Ladakh and Hinterland Economies in Relation to the Nation State.
In 1974, as a second year Sociology student at Miranda House, Delhi, I accompanied my relatives,(Malayalis, who were living and working in Quwait) to Kashmir, as they needed someone who would help them in their journey in North India, as they did not have any Hindi. We got off the train, at Jammu, were surrounded by loud haranguing coolies, and then got into the bus for Srinagar. A double rainbow, like an arc in the sky greeted us at Srinagar, known to Malayalis through the philosopher and mystic, Adi Sankara’s travels from Kaladi in Kerala. The taxi driver taking us about, was confronted with a speeding driver, to whom he shouted “Tu Jammu se AAya hai?” to which my relatives wanted a translation from me, for the mutual hostility it raised in both the drivers. Invectives too have a Sociological explanation, steeped in history. We lived for a week, in an ostentatious newly constructed houseboat, smelling of pine, which the owner said had cost him a lakh to build. And then we went to Pahalgam, and leaving my relatives, at the base of the hill, I started to climb the glacier at Sonamarg. I climbed only a little way, but the euphoria that filled my head was the most amazing experience. I was summoned back by my cousin to join the group. I am grateful to have that experience which has always stood by me as the real mystical experience of the beauty of the world. It was on that visit, we saw trucks with jubilant foreigners, going up the mountains, and the taxi driver said “They are going to Ladakh”. The Shangri-La of Tibetan culture had just been made accessible.
Ladakh has been known as a travel entrepot for many centuries as it was on the Silk Route, on which tea and gold were also exchanged with precious jewels. Today, it is of strategic importance since it hosts an astronomy laboratory, and invites upto 50,000 tourists a year. Leh had 44 hotels in 2010, and Kargil is a battle site, which has seen many sacrifices. The stakes of the Nation State in Ladakh are huge, with regard to the intrusions of the Chinese and the Pakistanis, which are frequent. The Airforce on August 20th 2013, landed its Super Hercules transport aircraft C-130J-30, at the world’s highest airstrip at Daulat Beg Oldie in Ladakh, which the Government representatives say can carry 100 passengers, and can fuel helicopters, additionally, during relief work during natural or human made disasters or war. When we look at Ladakh today, we know that its integration into the Nation State is the way in which politicians see its significance in the survival strategies of modernism. How can civilians avert war?
If state tourism is one prong, so is the work of intellectuals. By integrating with the communities they study, the Sociologist links up in interdisciplinary frameworks, where knowledge production becomes connected to familiarity with terrain. The assimilation of others, new comers, into the society being studied, becomes possible, because of the assumption that the strangers who enter an arena, which is both a tactile space, as well as carefully marked in international codes of surveillance and possession, (and counter claims based on previous acts of aggression), will become the index of its belonging to the Nation state. Ladakh has a long and interesting history, which goes back to the Neolithic age, and though its population was once “3 people a square mile”, typical of herding and hunting and pastoral societies in the past. Today, we are talking of a knowledge explosion, for all interactions are mutually facilitating, where experiencing Ladakh is seen to be the dream of the tourist. What does this say for climate change, and the carbon trail, when there are daily flights to Ladakh from Delhi, with all the major airplane companies?
Climate Change is now an accepted fact of post modern experience. Our life style changes have meant that the earth has heated up considerably, and what are called glass house emissions is matched by the over sell of nuclear energy, whose risks to the earth have been written about considerably. Climate Change is also part of the history of the Universe, so we have to accept that the earth has its own momentum, irrespective of what we may or may not do. The hot springs that dot the Ladakh landscape only prove how close the magma may be, and why the geomorphology of the earth creates its own iridescent beauty in landscapes such as the Ladakhi one. The people are now a diaspora in many parts of India, and with tourism, the food habits and the dress of the local people will have undergone tremendous change. Ladakh cannot support a population larger than the ability of its hinterland, which remains a pastoral and agricultural one. And it is with this question that I am most concerned with.
If agriculture and water management are not related to the terrain, which is desert with a riverine ecology, the intrusion of large numbers of people, such as us, is both a hindrance as well as a benefit to the local people. Communities in movement, such as bands of intellectuals or hordes of soldiers bring with them the merchandise of their needs, which the State has to support in order to provide or to generate the acceptability of such integrational policies and drives.
In 2010, when there was a flash flood from a cloudburst, the Nation watched in horror while mudslides took over the landscape, and while no tourist was reported killed, the local community had many deaths. One of the problems of tracking climate change is the shift away from patterns of the seasons. This obviously affects the expectation of the people regarding the traditional enclaves they thought to be their own. It affects not just agricultural production, but also the ritual calendar. If it is accompanied by a sense of acceptance of fate or destiny, where individuals and communities enter the dread space of not knowing what will happen next, with a measure of equanimity, then normlessness may not arise. Ladakh with its Buddhist predominance has for long been associated with the meditational aspect of life and work as coexisting. However, with the new lifestyles which are a result of the osmosis between tourists and local population, the difficulties which the young face can only be imagined. Cuisines which have centred around barley and yak butter are replaced with the volatility of tourist demands. Interestingly, Tibetan influenced food, the simple noodle soup called Thukpa has become the star element in multinational star cuisines in the capital city of Delhi. Ornaments associated with the Ladakhis which have been the context of trade relations with the Chinese and with the Europeans for millennia are now back in the ethnic market as objects to be desired. Pashmina remains the elusive wool that is the brand mark of the luxury market. The Nation State will covet the metals of the mountains, and the Ladakhis will fear the industrialising motif of the greed for metals, which make every mountain national property, unless peoples’ movements communicate that right to life and organic farming are the post modern valuables of the 21st century.
Given the complex maze of ruralism and the tribes in co-existence, which makes middle class tourists lust for fragmentary experience of traditionalism, it is the job of the sociologists to protect the rights of farmers and pastoralists. When change is rapid, and the assimilation of the young happens in diverse ways in the new age fraternitites of tourism and trade and modern education, we need to accept the non-judgementality of the Social Sciences as its first axiom. The morality or amorality of political parties is a case in point. When Kashmir is sought to be trifurcated according to religion, then the secular constitution is the measuring rod by which the army’s presence or even President’s Rule is imposed. What does this say for personal freedom? How do we notate the ways in which the Chinese and Pakistani presence is omnipresent if newsreaders of Headlines Today are to be understood? As the former Air Vice Marshal said, words to the effect, “Do we take into our cognizance our own actions on the border when reporting news?” Land which was appropriated during the merger of the autonomous princely states with Independent India, still remain as occupied territories today, and the said governments continue to infiltrate into Indian territory, to the amazement of those who believe in the Peace process. These are representations of use value for millennia, when we presume that the emotions of feudal communities of warriors are new, we have to remember that over two centuries Tibetan rule in the medieval period was replaced by Muslim, and Muslim, by the Secular in the case of Ladakh. Given that Tibet has been colonised by the Chinese, the Tibetan influence in Ladakh for millennia is now replaced with the idea of the Indian Citizen, and that is why we as intellectuals have congregated sporadically in Leh for more than two decades to prove that Indians have the right to free mobility in the Nation. Dards and Mon, Muslims, Buddhists, Moravian Sects of Christians, Hindus, Secular representatives of the modern state are all embodiments of the relationship between past and present. The dialogue of religions is one of the important aspects of religious co-existence. The photographic archive for Ladakh, by Benoy Behl has been well utilised by the Nation State, and the general public, including their frequent publication by The Hindu and the Frontline, in Chennai, with its archaeological and contemporary focus, to show that India is relitiously multi faceted.
The interest value that the Rimpoches and monastery art has, is further underlined with the upsurge of interest in Buddhism by the middle class /elite, a variety of deep interest in meditational practise and transcendence, while living in the world and financially contributing to the maintenance in Budd very different from the Ambedkarite one. Art historians, like Behl have understood that architecture and art forms represent the joy of aesthetics, as well as the political connotations of art production, not just enjoyment. Gerhard Wulf, of the Getty Foundation in Florence, gave a six month course in School of Arts and Aesthetics JNU in Winter Semester, 2013, on the process by which maps may be read from the 11th to 16th century as a process by which one understand the Silk and Pepper Routes linking Europe, Asia and Americas, as not just trade routes, but a way by which we understand ambassadorial gifts from the kings and nobility and traders to one another in different geographical locations. Mapmaking, as much as gift giving, were often the unintended consequence too of war and looting, which linked China, India, Africa with Europe and what was called the New World. Through this, textiles, motifs, architecture, objects of daily use and veneration, passing through the well known traders’ routes by land and sea, would be permeated by the cultures of the people who made and used them. The most beautiful of these objects would survive war and destruction, and be protected in the museums of the wealthy. Clearly, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban, and the destruction of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, by the Americans is a case in point. Ladakh needs it Archaeologists, and hopefully a new intelligentsia will arise in this Mountainous district which will represent its own people, whether monks or laypeople in the conservation of its culture.
SECMOL, a voluntary organisation which safeguards the interests of herder families and farmers’ children is a case in point. The founders, Sonam Wanchuk and Becky Norman wanted to work with children who were conventionally thought to be drop outs, as they had failed class 10 or 12 in the regular schooling system, and were integrated in an alternative discourse that prioritised vocational skills such as farming, solar energy, recycling, crafts, language learning and proficiency, accounting, tourism, cooking and so on. The twenty year successes of the institution have created a buoyant space of reintegration into intellectual and entrepreneurial spaces, which has made SECMOL(Students for environmental and cultural movements of Ladakh) a household name in Ladakh. In the 1990s they started Operation Hope, which Sonam Wangchuk saw as an essential need within Ladakhi society, to rewrite text books which would then contextualise the specific learning needs of the children he and his team worked with. Educationists who specialised in the writing of science and social science text books were called in from Hoshangabad (Eklavya) and from the larger subcontinental networks in South India, including Kerala (KSSP).
Kerala, in a comparitive framework, was able to safeguard its cultural landscape by the efforts of the Nairs to revive their traditional arts and skills. However, with regard to architecture, it can only be said that both Communism and the Gulf Diaspora had no interest in the past, as objects of beauty. Specially now, with rapid social change, and loss of skills, Agriculture and its allied production of textiles (the famous cottons known to the Romans) and pottery have declined, but revivalism of this traditional craft in Andhra Pradesh, by Dastkar has been interesting for sociologists to study. Today, traditional objects are very much in demand and Design Schools all over the country as Government institutions are only too anxious to reproduce the materials which the five thousand year civilisation of India represents. This civilisation, the Indus civilisation is known as the Indo Gangetic civilisation, and is of course a myth which is useful for the state to dispense with, since India is much larger than its Aryanised depiction. However, it has remained useful for purposes that M.N. Srinivas called “Sanskritic Hinduism” a Pan Hinduism, which allowed Kashmiri Pundits and Bengali Brahmins to eat meat, and for Nairs to represent themselves as Kshatriyas, or for Syrian Christians to present themselves as apostasied brahmans from the 1st century, depicting in each case as adaptive to this process. Tibetan influenced Buddhists do the same in Ladakh.
However, the Dravidian South has been extremely clear that its process of mythification of the past also goes back five thousand years, and so the essential process of bridge building of languages and culture has been left to the local communities, and to the emissaries of the nation state during the peaceful intermissions when societies wish to promote the dialogic incentive that allows them to live and reproduce. Keralites have never imagined that all of them will return at the same time, but today, when two generations of Diaspora living and working in India, and also in the many Gulf countries, America, UK, Canada, Australia have returned, the post modern convenience-flat residences built for them in the suburbs of the formerly quiet cities of Trivandrum, Cochin and Ernakulam have not only brought about rapid urbanisation, so that 60 percent of Kerala is now traffic-jam urbanised, but the effects on agriculture have been huge. This means that agricultural labour has become manual labour for production of these new high rise extensions, and the rural belts are now self conscious entrepots of agriculture, dealing with pepper, rice, spices, and other such commodities for a new market, without a working class population to really support it. Climate change as experienced by the Malayali farmer, who still believes that agriculture is an occupation, and does not classify it as a hobby, is dependent upon traditional artisan and slave castes.
Specialists in this conference will be able to guage how food grown for the family is different from food grown for the market, how family labour is different from recruited and hired labour, and the debates around the morality of farming itself, which includes questions about what is grown and for whom. This would extend from market gardening such as apples, apricots, melons and water melons, saffron and botanical herb plantations, to illicit poppy cultivation. In a visit to Takmachik, which has been earmarked as an Organic Village for Tourist purposes, the apricot growers have received a commercial offer from a well known Swami dealing in ayurvedic products to sell their lower grade apricots at five rupees a kilo, and the request is for twenty thousand kilogrammes. The Tata company also requests sale of first grade apricots, price not stated, which will be transported, as easily damaged goods by their scouts to Delhi and Mumbai. The farmers are perplexed by the offers, but are happy that they can avail of the opportunities which labelling their remote village as “organic farming” gives to them. Cultural shows are also part of the package, as tourists will be entertained by the residents according to season and festival. (feldwork interviews, courtesy Tashi Lundup, September 2015)
When people live in the zone of a very young mountain range (in geological terms) do they accept that they are living in a zone of imminent danger? One may ask the same question of people living in the city of Delhi where it is dangerous to cross a road. The task of the Sociologist studying consumerist societies and subsistence societies remains the same, what are the risks, and how do people come to terms with their life choices? Margaret Mead in her book New Lives for Old examines the way in which the Manus people of the Admiralties developed a sense of their own incorporation into the American world view. Imposition by the State, in terms of its various hegemonies, is the way by which it unfolds its future plans, and sometimes the intellectual plays the part of the professional harbinger of violent social transformation. Adaptation is the key to survival is the basic rule of life. The protection of traditionally impoverished communities, technically called subsistence societies, (which might on the other hand have a wealth of knowledge, useful to the changed circumstances of a disaster prone world) is as much part of the Sociologist’s self appointed tasks, as is value neutrality.
In The Visiting Moon, the protagonist says,
“How tired the earth must be of our constant presence, how much it must yearn to go back to the days of innocence, when nothing was, but just swirling dust. A time it must have been when no emotions rent the earth, when motes of dust gathered and swelled and separated and settled again, when there were no symbols to be deciphered, and no wars to be evaded. And then there must have come the rain, for centuries, imagine, rain, just falling till there was nothing but rain. Of course the earth is burdened and wishes to shrug us off. “ ( Visvanathan 2001:120)
The passivity of people to cloud bursts, and unseasonal rain is a result of their conditioning in cultural terms. Japanese witnesses to the earthquakes and Tsunami said much the same thing, when asked about fortitude as a cultural trait of their people. “We are trained to accept the possibility of earthquakes as part of early rearing practises.”
Today, the State might well be sending in intellectuals to Ladakh, to prove that moon country is essentially a habitat, as metaphor at least. Density of floating populations and the time and seasons of its presence is probably the need of the hour for analyses, since in places like Nepal, Goa and Kerala, there have been acute problems of how to tackle garbage, or tourist accommodation.
Climate change has brought in a new occupation in the last two decades, in Ladakh, yet we know that farming is related to tourism in very specific ways, for organic foods are the key index to the discerning customer of what is most desirable in the exotica of travel. In Kerala, the state provides agriculture several kinds of support: rice lands may not be sold for construction, organic farming is supported, terrace gardening and intensive gardening will be given every possible support. Agricultural societies are the spine of the tourist industry, including dependent artisanal and fishing and sea related activities receiving the same kind of assurance of state attention. In mountain regions, the problem that Chhering Tandup has always asserted is that of movement of goods. How do we ascertain that the farm produce from Leh reaches its metropolitan outlets, such as Chandigarh and Delhi?
There is a problem here. As many as the trucks that arrive in Leh, the greater the degree of pollution. The greater the loss of the natural habitat, and the extent of damage will be difficult to assess. If geologists say that whatever glacial damage or melt is due to activities that occurred 7 million years ago, then we may rest assured that the sending in of trucks to Leh from Chandigarh and Delhi would mean the erosion of these very new and constantly developing mountains faster than 7 years.
What industrialisation can mean is that local consumption of food and beverages is replaced by alcohol and drug abuse, which is always blamed on migrant labour, or on tourists. The work of a new generation of scholars, such as Sumera Shafi and Tashi Lundup for Leh show how increased wealth from tourism has brought about substantial changes in world view of the youth.
Why agricultural practise in the surrounding villages of Leh is extremely interesting is because it is new, and instinctive, since with the planting of trees by the Army precipitation is conclusive. a symptom of new world policies. The soil is alluvial and very rich. Interior colonialism, including constantly, the emphatic presence of the Army, since 60 percent of the army is stationed here, is not seen to be a cultural colonialism. Protection from China, and assimilation into China is not desired by Ladakhis. Unlike Kashmir, where the Army is deeply resented for it’s very visible coercive arm, Ladakhis have a tolerant and supportive relation to the presence of the Indian army of which they too are a part. Employment in the Army is a definitive occupation for Ladakhis.
Agriculture sustains the Army, whether it is apricots, potatoes, beans, asparagus, grapes, apples, tomatoes or leeks. Tourism and the Army are two of the stable institutions of the Ladakh region. Kashmiri merchants now face the inherent space of competition from Ladakhi craftspeople and merchants. That pashmina is manufactured in Leh was in doubt, until a new generation of scholars from Jammu University brought to collective attention the presence of local boutiques and pashmina wool curing factory. Surely, climate change is part of the way in which new processes are brought into focus with regard to the dangers and losses that climate change present, where equally, new avenues present themselves. The pashmina sheep died after the 2011 cloud burst because of the loss of pastoral grounds. Yet, the supply of Pashmina did not abate according to the manager of the factory, because the supply of wool continued to come from other areas in Ladakh, who was very confident that he could get his sources come what may. (Interview courtesy Tstenzin and Tashi, September 2013)
This is the curious aspect of Agriculture and related artisan activities: whatever the nature of loss, the beneficence continues. How do we deal with redistribution of goods is what industrial systems have not dealt with. The industrial imagination is so bereft of the sense of the future, that they do not have the way of dealing with the bonus of nature. Crop destruction is part of capitalism, by letting grains to rot, the industrial system makes sure that prices are inflated. By buying up from the farmer without ensuring redistribution, it leaves the farmer with cost price, and a rupee’s profit on every kilo, while ensuring that granaries burst and the prime minister and the Reserve Bank congratulate the farmers. Surplus crops means a stable economy, since post office and SBI keep the peasant earnings in sync with subsistence agriculture which is generally against Conspicuous Consumption. However, the capitalists look to conspicuous consumption for an active market, and the circulation of money, so they do all they can to disrupt the basic socialist (a constitutional term) practise of the Indian economy, which is in the very nature of social relations. Since no redistribution takes place, after goods are cornered by the Government the food rots. Establishment social scientists believe that two and a half acres is impractical and that industrialised farming to feed the billions is possible only after the farmers are dispossessed, brought to the city to build smart cities which do not include them. Here they are kept in poverty, below the minimum wage, as the contractors subtract the costs of bringing them to the city. The Leh district farmers have shown that farming is enjoyable and that they eat well and have enough for others, if the Army is not the only buyer. In Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu pilgrimage and tourism has been supported through the interlinkage of local cafes with the rural markets of the hinterland hill stations in the Nilgiris.
Sociologists do not have a solution for climate change. They cannot tell the victims of flood that this has nothing to do with good governance or bad, or with ritual purity, or Allah’s grace, or Siva’s wrath. This has to do with geological timings of catastrophes, which does not match human or historical time. While Leh survived the flash flood, it’s town and village councils have a lot to do with the rehabilitation measures. Its autonomous hill councils’ functioning helped the villagers because of the level of trust, and the close and personal regulation of water in the villages helped for further development of its agriculture techniques. Each family sends a representative in turn to sleep by the village pond to control water utilization and possible theft at night. (interviews courtesy Harjit Singh, Tashi Lundup, September 2013)
There is a lot that we can learn from the Ladakh experience of organisation and technique, made possible too from the lessons which the local intelligentsia brings to us through intimacy and translation. Such a grass roots intelligentsia is yet to develop in Kashmir to reckon with its own needs. Painful though this period is, the velocity of distress has its anodyne, the creation of institutional dialogue, which is community inclusive, rather than separatist. Just as Ahmedabad burned in 2002, without any administrative attention, and Delhi too, during the Sikh genocide, both of which were humanly created disasters, three days, after the 2014 September floods, the people in Kashmir waited for the Administration and for Government help, including the Army. The Government said, “We can do nothing.” . (interview with Councillor Shafi, September 2015) Why was that? Should they not be accountable for what they do or do not do? People’s governance and people’s autonomy must mean that villages and towns must have an immediately recognisable task force to generate support during disasters. It must also mean that the State and the World Bank, is implicated in the disasters, (which called Natural are usually exaggerated by human culpability,) when it supports dam construction, against the wishes of the local people. They must work with the resource materials garnered by the local intelligentsia, recognise local expertise for its ability to warn capitalism and capitalists of its implication in these massive disasters in seismic zones.
Fault becomes allocated when there are tribunals of enquiry. However, in the case of large scale development, the Gandhians like Rajinder Singh constantly assert that poverty alleviation is not possible with mass scale destruction of people’s livelihoods. Rather than flight from the State, the struggle against interior colonialisms has been protracted. The alternative view to modernism, is post modernism, which has its freedom to choice, and to resistance of oppression. The so called subsistence societies of pre-modern contexts made sure that it’s people were fed, and provided for in times of stress. Central Rule often excludes the domination of those societies which are intrinsically, self sustaining. James C Scott writes that “I emphasise the term political order to avoid conveying the mistaken impression that outside the realm of the state lay mere disorder. Depending on the location and date, such units might range from nuclear families to segmentary lineages, bilateral kindreds, hamlets, larger villages, towns and their immediate hinterlands, and confederations of such towns. Confederations appear to constitute the most complex level of integration that had any stability at all.” (Scott 2010:36)
In Federal societies, the States are each given autonomy regarding the choices they make about those decisions pertaining to local communities. Kerala for instance has a Fisheries Ministry, and also supports organic farming as a specific instance of this motivation. When certain States are oil rich or mineral rich, then they become the colonized space of political intentions. “State power, in this conception, is the state’s monopoly of coercive force that must, in principle, be fully projected to the very edge of it’s territory, where it meets, again in principle, another sovereign power, projecting it’s command to it’s own adjacent frontier. ….As a practical matter, most nation-states have tried, insofar as they had the means, to give substance to this vision, establishing armed border posts, moving loyal populations to the frontier and relocating or driving away ‘disloyal’ populations, clearing frontier lands for sedentary agriculture, building roads to the borders, and registering hitherto fugitive peoples. ( ibid 11) Quite often, Scott argues, the populations at the borders are culturally syncretistic, and they are then forced to conform with the homogeneity of the political order in the plains. “Where they could, however, all states in the region have tried to bring such peoples under their routine administration, to encourage and more rarely, to insist upon linguistic, cultural, and religious alignment with the majority population at the state core.” (ibid 12)
When there is a dramatic contrast between subsistence societies, located in proximity to market towns, with the industrializing motif of traditional development politics, which aggrandizes and hierarchises, we find that local communities survive through varieties of camaflouge. Tradition persists in customs of food, dress and ritual, but there is a segmental aspect, so the coding in of plural forms of identity are implicit. People become home in many different cultures simultaneously. They take on the colours of their environment, merging effortlessly into the work world, and into the recreational structures of multiple societies. This multi causality is represented through coincidental forms of association and unionization both at work, and in leisure, so whether it is the club or the association, individuals know how to fit in the rural milieu as well as the urban one. This is not oscillation but a dialectic. In transition societies this is made possible by the dual languages which are learnt, but when industrialization is complete, then these skills of language and technique are lost. It is this which makes people truly homeless.
In this last part of the paper, I will discuss the plea from Prof Bharat Jhunjhoonwala, on behalf of the villagers of Chamoli, where the World Bank is making its loan available, against the wishes of the people, for damming the Ganga, for purposes of electricity generation for the cities.
The game, for the manipulations between agriculturists and the colonial state in the formative years of sedentarisation of agriculture in British ruled India continues. The rules are not laid down by the colonists, but by the way in which the people demarcate their own borders and territories.
Naturally, therefore, most of the actions of the players in the “game” were largely predictable since the players had trained each other over a long period of time. Not only were the actions of the players anticipated, but each contestant had prepared himself (most of these players were men) psychically for the outcome as well. (Irschick 1994:46)
To be represented in Kashmir, by the village councils of Ladakh is a task in itself, requiring the notation of religion, race, locality, occupation, community and its common subjectivities. In other parts of the Himalayas, the people orient themselves to petitions, law court cases and their hope in citizenship. With the recent floods in Kashmir, the equation between the people and the Centre will change, primarily because the devastation is so huge that the orientations will be to everyday survival. The balance of power rests with the ability to withstand neglect and philanthrophy, both of which are deemed to be ways of hierarchizing the free. Why India is substantially free inspite of it’s poverty and it’s corruption is because land held in agriculture is on an average two and a half acres, and the industrialising state would love to club it together to facilitate the growing of gmt products under the guise that the farmer with small landholdings is an anomaly.
Traditional small acreage and production of bumper crops annually is substantially different from Pakistan, where twenty two families controlled the country through their agricultural landlordship. The damming of the Indus was for industrial purposes and the travails of Pakistan have come from protracted militarisation, tribal revolt and non-democratic practise regarding the fate of peasants and local communities. The gap between the rich and the poor has led to substantial distress, which includes the mobilisation of religious fundamentalists to repress freedom of citizens.
TK Oommen’s work “From Mobilisation to Institutionalisation” showed the success of the land distribution Act in the 1950s to be partially successful since the land given away was usually rocky. In contrast, what the farmers in the environment of Leh have shown however, is that the resilience that they have as farmers with small landholdings, has depended on their hard work in tilling and watering in tightly regulated circumstances. The village councils have a say in how the water is allocated around the clock. In Palakkad, which became known as the rice belt of Kerala, the water from the local small dam, Mallapuram Dam becomes readily available to farmers in the winter months, not so in the summer, when the primary objective is to provide drinking water to a fast expanding city. The fluctuations of production are obvious to farmers, whose one, two or three crops of paddy are dependent on irrigation, since the ponds become neglected, and with climate change can run dry.(Interview with Agricultural Officers,Palakkad, April 2015)
Emile Durkheim writes, in his comparison of Communism and Socialism, that the former has a moral principle, which abstracts private property to be a lapse of conduct arising from selfishness and immorality, but Socialism is a functional principle of the division of labour and practical economic interests.
The two problems are entirely different. On one side, you set out to judge the moral value of wealth in the abstract, and deny it; on the other, one asks whether a kind of commerce and industry harmonizes with the conditions of existence of the peoples practising it, and if it is normal or unhealthy. Thus while communism concerns itself only accessorily with so-called economic arrangements and modifies them only to the degree necessary to place them in keeping with its principle (the abolition of individual ownership), socialism, inversely, touches private property the degree required to change it so that it may harmonize with the economic arrangement – the essential objects of its demands. (Durkheim 1962:73)
Socialism is inherent in what Marcel Mauss showed to be forms of tribalism, or more generally the collective life of communities. However, in the case of the “Seasonal Variations Among the Eskimo” or the pastoral practises of the Nuer in the 1930s, as studied by Evans Pritchard, we do have interesting views of how social exchange takes place during nomadism, and when people congregate during winter, in the first case, and heavy rains in the second. Hunting and fishing are typical activities during nomadism, and with seasonal shifts, there is a dependence on local activities which are centred around storage and rituals. In the Ladakh region, the storage of fruit and tubers and the dried meats allow people to engage in a very sustained ceremonial and ritual life when the borders and roads shut down. The effervescence of collective life is more than evident. Climate change has to take into account increased melting of glaciers as the way in which the Spring may come earlier, but the long term effects on local habitation are yet to be understood. People do not live in fear of the future, they adapt to the present, and in a democratic system, agriculturists should be protected not left to the vagaries of industrial imaginations, which nullify them by the habit of four hundred years. Coexistence of the agricultural and industrial worlds is provided by the Constitution, which has its Gandhian undertones in citizen rights.
I provide a summary of the plea to the World Bank, from Prof Jhunjhuwala who with other signatories, has claimed that the continual damming of the Ganga will influence the fate of the Himalayas in general. They write to the Executive Secretary of the Inspection Panel of the World Bank, that the Pipalkoti project will change their lives because the “joys of a free flowing river” cannot be estimated. Further, the river does not flow past boulders in the case of damming, and will lose its medicinal and therapeutic qualities. According to the petitioners, the people living in Chamoli district, on the banks of the Alaknanda Ganga will not have access to fish and sand, as resources for their livelihood. The Cheer Pheasant, an endangered bird will go extinct. The release of water at odd times during the day for generation of electricity will affect the lives of people who belong to a riverine civilisation and are dependent on nature for their livelihood. Houses which are near the dam develop cracks because of the force of construction and water flow in the tunnels and pipes. Accumulation of silt affects the lives of communities who are dependent on the river such as fishers and pastoralists. The collection of silt can affect the social and religious life of people who can no longer bathe or pray, or collect water. The aquatic life, both plants and animals becomes disturbed. Very often, the rivers run dry. The dust from construction pollutes every thing. Workers live in terrible conditions. Disease becomes rampant. Women and children lose their freedoms. The earthquakes further damage the hollowed out mountains, causing landslides and death. The 2013 floods in Uttarakhand were a consequence of ravaged hillsides for short term gains, in a seismic zone. Water sources are drying up, rivers are degraded to the point of becoming extinct. Heat from construction sends up the indexes of global warming. The increase in populations due to construction and deforestation leads to the mass loss of habitat for animal populations which begin to wander causing threat, in turn, to local communities and habitats. Worst of all, there is silence on the part of bureaucrats, and the people are kept out of information and discussion. (Jhunjhunwala 2013, petititon to World Bank)
As the contents of the letter show, the real questions we need to ask are about the management of our rivers as commons. The Indus is dammed substantially in Pakistan, where it flows in India, it has become both a ritual site for Hindus asserting identity politics, as well as for the urbane leisured class who looks forward to playing golf in the highest reaches of the Himalayas. (fieldwork interviews, courtesy Suresh Kumar, September 2013) How do we understand these cultural uses? Do we have a say in the right to life, and the right to traditional grazing grounds. As Scientists and Social Scientists, may we presume that people’s liberties are of the most importance, and by writing about them we delay their extinction or forced assimilation.
In a fieldwork based study organised by Renoj Theyyam, in September 2013, Gergen, Susan, Nasreen, Konchak, Vishwa, Sandeep, Tashi, Revant, Ramesh, Amit and Morup visited Sabu Village on the outskirts of Leh, which had been damaged by the cloud burst in 2011. One of the farmers, George, had worked for the Army and also for All India Radio and his memory was of severe winters upto 1974, where the temperature went to minus 30 and 34. Since 1990 there were no more cold winters, and if the mercury went below 20 or 22 degrees minus, it was only for two or three days. The temperature averaged minus 10 degrees or 20 degrees Centigrade. Earlier there was lots of snowfall. There would be one or one and a half degrees of snow. It would remain in the fields until end March after which it would melt. Today, the snowfall is five inches, and the next day it would melt. Rainfall patterns too had changed. Rain does fall, though it is a high altitude desert. The normal rainfall in summer time was one or two hours during July and August, and occasionally heavy rainfall, which today is proving to be a national calamity as in 2011 and 2013. While the Army and National Government responded in 2011, yet in 2015 it did not act, leaving it to the Autonomous Hill Council. As the tourism Minister, Shafi Lasu told me in an interview on 5th September 2015,
The problem with climate change and unseasonal rain is that there is vast destruction and loss. In the 2011 floods many people came to see and we got a lot of attention. Rehabilitation was so quick. The Council has no money, the Relief has to come from the State and the Centre. It can only co-ordinate. However, the people too, are not ready to adapt, to make the changes required to survive climate change. I was in charge of Sharah village in Nei. In Phulktse, there was a small quantum of flood. One of the houses was partially damaged. The question to the victim was “How many times has your house been damaged?” I told him to shift or allow us to dig a channel. The man said, “I have only this field.” After a few days, it was totally flooded out, and the house swept away. I told him “We will allot you land on the other side, with the permission of the Sarpanch and the Councillor. Under the Indra Awaz yojana, you will receive 75,000 rupees, and while you are waiting for it, we will allot you 50,000 rupees from the Council.”
The Border people need to be secure, only then can the country be prosperous. With the 2015 floods which were much worse than the 2011 floods, there was no attention from the medical fraternity or from the Government, though it was widespread, covering all of Ladakh. Deaths were few, but the losses to farmers were huge. There has to be some accounting, particularly since the people make so many sacrifices. The UPA opened a route to the Pangong area. A policy was initiated PWDS 12, where the Border people get tents, shoes, repairs of houses, feed banks for cattle donkeys, goats in ice locked areas.
The border is osmotic for the Chinese, because they treat it like that. They allow people to cross from either side, which the Indian army does not. The Indian army regulates border crossing. In winter, the Chinese cross the Pangong Lake on ice with their herds, and they take over lands and settle there.
As George and his wife Odzin experienced, in the cloud burst of 2011, the winters are changing rapidly. Mild winter is followed by a severe Spring. Since the last ten years, February and March gets very cold till May. Spring has become cold and year dry. In the Flood Year of 2011, the snow did not melt till 23rd of June. Then suddenly, it was very hot. The water melted rapidly. On 23rd of June, their septic tank was empty. Septic tank lies 9 feet below ground. Normally, in March, it gets warm, and the ice slowly melts, and there is good water for irrigation. After 23rd of June , it becomes hot, and the water comes for irrigation. After 23rd June, that year, two septic tanks below 10 feet were full, and there was excess water. Too much water inundated, but crops were not destroyed. The underground tanks absorbed the water. With the help of the motor, the water was pumped out. On 5th of August 2011, a thunderbolt never seen before was heard, lightening was so bright, a needle could be found. The flood came from the Manali road side. At two minutes to midnight, the was KHddddd, strong wind, loud noise, water falling through the chimney. Peter came into the garden to collect a container and was knee deep in water. Behind the house, the tourist resort he runs was swallowed up in a river of water, and the two Nepali guards were drowned. In 1969, there was a cloud burst in Nimu, and in 1974 in Piang village. In this cloud burst, the Government felt no responsibility for commercial aspect of people’s losses. They aided in removing the silt, and gave a lakh of rupees as compensation.
Peter believes that the cloud burst is an aspect of climate change because of the green house effect. He strongly feels that the traditional nalla allowed the water to flow away, but now the nallas are all blocked and filthy. Encroachment, and the use of nalla by tourist and migrants for bathing, spitting and defaecating, as well as throwing garbage has hugely damaged the environment. The nallas are no longer used for drinking, and people use underground water or spring water for domestic purposes. With the flood of 2011, the nallas were destroyed, but Government gave money to repair them, and installed hand pumps for local use. Inspite of Sabu having been adopted by former President Abdul Kalam, no help was received. There is a huge amount of water that naturally flows into the Indus without causing harm. During years of the flood, the excess water does not drain off, causing immense loss.
Informants in Ladakh often talk about the chorspon, which is a unique source of water management. March, April and May are the growing season, and it is also the time of scarce water. In the traditional system each family would send a representative to guard the water at night and to operate the channels, so stealing water was not common, because of the tightly regulated system of water use. Four people were chosen from the village, and each is sent out to each house and their duty is to tell the members on which day the water will come to the field. In the 1970s, according to Peter, there was a problem in the peak season from May to the 21st of June. Those growing vegetables had a difficult time. The vegetables grown in Leh are cabbage, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, radish and carrot. Peter used to supply the army with potatoes, wheat, barley and peas. He no longer grows vegetables for sale, as it is consumed in the house and the rest house he runs. Leh market is to slow for him, kilo by kilo is not possible, so he works with an agent who give him half the cost, and keeps the rest. Climate change has not affected his income, as the resort is functional, and guests keep coming in. Cows have enough fodder, but because of the floods, grazing has become difficult, so the cows stay in and are fed dry grass. He pursues the same occupation as his parents. In this village, Sabu, the crop pattern has not changed. Zho are used for ploughing. For threshing, the cattle are tied with rocks, and go in circles, taking 15 to 20 days. If a threshing machine were used, then it would take a few hours. He does use a tractor for ploughing. He has stopped planting trees every year, for the poplars have become diseased. He does not want to introduce new plants, and he does not encourage NGOs. He wants fencing by trees to be provided by the forest department, and as for six feet of debris brought by the floods, he does not know how to dispose of it.
Stenzin Doma, aged 80 describes climate change as fluctuation in weather, where autumn has now become very cold, and harvesting takes place. She says that earlier, in winter, the leaves would shed from the boughs, but now they stay on, and the snow is only ½ feet on the ground. In the earlier times, everyone would go for grazing their sheep, cows, yaks and goats, but now, because children go to school, they do not. She has one cow, and one ox. In the summer they take them where there is water. Thirty or forty years ago, they would graze their cattle in summer in another part of the Nubra and in Shok. For her climate change is perceptible, as it is currently very hot weather, and winters too are warm. Earlier water was more than sufficient, but now, due to divergence of water, it is less, in Spring and Autumn, but there is more water in winter. Because there are these changes, there is a lot more fighting for water. Earlier, there was no fighting. With the Sorpon, there is equal distribution. People sleep near the water to protect it from theft. While there is an increase in material comfort, with technological innovations, there is a lack of mental comfort. After the (2011) floods, the government is rebuilding the channels and ponds. There has never been a problem with fodder in Sabu village, as there is a lot of alfa alfa and grasses. Since there is a lot of house construction, the materials come from outside, so education and jobs are important, and salaries are essential.
Tsering Chonzum (age 60) says that in the old days they only grew palak, but now there is ‘everything”. Hot weather now, so more things grow, seedlings are sometimes brought from Lahaul Spiti and other places. Rainfall is very scanty, but now the rain falls regularly and very heavily in the summer months. In hot weather, water is more, because “ice” melts. Glacier is there in winter, it is snow that melts slowly. Climate change has increased village production of vegetables. In dry weather, they are dependent on government subsidies. She has property in Leh, and runs a guest house. She says, till five years ago, they had goats and sheep, for wool and manure, but now she has only buffalos. The floods left behind a lot of debris, making cultivation difficult, and the sorpon in Leh is in deficit. In Sabu, they are buying barley and wheat husk from Eastern Ladakh villages. Very few houses are keeping cows, since most have government jobs. Trees are being planted substantially. Earlier, only one home had an apple tree, but now everyone has apple trees. Saplings were brought from the western part of Ladakh, but now they buy saplings from Ley. Previously, they ate barley, with palak soup, but now everything is available. Wheat, rice and noodles are plentiful in the shops. There is a rice subsidy from the Government. Army introduced them to sweet tea. There has been an army camp in the vicinity for thirty years. There used to be heavy snow fall in Khardulanga, so the army used to settle in the Leh region. In Leh, they have a guest house. Their children are guides, cooks, helpers. In Leh they have vegetables for their use, and also to sell in the Leh market. In Sabu, they sell through their agent for fifty percent of the whole value. After, the floods, Indians started arriving, though earlier, their guests were mainly foreigners.
Tsering Angchuk (age 50) says that in the hot weather, glaciers are melting. In Sabu, there was a glacier, but what we see now, is snow. Earlier 3 ½ feet of snow fell every winter. Because of climate change, cement and bricks are being used. Traditionally, people wore woollen clothes through the seasons, and old people continue to do so even now. The roof was low, houses small, and heat retained as the buildings were made of clay and wood. Greening of the Himalayas and global warming together are affecting Himalayas. In the last two or three years, rainfall is more, snow is less. The downside of the streams are drying, because they were glacier dependent. In the Spring, water is low, wheat barley, peas, potatos, all vegetables are grown. His father had goats and sheep. Now he has only cows. He sells potatoes to the army at Rs 22 a kg. His family was not affected but his grazing land, fields and all his trees were washed away. Government has been repairing, no money was received, but repairs were done.
Yangchin Dolma (age 42) asserts that with climate change, temperatures are rising, and sometimes go up to 37 degrees or 38 degree C. In the same season, June or July, there can be substantial temperature variations, sometimes, very hot, and sometimes very cold.
When she was six or seven years old, there was a sudden change in crops, and the family started growing potatoes, wheat, barley, mustard and rajma, beans, lauki, brinjal, chilli, tomato. In the early days, they grew turnip, palak ( spinach) and carrot. Their income has increased. They sell vegetables and fruit to the Leh Bazaar, and potatoes and onions to the army. They hire a jeep in June and July every day because of the tourist season. She sets out in the afternoon after lunch and returns at 9 pm. Her son and daughter milk the cow and cook the food. When the floods happened, they did not know, as they were far from the street. Main river had been diverted in to channels, and now the main river has dried. They only knew in the morning that there had been a flash flood, for in the night they thought it had been heavy rain.
Sonam (age 41) describes his youth as a time when the snow was plentiful, and ice would form when they put their foot in the river. He would ski twenty or thirty years from Sabu to Cholamdir. The roads were covered with ice. Temperatures have increased in the last twenty to thirty years. There is increasing rainfall in last five or six years. There is no continuity. It just suddenly falls. After the cloud burst, there is trauma and fear. When the flood came, they ran away in the jeep. The neighbours could not run, and half their family members and the house were washed away. For water, they are dependent on the snow. This winter, the snow was good, more than expected. Due to the sorpon, he gets water, even if, he is far away form water. In the Spring there is scarcity of water. For the drinking water, Government is making a pond, from which pipes will take water to the houses. The Council advises the PWD. In the flood, he loses Zho and Buffalos. He borrows his neighbours Zho for ploughing. There are 120 Zho in Sabuk village. His wife sends his children to the school and helps him four days during the harvesting season. When he was young they had goats and sheep, and they took them for grazing to the mountains. They got milk, wool for Ladakhi garments, but now they buy from the markets. His mother weaves, and so does his wife. Men also weave the chali or goat’s wool blankets. He sells potatoes to the army for Rs 15 a kg, it was difficult to earn much. Earlier, it was 30 or 35 rupees per kilo, but now everyone sells cheaply. Fertile land makes for excellent Sabu potatos. Other villagers are coming to Sabu for seeds. Since his forefathers’ time, potatoes have been grown in Sabu, but with climate change, apples, other fruit and vegetables have come in.
Zahoor (24) says that his mother’s sister was washed away, his cousin sister died, her mother died. After the flood, there was heavy rainfall in mid July. In May there is scarcity of water, because the glaciers melt slowly. Ladakh council came immediately to help them, when there was a cloud burst. They had all fled to the hills, and none of them had footwear. Tents were put up. Food was cooked with the help of volunteers. Life returned to normal after twenty five days, wetlands returned to normalcy, those who lost houses are only recovering their properties now. The family grows potatos, capsicums, cucumbers, gourds and melons, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, onion. When there is too much rain, they stay home, the plants are not affected. There are four sapons in Sabu, so there is no shortage of water. They had sheep and goats then years ago, thirty two, or forty two. They kept them for manure and wool for winter clothing and chali, for making rope. They bought meat when needed from market. Earlier they bought sampa, but now they buy bread and maggi. In the village there is self sufficienty upto summer and autumn. Soaps and cloth are purchased from Leh. They go thrice a week by bus. Parents sell potatoes, onions, carrots at Leh market.
Dolka (30) says that there are less bukharis in use now, and more electrical light with solar panel. She had come from Phiang village six years ago, because there was a scarcity of water there. In Sabu, because of sorpon, there is enough water. In Sabu, they pay upto 30,000 or 40,000 rupees for monitoring the water. The pond is filled twice a year. Every fourteen days, water comes to her field. In the winter, government supplies taps, but only handpumps and spring water is actually available. Water does not freeze now. Because of increased use of handpump the spring is drying up. Tomato, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, brinjlas, wheat are easily cultivated. Those who have green houses grow vegetables in winter. They have social forestry in the village, but they are drying so no one is looking after them. Not much impact. She was in the house during the flood, went out in the morning.
From all the accounts above, it is clear that Spring and Summer bring a paucity of water. To counter this, Dr Gergen had innovated with a traditional method of creating a bund high up in the mountains, and blocking off the water, so that it would freeze in winter, and gradually melt to allow the water to channel into the fields in Spring. Sonam Wangchuk, with the help of the local monastery in Phiang village, well known for its drought and desert conditions has put in place the ice stupa, an artificial glacier, which saw success on March 5th 2015, though it had many obstacles in its path. The students of SECMOL, were supportive, and helped Sonam Wangchuk to put the paraphernalia in process. In February, having found that the underground pipes had cracked because of the cold, they began the digging of trenches once more, in severe weather, but the water did flow through the pipes, and emerged as a fountain, which froze on contact with the air. When March came the ice stupa melted gradually, providing water to the fields. The plan is now to introduce six ice stupas in 2016. From the melted ice, in Spring 2015, the SECMOL students planted 5300 saplings of which 5000 survived. The
future plans for Phiang, known for desert conditions, and occasional violent flooding of rivulets, is a solar township, the nucleus of which is a University. The optism of the Ladakh people lie in their ability to safeguard their legacy, through community and political processes, while turning to India for administrative responses.
Acknowledgements: Cherring Tandup, Tashi Lundup, Morup, Sumera Shafi, Suresh Babu, Renoj Theyyan, Harjit Singh, Devinder Singh, Becky Norman, Sonam Wangchuk, Rinchen Dolkar, Nikki Stanzin Yangsit, SECMOL students and the entire student team from Jammu University, for their hospitality and kindness and friendship, many thanks! Also my family and friends, for the support at all times.
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