Producer, Educator & Writer
Ginwalla village , Mandakini valley,
Rudraprayag District, Garhwal Himalayas
Harshi Devi is preparing potatoes for sowing as she speaks. She is the secretary of the local Mahila Anna Swaraj (Women’s Food Sovereignty) group. At their last meeting, Rs 50 was collected from each member, and amongst other things, the group discussed methods for saving water. Last year Harshi Devi, women from the Mahila Anna Swaraj Group and other women from the local area protested for 100 continuous days against the building of a new Hyrdo Electric Dam in the valley close below the village. The dam consists of a series of tunnels that will divert the Mandakini river from flowing its natural route for over 12 kilometres. The construction of the tunnels uses explosives daily to blast holes into the mountains. The protesting women made a human wall in front of the tunnel in an attempt to stop the construction work. Harshi explains that nothing came of this protest and in the end they had to stop the protest because it was difficult for the women who had to do their own work as well.
It is unclear when the dam will be finished. “First we were told it wasn’t a dam, it was only a test,” explains Harshi. Now residents are being told it will take over 20 years to build. Harshi explains how the daily use of explosives in the mountains has caused cracks in her house. Her husband, who works for a local Hindi newspaper, went to the dam office to report the problems, but was told, “scientists say there is no effect.”
Harshi has lived in Ginwala since 1985 and has two sons and one daughter who are all in school. During the holidays they come and help in the fields. In addition to one buffalo and two bulls, the family also has 12-15 nali (20 nali = 1 acre approx) of land.
Harshi’s daughters will marry elsewhere. She would rather her children do something other than farming, but it is unclear now how their lives will unfold. “Like me, my daughter will be someone else’s daughter. It depends on them.”
The Mahila Anna Swaraj group also protects seed, and discusses methods of compost. When asked about how to save seeds, Harshi says, “we know. “ She continues, “I taught myself,” and brings two handfuls of rice to show: “Can you see?”
In her right hand she holds healthy looking rice with long ears, and in her left hand she holds rice with no long stems. Harshi explains why it is important it is to know the difference between good and bad seed: “why waste bad seed in the soil when you can eat it?”
Next Harshi holds up two potatoes. “This one has eyes [where the potato has started sprouting] and this one is blind.” The ones with eyes are used for seed, and the blind ones are used for eating.
Sometimes her crops feed the family for a good amount of the year, but it depends on the rain. This year, there was too much rain and many of the crops were not good. As a result the family will have to buy more food from market.
The biggest problem Harshi faces in farming is monkeys. Harshi believes that the government takes the monkeys from Hardiwar and Rishikesh and brings them to Mandakini Valley: “The monkeys disturb tourists, so the government brings them here.”
Despite the monkey problem, Harshi still believes farming is important: “The taste [of food you grow yourself] is good. We get more diversity.”