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INDIA | Monday, 4 April 2011 | Views [1003]

Mum's and kids returning from the forest

Mum's and kids returning from the forest

14th February

Today the Himalayan Griffons (Gyps himalayensis) are circling close to the village. This usually means a cow met its end overnight either by taking a tumble over a rocky ledge or through a leopard attack. The sky is leaden grey and the rain continues. 

The rain has meant that the women finally get a break from work. Apart from the serious concern regarding crops, the biggest complaint we hear about changing weather patterns is without snow on the ground they don't get a break from work. On a season with good snowfall the practice of sitting around fires for hours, chatting and having endless cups of tea at vaious houses was the norm. This is now a rare luxury.

Khati women perform all domestic and farming duties apart from ploughing the fields. At this time of year there is the added burden of fodder collection for domesticated animals (primarily cows and buffaloes), leaves for animal bedding & wood collection. The latter sees women walking further and further from the village every year. From the vantage point of our room I watch the women coming into town with back breaking loads of wood, baskets of leaves and fodder. When I was at university I read a chapter from a book about women in the Kumaon and how hard their lives can be, the book title I fail to remember but the chapter title is etched firmly in my mind 'My life is no different from that of my buffalo'. Now that I live in the Kumaon, I have been able to observe the working lives of local women & have reached the conclusion that the woman work damn harder than the buffaloes they keep!

Unfortunately, despite the endless hours of labour that go into the rearing and feeding of domestic animals the milk yields are exceptionally low. All the women complain that they only get one (two at the most) glasses of milk per day off the cattle. And a variable low yield from the buffaloes. In the case of the domestic cow I am not sure if this is because of the breed of cow or the quality of the food source. I still haven't quite got over the sight of water buffaloes roaming around the mountains - I've been more used to seeing theem wallowing in jheels and mud on a hot day on the plains of India.

Khati is in the middle of a baby boom with 12 babies due in the next six months. The younger generation of parents are adopting the verbal stance of a two child family, citing the costs of raising more than two children being a problem. The disdain for a girl child is palpable. When I have parents lamenting the birth of a girl, or worse still telling their daughters that they are 'no good' or a 'burden' it's depressing. All children born last year in the village last year were boys and we are yet to determine if this was simply a demographic quirk.

I am happy to announce that Khati's newest resident for 2011 is a girl born to parents who are happy to have a first born son (Pankaj) and a daughter. Govindi & Mohan's baby 'Shoba' was born on the 6th January, she was was over a month premature and six weeks on is a tiny little thing who has survived against all odds. Thanks to Amanda in Australia who went on a collection drive for good baby clothes before our departure, we were able to provide Shoba with all the warm clothes needed to keep her cosy.

Narani gave birth to a healthy boy around 8pm last night (13th February) - he was the opposite to Shoba in that he didn't want to come out... There was an emergency dash to the hospital after Narani had a fall and had been in pain for 24 hours (false alarm) but the walk to Kurkia (5km away) and the bone jarring jeep trip courtesy of the appalling state of the new road didn't herald his arrival!! Alas, on a windy winter's night he finally made a safe appearane on a cleared spot in the cattle shed.

Traditionally a family house is constructed in a row (almost long house style) with separate spaces and shared adjoing walls for married sons and their families. The amount of sons will determine the size of the house. Kumaoni houses are mad of stone and slate, the usual building pattern is two floors (though there are a couple of three story houses in town) with the living rooms (kitchen/sleeping areas) upstairs and the cattle occupy the ground floor. As I have documented before women give birth in the cattle shed (usually solo - no midwife) and due to cultural belief systems stay there with the baby for 11 days. No one can touch mother or child in that time frame. The naming ceremony for the child takes place on the 11th day when mother and child are allowed back into the house. Once ensconced upstairs, aside from the usual rituals of feeding/bathing, the child is placed in a traditional hand woven cane basket with several blankets layered on top that are roped on. The baby does not see sunlight for the first six months due to the belief that he/she may come into contact with evil spirits....

Today was the one year anniversay of Latchouli's death and a special meal was pepared at the Mandir for all of Khati's inhabitants. Humongous pots of vegetables, rice, sooji and puris were prepared for the occassion. And given the plummeting temperatures of the day (around 3 degree max) the cooking fire was most welcome. Latchouli died last winter most likely from pneumonia (not confirmed) and though as mad as a hatter - three years ago her accidental actions with a lit piece of bamboo caused a fire that destroyed three traditional family homes and contents - she was a colorful character in town. One of the older generation whose life was harder than that of her buffaloes....



Tags: domestic duties, farming, khati, mountain village life, womens work



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