Ms. Indira Ramesh serves a nonprofit organization named Himalaya Trust and works on Environment, Culture and Health issues in Uttarakhand. Shri N D Jayal (President) and she have been working in the mountains for many decades. Here are some strands from a brief interview with her, conducted on 7th Oct 2013. The purpose was to capture a “screenshot” of her perspective on current development and to educate ourselves about the diversity that exists therein.
Major issues in Uttarakhand:
The most important challenge for mountain people is of survival. Due to the geographical conditions, people of Uttarakhand have difficulties even to deal with basic issues like food, agriculture, forest, fodder etc. We somehow have to make sure that what kind of development we want in Uttarakhand. Sharing her experiences spread over 20 years, she thinks that Governance is the biggest problem and- not only in the mountains but in India at large. Upcoming Hydel projects, deforestation, no livelihood, government focusing on issues that serves the interests of big companies, politicians and upper crust. In reality, the voices of the community are not heard. Development is driven by big money and petty issues and contributions of local people often get ignored.
If we talk with men and women of Uttarakhand, men usually highlight the need for roads and livelihood- while women are still raising their concerns for jungle, land, food and fodder. Who gets listened to? Men, of course. Seventy percent of the population of this state – that is women and children- are NOT being listened to; their interests have been consistently ignored.
Learning from the recent calamity:
I do not think that anyone has learnt anything from the recent disaster or if there are specific issues being raised by the Government after the disaster. There are certainly a few individual both from the community and Government who must have learnt something out of it but generally nothing comes out eventually. These days, media is full of questions like whether it was a man made or natural disaster and I feel it is such a lunatic discussion: Nature is doing what nature is supposed to do. It is doing so in so many other uninhabited places all over Himalayas. You go there where you are not supposed to be- and then get agitated about “disaster”!
After interfering so much with the nature, we are still debating the question- whether it was man made or natural! Were dams responsible or Glacial lake outburst? How much was the rainfall? More than 100 cm per hour or less??!
Our role and responsibilities:
Indira feels that instead of talking about DAMs, construction, converting Dhams (pilgrim places) into tourist spots, why cannot we focus on health issues? Why we do not take initiative towards education programs? Instead of putting so much money on defence, atomic bombs, space exploration- we must deal with the issue of survival in the mountains.
“Long ago, I actually had a dream of community owning their watershed and a program like Rural mountain training institute, where we work on developing livelihoods in our own valleys, by involving people in agriculture, horticulture, trainings on vegetation, forestation etc. Kind of Rural MBAs, paid well, to look after their natural resources…”
There are so many Govt. schemes but unfortunately community people are unaware of it. Officials say: we have money for schemes but no money to tell people that such a scheme exists. What can be worse than this? Indira actually shared a real example, where through repeated efforts of Himalayan Trust, all the line managers of various government schemes assembled in one remote Kumaon village. When they told curious villagers that they did have all kind of training programs for community – the big question loomed up like a ghost: then, how is it none of the villagers new anything about these opportunities? A very senior bureaucrat stood up sheepishly and answered: We dont have budget to publicise our programs!
Himalaya Trust continues to explore and facilitate novel ideas- like Katha Sarovar – collection of folk tales, Community Radio and Mountain testimonies project. We plan to interview her again on these initiatives sometime soon. Check their website for more information and inspiration: http://himalayatrust.in/