Farmer’s Protest – Know we are far away from independence.

The massive farmers’ protest in the borders of Delhi amidst a pandemic and innumerable hurdles is a story of resistance and resilience as well as deep inspiration for all those struggling against different forms of loss of agency and freedom, around the world. The farmers’ movement is being representative of world-wide grassroots struggle for reclamation of rights of indigenous peoples and minorities, from the clutches of tangled corporate-political nexus and various forms of power. It is important for all of us to understand these kind of movements and support it in whatever way possible, as this ultimately is about all of us too.

The more I reflected, deeper was my inner urge to be physically with the farmers even if of for a short while, to show my solidarity, and learn how best to help. Just around the same time in March 2021, Rohit Kumar wrote an article in The Wire, titled “Why You Should Visit the F.A.R.M.E.R. at Tikri Border at Least Once”. That reinforced my desire and I booked my tickets immediately. Thereafter, the ferocity of Covid second wave made me postpone the travel.

Eventually, the trip happened. When I conveyed my plan to my colleagues, many expressed their wish to join me. They were happy that i could go and asked me to convey their solidarity with the farmers. The week before the travel, Ananthoo from Tula visited Marudam and shared his experience from the site of the Farmers’ protest and many of us found his experiences inspiring.

Clifton, a Banglore based lawyer working with the trade union AICCTU, shared the contacts of Navkiran Natt and Sukhdarshan Natt for staying at Tikri.

August 1st 2021

11am. As I boarded the metro train to Tikri, I called Sukhdarshanji to request if I could stay with him for a week. He said, “It’s a public space, not that I own this place. If you can bear a few mosquito bites, then Yes, why not.” 

My first impression looking at the protest site reminded me of the vast tiny mycelium network that holds the giant forest together. The mass congregation of the farmers are helping nourish the vital values of healthy co-existence, simplicity and truthful living.  They are literally providing lifeline – food and ethics! and upholding the constitutionality of our country! In the nights, the silent immensity is very humbling and soul rejuvenating. 

I stayed with Sukhdarshan Singh Natt, a Manasa-based senior leader of the CPI(ML) Liberation. He explained why the Sikh fraternity feels Delhi is never a friend. How Punjabis, though they are minority, they never felt threatened or weak. Instead they are on a roll to show Delhi that they cannot be defeated. He spoke about Ranjit Singh of 1801-39 and the way they trained their army under French when they were fighting the British. The Sikh tradition has been full of truth-warriors, like the many Sikh Sants who had to lay down their lives for the cause of truth.

5pm. I went with Guru Gobind Khalsa warriors people to meet their President Rudhu Singh. It was a warm meeting with welcome tea, and a nice discussion on their contributions. Rudhu Singh inquired if I am comfortable at pillar 783. When he came to know that I am a teacher in a school where we teach farming, he said that even this protest is part of the farming. He asked me to teach this to the children in a way they can understand the importance of this part. Towards the end, i relished a sweet and cold Badam milk with a tinge of black pepper!

6:37pm. I met a documentary journalist Randeep Maddoke, the maker of the film Landless, who is documenting the farmers’ protest from October 2020. His film is a must watch. He shared how the farmers’ struggle is the best example of a contemporary mass movement. He emphasized the part of BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) in the whole farmers movement. SKM has over forty Indian Farmers’ unions with them. BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) is not part of the SKM, but they extend their support to the coalition. Ekta Ugrahan is also very worthily, extending true solidarity for all political prisoners. He spoke about all the significant protest events, such as Rail Roko, December 10 Human Rights Day protest, Jan 26, Feb 20, March 8th 80000 women farmers gathering…

I was thrilled to hear that at peak time the tents and roadside houses were there for 23kms. I wanted to take a walk the next day and didn’t know how far I could go.

The evening followed with prayers and then dinner. My day was filled with warmth and gratitude.  Humbled by all they shared with whatever they had.

2nd August 2021

4 am. I woke up and went for a walk to find the farmers’ tents for as long as I could. I went to a highway border which is renamed as Kisan Chowk. From there to Bahadurgarh is about 10km. All through I could see only farmer settlements. Some were temporary and some permanent structures. It has all the amenities required for basic living. At 6 am, about 700 people lined up on a queue to collect milk. They have been given a milk card, with which they can collect about a jug of milk, may be 1.5 litres. Came back to our tent by 7 am. Washed my clothes and took bath. When I slipped and got a scratch on my big toe, one of the Khalsa warriors cared to put a bandage immediately, as if it’s his duty. I humbly listened to their stories and had a large glass of tea.

11:30am. After having our breakfast, along with the Khalsa army, went to Singhu border to see and hear their leader’s speech. To witness the resistance at Singhu border was exhilarating. It was sprawling for a straight 10-12 kms. 

3:30pm. A sudden down pour and roads were quickly flooded. Traffic crawled on both sides of the road. It took about 3 hours for us to reach back to Tikri.

3rd August 2021

6:23am. Jasbir Kaur Natt, the women’s union leader said, if you want to visit Kisan Sansad, a jeep is going from here to Singhu. She asked me to go to pillar 764 and board the vehicle immediately. I reached the spot. I saw few farmers assembled at the place. Some of them had a few sheets of notes prepared to speak at the Sansad. I joined them in their travel.

At Singhu border they have to collect their passes for the Sansad. It is well organised. I was told that, just a media card is enough for me, as I was carrying one from pedestrian pictures with whom I have volunteered for a while. Once they got the passes, we all had our breakfast at a langar and boarded the buses. 5 buses to carry 200 Sansad members.

9:30am. The bus reached Amber resorts at a border in Delhi, where police do a thorough checking of the bus and verifying the passes for the Sansad. I was off boarded from the bus, but given a seat in a different bus which also had some police men and other journalists. The traffic in the city was stopped in many places to safely and quickly move these people to Jantar Mantar. By 10am the buses reached the place of Sansad. The journalists where allowed entry after Kisan sansad could settle a bit. The topic for discussion was Minimum support price. Union members of different unions came one after the other and spoke about the issues. Every day there are 3 sessions and each session has a speaker and a deputy speaker to conduct the sessions. The day also saw 5MPs paying visit to the place to show their solidarity. I can imagine it will only increase in the coming days.

I also met some interesting people at Jantar Mantar such as Suman, Sanitary worker who has been working here for more than 10 years. “These people show us how to protest against such a government. But I am sad that the government is not caring for the people.” said Suman.

Tapon Biswas, only senior journalist of the day, easily around 70 years, is a regular writer at Dalit Adivasi duniya. He said, “I have never seen anything like this in my career, this is a milestone movement.” 

Rani from Guntur, who came to Jantar Mantar 3 years back to resist and demand justice for her daughter’s life,  but ended up there as a person with no care and she needs psychological help as well. 

I met Dr Swaiman Singh who had returned from California to setup a health care center called Pind California. This organisation has so far registered 1000 doctors who visited for a few weeks or upto several months to take care of the farmers protecting them from the pandemic. He says, “We have done everything we could in the COVID fight, from dispelling rumours to pushing people to get vaccinated and urging them to follow COVID protocols.”

6pm. After returning to Singhu border from Jantar Mantar, it was time to meet Ananthoo of Tula and Kavita of ASHA. It was a great time spent together with them. Also, met an amazing youngster Amarinder who is a friend of Kavita. That boy would grow up to be someone great to remember. He is 24 and it was his birthday. Kavita says, “This is a boy when meeting any leader, would go to him and say, I remember you, but you may not. I met you at so and so protest rally or a march.” He is very socially aware & engaged at such a tender age. Maybe most youngsters of this generation are….when we look at the age of “Fridays for future” school protest volunteers Or Extinction Rebellion youngsters, as young as 9 yrs old and the like…its we adults who are very closed . Dr. Darshan Pal, union leader of Kranti Kisan Union was staying in the next room. We spent some time there as well. Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and Prashant Kishore came to visit Dr. Darshan ji. It was great to be among all of them in close quarters. In the night Ananthoo shared how he was deeply moved by the plight of the migrants and what followed was a personal experience. It was inspirational to hear it straight from him. It was already late in the night and we knew we would wake up late.

4th August 2021

11am. I walked to many tents and shared how we were deeply obliged to all the farmers putting up this struggle for the world. At school we wanted to show the real resistance by the farmers. The media is not sharing enough light on this issue,  as they are terribly frightened to share the real situation at the borders. If known to all of India, it would be a massive uprising. They all shared stories about the resistance back home. Some asked me, “Did you bang your plates last year to ward of Corona?” To show the protest in the school, we wanted the badges and flags of different unions. It is also difficult in the time of secret agents to give the badges as it might put them into a difficult situation. But still many of them offered tea, snacks and meals along with their badges and flags.

Both the Singhu and Tikri borders have many health check-up facilities, some with a dozen beds. Huge pharmacies. Places for food like langar after langar continuously cooking and making tea. There’s even a pizza langar, which operates every evening from 5pm. There’s a place for community washing with many washing machines with volunteers helping to wash the clothes of the farmers’ resistance supporters. A cobbler has put up a tent to mend the shoes and chappals of all the protesters. A barber is cutting hair of a farmer sitting under a tent.  Amazing expression of togetherness.

Some people were listening to songs, debating on general life issues, playing cards and relaxing. Getting a cool air from a cooler in a hot day. Some trolleys with ACs fitted in them. Also witnessed a tent city.

SKM has put up a stage at the border for people to speak and listen to. I spoke about how we need to teach children about this resistance when in school, so they are able to explore real-life problems and evolve into mature beings capable of being a part of the solution in their later years.  And these inspiring stories of resistance & renewal is what makes real education happen. They all were able to understand my broken Hindi, and I could guess when they laughed at my Hindi. Then took an auto and two buses to reach back to Tikri border. 

5th August 2021

8:30am. Gazipur border is no different from what I witnessed at Singhu or Tikri. Here the protest tents extended to about 5km. It is a km away from Vaishali Metro station. I missed visiting Shahjahanpur border.

1pm. I met Santosh a Bio-Statistician by profession and Founder of Workers unity youtube channel, at his home. He and few others run this youtube channel called workers unity. Founder-Editor, Sandeep Bauzi has been a victim of Pegasus snooping. They shared about an important meeting to be held in Punjab on Aug 9-12, 2021, where the workers’ union and the farmers’ union are going to engage in a dialogue to see what next for the farmers’ protest. All of us were joking as to why we haven’t been chosen for Pegasus snooping, maybe it indicates that we need to work hard!

August 6th 2021

9am. At Tikri border, pillar 783, Trolley Times. Gurudev Singh, a 78yr old farmer from Punjab, shared his story. “I came to India from Pakistan when I was 4 years old, three days later the riots broke out during partition. Later when I was a shepherd at 9 years, I got introduced to communist party and unsure when I became the member.” He is a senior member of the CPI(ML) Liberation Party. He is sure that the Government will repeal the black laws.

A Dancer, and two law students came to Trolley Times to collect the latest edition and conveyed their solidarity, as they then walked towards the stage at Tikri border. Trolley Times is run by Navkiran Natt a dentist, also a graduate of film studies from Ambedkar University. They also have an active library with the register getting entries every now and then.

8th August 2021, Tiruvannamalai. (Few reflections)

I remember what Sukhdarshan shared about the facilities needed for a long stay. Almost all the places had huge water purifiers for drinking and cooking. To get water, they had dug few bore wells spaced well apart. The sewage from the lavatories installed in a common place is connected to the public sewage. I asked him, if we have to pay the electricity bill. “The Government brought 3 ‘so called’ important bills, they can have this bill as well”, says Sukhdarshan jokingly!  He said, they used the industries’ power lines. The government initially threatened them with the shutdown of the power lines. The farmers’ union negotiated that they would have to use power from the Metro lines then. Government responded with care that the appliances would blow-up as that’s 12000 volts, for which the farmers responded, “Yes, we know that, and we also know how to install a step-down transformer to convert that to 220 volts”.  

   All we need is intent. Farmer’s are showing that nothing can stop them at all.

It was an immense experience for me for the past whole week. When I said bye, Jasbir Kaur Natt asked me to promise that I should bring my family along with me next time. I wish that happens within the next four months.

Repealing the laws is essential for the protest to come to an end. But what is more important is that the process to reach till this stage needs a celebration, it is a victory already. The spirit of the movement, its collective will to stand up for the truth, despite the loss of 600+ individuals martyred in the struggle, and the many hurdles across the way…(lathi charges, goon attacks, fake news, total govt. indifference etc, in addition to braving the pandemic and severe cold, heat and rain….) The energy shared by all the senior citizens in the protest sites are evident that they are not going back to their villages till the laws are repealed. When government machinery kept multi-ton cement structures to block the entry to Delhi, the farmers converted them to make it as a protection for their new homes in the middle of the road. The police barricades are literally their fence around the new home. They have faced huge resistance to be where they are today. They are here to STAY, until the laws are taken BACK. It is the rest of civil society which needs to wake up to the harsh realities of the corporate-govt. nexus that is slowly eroding the base of a humane society and rupturing the ecological balance that is needed for all of our collective survival.  For the sake of all beings, let’s unite with the farmers, and stand up with them, to usher in a humane society, a microcosm of which we can glimpse in the way the farmers are jointly humanely protesting.

Some of the ways in which we could concretely help:

  • To discuss and raise awareness on the plight of farmers with our friends and colleagues, so we help dispel any myths of “farmers being rich”, “farmers linking with terror groups” etc, floated by fake media.
  • To visit the farmers, expressing solidarity, and gaining life-lessons along the way.
  • To help support financially 
  • To make conscious socially engaged artwork, that helps people connect to the real issues on the ground, as well as translate truthful data into digestible formats by the lay public)
  • To re-focus on Agriculture as  a vital social sector, and help make it a more sustainable lucrative option for youngsters, with emphasis on Organic/Natural Farming methods
  • To help reverse-migration from urban to rural areas so the plight of informal migrant sector is also alleviated.
  • To reflect upon and initiate discussions on “Development”, “Growth”etc,  and figure out how to make them all in tune with nature’s organic evolutionary processes.

In conclusion, sharing a couple of verses by Guru Nanak and Rumi, widening the very meaning of farming and farmers:

The body is a farm,
thy actions the seeds,
it is watered by the name of God,
in whose hands is the whole Earth.
The mind is the farmer.

Guru Nanak

With every breath I plant the seeds of devotion
I am a farmer of the heart
day and night I see the face of union
I am the mirror of God
Every moment I shape my destiny with chisel
I am the carpenter of my own soul.

Rumi

Though it is not practically possible for all of us to visit the protest site, we all could contribute to this resistance is anyway possible, as all of us have different strengths and expertise.

Further Reading:

A simple and a must read on why farmers are insisting on a Repeal of the 3 Central Farm Laws by Kavitha

The New Khalistan Conspiracy

Listen to some powerful protest songs

Subscribe to workers unity

Devinder Sharma – Are the farm reforms good for Indian famers?

P.Sainath – Farm bills will benefit Big Corporates, Not Farmers

Senthil J

jsenthilkumar@gmail.com

Furry Friends

For many of us Chennai turtle walkers, a turtle walk never feels complete without our best friends – our dear dogs who have been accompanying us on our walks for years and years. My entire 23 years of walking has been in the company of a few of these wonderful creatures.

These are free dogs living on the beach, off whatever they find on it. They befriend anyone who lands up on the beach and, since we are the regulars, we have developed deep relationships.

I will start with the current set which is the most remarkable.

We have had Loota walk with us for 12 years now. Yes, you read right. 12 long years – a lifetime in a dog’s life. He has joined every walk in these last 12 seasons. When we first met him, he was a full-grown adult, maybe two years of age. Now, at 14 years of age, he is old and frail, and though his faculties are failing him, he still joins us on every walk. Very few human volunteers in SSTCN have managed this kind of longevity.

When we first met him, we were blown away by his energy, joyful spirit and incredibly good looks. He has large hazel eyes and can soak up any amount of petting, forever seeking more by gently prodding us with his paw when we stop. He is also a singer with a lot of yodelling skills.

In the initial years, he would do the equivalent of two or three walks in a single walk as he would run from the scouts to the last person on the walk, several times during each walk, greeting everyone.

He would chase every village dog in its own village and if dawn broke, he would chase crows, water birds, anything. Of course, he would catch nothing. The crow chases were particularly hilarious as he would try jumping into the air after the crow, like he expected to fly too.

He had a bounce in his step which was quite unique and looked like he was doing a dance. Added to the singing, he was quite a performer.

Every night he would wait at midpoint to join us and there were days when he was more energetic and would walk an extra kilometre towards us to meet us earlier. He has lasted longest so I have started with him. But he had a female partner who was called Looti. She was older than him and was almost a constant companion to him. She was a mousy dog with shrivelled up ears – not exactly what you would call pretty—but she was much more determined than him when it came to chasing the other dogs.

The third member of the team was a dreamy, scruffy, extremely gentle dog called Loot 3. Though considerably younger than the other two, he seemed hard of hearing and seeing. He had soft fur which remained in clumps because he was constantly taking dips in the sea.

Unfortunately, Looti died two years ago and Loot 3 disappeared a couple of months before the start of this season. Loota has lost his long-time companions but new ones have joined the walks. More about them later.

On every walk, this dog team would accompany us till the end of the walk, wait patiently as we relocated the eggs, and then walk us down to our vehicles or to the bus stop. They would then give the vehicle or the bus a chase and finally go back to the beach and meet us again the next night.

At least when they walked with us, they had company and protection while crossing the several fishing villages with scores of dogs. On their way back, however, they would have to cross hostile dogs in their territories all on their own. We don’t know how they managed this, but there they were every night.

They are very free spirited and tough dogs. Like most strays, they have no shelter from rain or sun. During the day, particularly in summer, they have to make do with the small shelter of some beach- side kiosks. There is no fresh water and no assured food supply. Yet they seem to manage pretty well.

In the initial years, we were not even feeding them. They came purely for friendship. Then we began to feed them biscuits and, more importantly, supply them with fresh water. Akila now has an elaborate feeding ritual at the end of each walk, which includes vegetarian cat food!

The most amazing thing is that they were there to join us on the first walk of every season. Did it mean they waited for us for 9 months every night? Or did they understand seasons and know that 9 months had passed, and it was time for us to be back again?

Every season when the walks end, we are very sad to stop walking as this means not having their company and not being there for them too. However, some of us visit the gang in the non-season with biscuits, water and a lot of hugs whenever we can.

Way back in 2009, we had a very scary experience, but we also learnt something that night. The walkers of the night pulled out at the last minute. So, Akila and I decided to walk early in the morning. We had to start from our hatchery at Besant nagar to walk to Neelangarai, where we would catch a bus back. We were hoping to slink past the dogs as we were scared that they would follow us to East Coast Road (ECR) when there would be traffic. But Loota and friends spotted us and joined us as usual. When we reached the ECR, exactly what we feared happened. Loota was hit by a jeep. But he got up and ran off to some side street. Akila was inconsolable. Search as we did, we couldn’t find him, and there was the danger of Looti getting hurt too. So, we left and brought her back to the beach…

We felt very sad and tense and couldn’t sleep that night. During the day, we went and searched at our usual meeting point, hoping to find him, but he wasn’t there. Totally heartbroken, we went back to our starting point, and there he was lying on the sand – obviously in great pain, but alive! How did he manage to walk 7 or 8 km? We tried making a stretcher with a large borrowed towel in order to carry him to a vet, but he would have none of it. We gave up and bought him some food and decided to just wait and watch his progress. He didn’t join the walk that night and Looti was not seen either.

But after three nights he was back on the walk, limping slowly. A week of this and he slowly regained his movement turning into a bouncy dog within two weeks. The strength and resilience of free-living animals is sometimes beyond our comprehension.

We have been thinking every season for the past 3 seasons that it might be his last one, but he is still around. He is a major source of love and inspiration for us.

The current set includes one fellow we call Bumshaky for his unique greeting. He comes all the way from Neelankarai and walks 16km most nights. Other than our company, he loves chasing crabs all through the walk.

He is accompanied by Brownie, a young dog with a lot of energy. There is Floppy, from Palavakkam, who greets everyone by standing upright with her paws on our stomach. And of course, in the middle, is our Loota.

I cannot imagine these walks without our darlings. People ask whether they eat the eggs or hurt the turtles or hatchlings. The answer is definitely no.  They seem to know that their friends are some crazy turtle conservationists.

As someone who has grown up with animals and enjoys relating to as many species as possible, I find that my life is richer due to the association that we have with these dogs. It is amazing how much animals connect to us and I continue to look forward to discovering these connections in the years to come.

Stepping into the mountains

There’s an infection spreading through the mountains. It’s not new, but it’s intensifying. I’m writing this because someone you know or someone they know might unknowingly be a carrier.
Its symptoms are gashes in the middle of villages, as whole mountain sides are taken over by real estate projects. The irony is that many of these houses are being built for people who want to seek the peace and quiet of the mountains :/
How did we get so upside-down? This article is an exploration of where we might find balance.

It’s important to acknowledge that this is of course not the only infection ravaging the mountains, and it might not even be the worst or the most ironical because there are several competitors – big dams causing floods, four-lane highways for pilgrims on foot, forests made of a single species, and many more.
But this gated colony infection, or as many mountain people call it VIP housing, hits home the closest. Taken together as something happening all over the state of Uttarakhand for the last two decades it has considerable scale. The cummulative effect of many rich urban households making the same decisions. Same because they are often not independently thought out, but come from aspirations and trends as understood by contractors. Mostly the house owners want everything taken care of so they can just shift-in.
Big mistake. Beware of suave contractors who might say all the right things, plant a native tree or two, and keep you at a safe distance from all the harsh realities of the process…
Village people share how contractors throw their weight around because so much money is involved. They dip into fragile common resources like spring water for construction (remember big cement structures are very thirsty creatures), they alter the flow of forest streams to capture water before it reaches the village in the middle of a drought and this after the village has offered to share their water source (I guess ‘sharing’ means differen things to different people), they raise dust over people’s fields, they throw construction debris into village commons and allow more debris to just slide down into forests below, they upset the local economy, they disturb the peace of the night by working late, they don’t provide for their migrant labour who then end up becoming a nuisance at times, they encroach on common land, they lodge FIRs against locals that question them and are supported by thugs and low-level politicians in all of this.
A local farmer wisely said that the contractors don’t have to live with the village. They do their shoddy work and move on like locusts to the next place, leaving behind ill-feelings between local and outside people. Which of the people who get their second-homes made like this will take the time to repair these damages in trust? Probably no-one, and the ill-feelings build up till there are two parallel worlds. Sounds familiar?

A pause here.  

This is not to put anyone down for the sake of it, or to get kicks out of pointing out the obvious. In  fact, let’s get some of the obvious out of the way. 

I get it. I grew up in the outskirts of cities. I know how beautiful it can be to have some space, some  greenery, and all modern conveniences together in one place. I can’t even imagine how good it must look to someone approaching retirement waiting to exit the hell-hole out cities have become.  Because we know that this can’t be found in cities now, not least in Delhi.  

But this is when it can be very interesting to take the long view and think of how perhaps Delhi  herself used to be. Was she not a blessed land with the Yamuna meeting the Aravallis creating a  mosaic of flood-plains, rocky hills, wetlands, and forests? Putting together a picture of this today is  more mind-bendingly difficult for us than those huge puzzles where all 10000 pieces are the same  shade of blue-grey. 

We did something to the picture, to the stunningly complex dynamics that supported that picture,  and now we can’t see it.  

Now think of the history of the Himalayas. Immense, untouchable, except by puffy clouds that softly tickle those sheer faces, to shed tears into those mighty rivers that carve for themselves a way to the vast flood-plains. A healthy, strong people, working hard in high places to make a beautiful, if sometimes precarious, life. The mountains are beautiful not just because they are full of clouds and rivers, but also because they have been inaccesible to the plundering infectious culture that is now making its way deeper and deeper into its vast folds.

Another pause. A sharper look at some details.
The VIP houses come with an agressive territoriality unfamiliar to mountain culture. Suddenly individual homes have spike-studded high walls, colonies have unfriendly looking barbed fences and huge cement walls. Tarred roads lead all the way upto the doors, and giant 4-wheelers takes up more built space than the average village house. The land of the mountains are not made to carry such heavy footprints.
Just next to them we see the architecture of the village. There are old meandering village pathways the width of two people and a cow, tucked between hedges of beautiful flowers. These paths go around and even through households sometimes, where animals, birds and humans flit through, knowing the important boundaries in their minds and in their movements. All the space that’s saved like this stands as forest, as common land that provides for multiple ecological needs. This the mountains know, this they can handle.

The locals who sold the land, those who are still around, can now not even afford to come back on  to it except by being employed as care-takers, cleaners, drivers, handy-men. This is force-fitted by  the new owners into a story of ‘generating employment’. The original inhabitants just take it all as  an ironical twist of fate, and very rarely do they waste their time on hate or personal grudges. If at  all they blame themselves. This is also mountain culture, and makes it all the more important that  

we as outsiders carry more sensitivity.  

It helps to clarify that this is more a conflict between cultures than regions. Some mountain people  are swayed by desire because they have seen something in the flashy life of the tourists and want it  too. Others are anyway ready to leave farm work because all the forests and streams they need to  support their fields have been plundered. Mountain farming is slowly dying. But as one culture  replaces another, can we not keep some of the old wisdom? Maybe make minimal tweaks in the old  way of life instead of copy-pasting this culture of ours that consumes places and eventually itself? 

Many of the VIP houses make it a point to be larger than the average village house, and larger than  the other VIP houses that came before them. They jostle with each other for the most commanding  view nevermind that they end up casting huge shadows on the village below. They stand like  predatory birds of steel and cement dominating the landscape, standing out glittering with all that  glass. What’s left of the village must live under this shadow. The colonising urban crowd grabs  more than their share in every way. Actually, they don’t even think of what might be a fair share.  

As outside, so inside. The constantly flushing toilets, the hidden washing machines, wasteful water  filters, together backed up by massive storage tanks make sure that one of these houses grabs more  water than multiple village households.  

The mountains are running out of water. There can be no more irony than that.

The demand during construction and subsequently during occupation is so high that it can dry up  perrenial streams. It also increases disconnection from ecological reality. Many of these houses  depend on water tankers. Where are those tankers bringing water from? Some are considering  drilling borewells at the top of ridges! 

Every landscape has a carrying capacity. How can orchards run by a handful of households be  replaced by hundreds of water guzzling, pavement loving, car owning, ultra consumers from the  city? 

Here’s the thing. Come live in the mountains, but learn from the old ways. The ways of this place.  Learn a bit even from the new ways – practices like permaculture, light living, and whatever other  names there are for it.

Don’t carry your ways with you from where you’re escaping. That’s just silly. Lighten up. There are gentler ways to live.
You might not like the sound of these things, but I’ll say them anyway…
(these are mostly things that I’ve already seen in practice, feel free to add to them)

~Understand that relationship with land can not be reduced to matters of money. -But you say you’ve bought the land with your hard-earned money and you can do what you will. 

~Build smaller. There is an art to having your house blend in with its surroundings. -But what if you need to entertain your very extended family. 

Traditional building materials are local, ecologically lighter, beautiful in their own way, well adapted to the weather, among many other good things. 

~If you haven’t built yet, consider building out of clay and mud, and slate roof – if there’s enough.  Employ someone with these traditional skills. But also be open to using whatever material will do  least damage. The simplest might even be to just use the existing house that came with the land!  -You don’t want a hut you say, you want a pukka house. But the ‘pukka’ is in your mind. 

~Suggestion number 4! You could also consider not trying to own everything, and make a long-term relationship with a village homestay, or lease a family’s extra hut.  

-But that’s not fulfilling. Why not? What are you after? 

~Maybe don’t bring a car to the mountains.  

-What if there’s a medical emergency you ask? 

~Walk to the local market, or better still, to your neighbour’s home to get milk, madua, bhaang,  daal, lemons, cucumbers, pumpkins, fruits, tubers. Eat more of what grows in your village, not what is trucked into supermarkets and home-delivered. If the village can’t grow enough, maybe start  growing a little yourself. The produce you need from outside are better bought from smaller shops. -You don’t have time for all this you say. You’re not here to have relationships with famers. 

~Have a dry-toilet that doesn’t need flushing. It might even give you back valuable manure.  -Now you’ve really had it, you’re probably going to go all swachh-bhaarath on me. 

~Show care for the forests around the village. They are what give you water, give fertility to the  farms which means local food and abundance. They give the mountain village its soul.  Studies say that for every acre of village farmland in the Himalayas, there must be 10 acres of  village forest to support it. This figure probably goes up dramatically for every acre of urbanised  built space. Don’t eat up forest space with tar and cement.  

~Find out what the land that you built on used to be. Have conversations to understand what  damage was caused by your construction. Try to imagine what changes it brought to the aspirations  of people around. Try to repair some of that. 

-What does that even mean you might ask.  

~The selling of land to outsiders, along with many other historical issues, has broken village  democracy. People have been made to feel that their voice doesn’t matter. See if you can support  spaces for discussion where the village can talk about collective issues and common solutions.  -What, like an NGO? Maybe just as a citizen. 

~Maybe use your over-sized house as a community library or space. Even just for some hours  during the day-time. 

This article is written in the interest of increasing awareness, not to make people feel bad. If after all this a house-owner can say, “Maybe we made a mistake, I wonder what we can do now” some balance is restored.  

One the other hand if what crops up in their mind is how they are actually not to blame, that they are providing employment to local caretakers, that anyway farming is failing, that these things  are inevitable, etc etc, then we are all further from balance. 

All this also points to the need for stricter construction and tourism guidelines for the mountains –  size and density of ‘pukka’ structures needs to be limited. But till that becomes reality we are all  responsible. The mountain community is changing. People are moving out and others are moving  in. Those who move in need to learn to respect the ecology of this place, and fast.