tankri but other scripts have also been amended multiple times to reach its current form. It is not wrong to revise a script if it is the need of the hour. But amendments should only be to the extent to which it is required. Unnecessary amendments are not right.” “I think it’s the right time to revise the Tankri script”, he says lastly.

Conclusion

Thus, without a doubt, we can concur that scripts are important for languages, particularly when the speaking population keeps dwindling. To revive a script that is hardly in use and has lost its currency is a behemoth task. It requires the collective intervention of administration, academia, experts, and linguistic enthusiasts. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance to create a sense of pride among the original speakers of the language to assert their linguistic identity. Also if possible a Western Pahari institute should be made to boost studies and research on the language group and its script. Only when the learning of a language gets rewarded occupationally or financially people get encouraged to accumulate it. We can’t overlook the role of literature in the furtherance and development of a language. Therefore the creation of literary awards with respectable emoluments to be distributed annually to the best literary outputs will have far-reaching effects. Besides, thoughts can also be directed at making Western Pahari with Tankri script as an optional subject at schools – optional because no language should be imposed. Print and visual media can enhance a language and widen its reach to the common masses. Additionally, to give the language the visibility it requires, space can be accorded for it in signboards, hoardings, advertisements, etc. along with the official language of the region. Above all, a language survives the test of time through its power to accommodate changes. English became one of the most vibrant languages in the world because of its adaptability and accommodative nature. It imbibed words and phrases from almost all other languages it ever came into contact with. English language dictionaries get replenished with a multitude of novel words every year. Regional and minority languages should also learn from these more vibrant and lively languages of the globe. It is only when a language is receptive to everyday changes happening around it, it has better odds at survival.

 

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

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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Opinion

Development, Displacement, and Biodiversity: With Special Emphasis on the Forest Rights Act, 2006

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By – Aagam, Ph.D. Scholar at the Faculty of Law, Himachal Pradesh University.

The piece deals with the issue of development, displacement of indigenous people, and biodiversity. The article suggests that indigenous communities are closely linked to the forest and other similar resource-rich areas because they are the original inhabitants of such areas and are wholly dependent on that setup. In fact, they can be considered as the real protectors of biodiversity.  The work also highlights issues concerning the displacement of thousands of people through various development projects. Further, various pivotal provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the problem concerning their ground implementation are discussed.

Development according to Amartya Sen is a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. It is the process of enhancing individual capacities to avoid various deprivations such as starvation, malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality. But nowadays the definition of development has changed. It has been limited to the GDP and prodigality. Constant destruction of nature has been a norm due to the coming up of many development projects in rural and tribal areas, at the same time all this plays with the interests of the inhabitants of these areas. In essence, when we discuss the term nature or forest, it does not mean only plants and trees rather it includes biodiversity and ecology. Everything is linked to ecology, from little plants and insects to large creatures and humans. Each component of this ecology serves a purpose, and each maintains a natural balance. Human beings are the ones who disrupt this balance, whether for the sake of development or to make indiscriminate profits. In the current Indian context, a lot is happening in this concern and various legislations enacted by the British colonizers have been used to grab the land in resource-rich tribal areas. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, can be seen as one such enactment which is wrongly perceived by many as an important legislation for the conservation of forests. But that is not the case, as it was only enacted to meet commercial and military demands for timber. By recognizing forests as state property, the enactment attempted to overthrow customary rights and forest management systems which gave an open license for timber exploitation.

Eventually, almost sixty years after independence, the Parliament passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 (hereinafter mentioned as the Forest Rights Act, 2006). The legislation deserves praise as it admitted the historical injustices suffered by Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers whose rights had been inappropriately recognized throughout the colonial period as well as in independent India. In essence, it has multiple progressive provisions like  Section 3(1)(a)  which provides that the members of a forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers have the right to hold and reside in forest land under individual or common occupation for habitation or self-cultivation for livelihood. Then, Section 3(1)(c) gives the right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries. Section 3(1)(d) provides for other community rights of uses or entitlements such as fishing rights in water bodies, grazing (both settled or transhumant), and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities. Section 3(1)(g) then provides for the rights for the conversion of Pattas or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any state government on forest lands to titles. This legislation also grants the rights to protect, regenerate, conserve, or manage community forest resources under Section 3(1)(i). Furthermore, Section 5 empowers the holders of forest rights or other village institutions to protect the wildlife, forest, and biodiversity. It further puts a duty upon the holders of the forest right to ensure that adjoining catchments area, water sources, and other ecologically sensitive areas are adequately protected. They are empowered to ensure that their habitats are protected from any destructive practices that would harm their cultural and natural heritage. Further, they must have to stop any activity which adversely affects wild animals, forests, and biodiversity. Apart from this, the Gram Sabha has provided the authority to initiate the process of determining the forest rights.

Consequently, at the global level, all this can be related to the first half of the 19th century where imperialist powers had made most of the third world their colonies and implemented conservation strategies to loot natural resources. Then, in the late 60s, the strategy slowly changed, and neo-colonialism started getting implemented in these areas. This wave had a deep nexus with the corporates, who slowly and steadily in the decades to follow started running alternative propagandas with the help of the newly created NGO mechanism centered around campaigns which portrayed the opinion that people should plant more trees, save the environment, etc., and very consciously and cleverly were able to side-line social movements centered around environmental protection. Even with the emergence of the climate emergency, these powers did not halt their profit-hunger; instead, they vigorously promoted forest conservation propagandas whose main motive was never to protect the environment. In such conservation programs, many areas have been declared nature parks, wildlife sanctuaries, etc., and local people of the villages who lived in and around forests for hundreds of years were displaced from their lands. Moreover, as per the available data, Adivasis constitute 40% of those displaced in India between 1951 and 1990 as a consequence of large development projects. These are mostly poor and vulnerable people who are dependent upon primary production. They are dependent on natural resources such as water, grass, wood, fruits, flowers, and medicinal plants for their livelihood. Many forest dwellers who lived in and around forests were evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of conservation and very consciously they were made culprits and tagged as “encroachers”.

Pong Dam, District Kangra (Source: Indian Express)

At the same time, in India, thousands of people have been displaced from their lands due to the coming up of large projects in the name of national interest. In many cases, even rehabilitation was not done. For instance, many displaced people from the Bhakra Nangal and Pong dams have yet to receive their land or compensation for rehabilitation. According to a study, 90,702 people have been affected by the coming up of the Pong Dam, and 2,108 families were displaced due to the setting up of the Bhakra Nangal Dam. Approximately 8,000 ousted families which lost their land in the construction of the Pong Dam are still waiting to be rehabilitated because they were either denied land in Rajasthan or had their land allotments revoked by the Rajasthan Government. The tribals of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh are also one of the communities affected in this relation. The entire region is threatened by massive hydroelectric power projects. Heavy blasting is done during excavation and construction, causing cracks in the houses, and in some places, entire villages are in danger. The ecology has been damaged, and serious environmental threats are prevalent. In many villages of Kinnaur, claims filed under the Forest Rights Act by the villagers have been rejected. Though many organizations are working in these areas, New Delhi seems to be adamant about resource exploitation of these areas and pushing successive state governments in this concern. As hydroelectricity generated from these areas is very useful for the mainland and it’s developmental needs.

On the flip side, it also needs to be stated that, especially in post-colonial India the movement for environmental protection against the capitalist forces and their NGO brigade was started by anarchist and radical forces who also used the affected people as a tool to further their ideological propaganda. But in that process, they degraded and weakened the statist and socialist forces who stood the best chance at creating the change in the Indian context. Certainly, I believe that people who are fighting for forest rights i.e.,  jal, jungle, jameen are not against development. But development should be progressive, support-led, and aimed at social justice. Development must focus on the use of natural resources to fulfill the genuine interests of mankind. Development that is growth-mediated and profit-centric is not in the best interest of humanity as it segregates the larger community, as well as in the context of the environment causes massive destruction of natural resources and millions of inhabitants get evicted from their lands. The development of the Himalayan geographical region is of vital importance to the entire country and the sub-continent. The region has abundant natural resources, and these resources can lead to equitable prosperity and wellbeing, however, they must be used sustainably. Thus, there should be Himalayan-specific development policies in India as the conventional model of development of the plains is unsustainable for the mountainous areas.

Livestock of pastoral communities                                                        (Source: Discover Himachal with Surjeet)

Nonetheless, more autonomy should be given to the region and a decentralized approach should be preferred. Though, an attempt was made to decentralize forest management by enacting the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, and the previously stated Forest Rights Act, 2006. Both these acts give supremacy to the inhabitants by empowering the Gram Sabhas to determine the forest rights, protect and preserve natural resources, and other individual or community rights. Even the authorities are required to take a nod from the Gram Sabha for any development works like road construction or acquisition of the forest lands. In this context, another point which emerges is that the Forest Rights Act is being opposed by corporate conservationists, a few retired bureaucrats, and pseudo-environmentalists. The monopoly of the forest bureaucracy on forest management, as well as compensation and rehabilitation for resettlement, are among the major causes for opposition to this legislation. The moment Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers are declared as illegal inhabitants or encroachers, it becomes much easier to evict them from their native lands. So, this legislation is becoming an obstacle in their respective agendas.  Although as stated above the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 are progressive, but the ground implementation is missing and Gram Sabhas are typically bypassed, and bureaucrats, as well as the forest department, take precedence over them. Moreover, claims filed by the people are being rejected without valid reasons.

In conclusion, forests are inseparable from forest dwellers and thus have the best chance of survival if communities are actively engaged in their conservation and regeneration. Conservation, in the genuine sense, is impossible if local communities are tagged as ‘encroachers’ and further excluded. Ecological balance or biodiversity is not disrupted by forest dwellers. Indeed, the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who depend upon forests maintain biodiversity and the ecological equilibrium by protecting and preserving such areas. Finally, I would like to point out that in the Himalayan geographical region agricultural land is scarce and inhabitants of the region are dependent upon the primary production of the forests. Giving them certain exclusive rights will help in protecting the environment and preserving biodiversity. They are not threats to biodiversity; rather, they are the protectors.

 

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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