Sunday, August 24, 2008

Research in Jaunpur

I am an cultural anthropologist from Canada. I have been working in the Jaunpur region of Uttarakhand, India for the past year. This region is situated in the lower range of the Indian Himilayas. Jaunpur villages are tribal although they have not officially been afforded this status by the government.

I spent six months conducting research in the small village of Kolti. My research focuses on children living in the most dire circumstances, and looks at the ways in which they see themselves positioned in their village and the larger societal context; how they interact with their families; their views on various issues having to do with education, work, play, health care, illness, etc.; and also on their future aspirations. Kolti is a village located just three kilometers down the mountain from the bustling hill station of Mussoorie, but because is has no road, and access to the village is via a steep one and a half hour trek down the mountain, it might as well be situated 500 kilometers away. Life in the village is difficult. It lacks most basic amenities, health care and education is minimal. The men from the village earn their income by selling milk to Mussoorie residents. This means transporting the milk every day by mule, or on their backs by way of the steep mountain trek to Mussoorie. If their buffalo or cow is sick, or they don't own one, then men trek to Mussoorie every day and try to find work as daily labourers on road construction. Daily income is barely enough to provide food for a family of five for one day. Women carry out the bulk of the work at home. They work in the fields, fetch water, fodder and wood, cook, wash clothes, and care for the children. Their work day begins at 5 am and does not end until 9 pm. There are no days of rest for anyone. Undernutrition and poor health go hand in hand in this village. Diets consist mainly of rice and chapati, and occaisionally dahl. In summer months meals are supplemented with locally grown vegetables, but the winter months are long, cold and diets protien defficient. Disease in this village is rampant. Since the trek to the hospital is so difficult, most people are reluctant to go when they are sick, and until very recently no medical personel were willing to make the long journey to the village. Hence, most people turned to local remedies, or priests to cure their ailments.

I am now working in the village of Sainji. Actually I was married here on June 1st of this year. This makes doing research both difficult and interesting. Being a new bride puts me in the spotlight where it seems all eyes are on me at all times. Before when I was working in Kolti, people were curious about me, but I was always the outsider. Now I am the wife of one of the most respected men in the area. My husband has been pradhan (or village leader) for over seven years and more recently head of the area village council (zilat panchayat) for nine years. Living in a small village of 300 people puts the smallest of actions under quick scrutiny. But still I manage with my research. Sainji has benefitted so much over the years thanks to my husband's efforts. Unlike Kolti, it has had road access for over fifteen years. It has two schools, and every house has or has access to a toilet, and most basic amenities. Many Non Government Organizations, invited by my husband, have visited the area and many have implemented various projects. Whereas Kolti is able to produce enough food to last them for one month, Sainji people produce enough to last six months. Nonetheless, Sainji still faces many difficulties. Education is still not of the quality it should be. When young people reach the nineth standard they have to write an exam to qualify for high school. Most however are inadequately prepared for high school and fail the exam repeatedly. As a result, over half of the youth in the village are not attending high school and the other half are struggling with their studies. This means that most young people are not qualified to enter university and most have to accept low paying labour intensive jobs. Girls are worst off as they face a life similar to their mothers' whereby they will be married off and will work endless hours every day raising children, working in the fields and caring for their homes. Medical problems also persist. Although hygiene is still significanty better than in Kolti, Sainji people are poor and cannot afford to make the one hour trips to the hospital in Mussoorie, and if they do they still cannot manage the doctor's fees. So they will go to 'unqualified' doctors for help. Usually this leads to graver illnesses and more complications. My husband and I have tended to many fevers, upset stomaches, cuts, burns, and so forth in our home because the villagers know that we are educated and have on hand a few medicines and bandages. So there are many occaisions when we have a line at our door for medical care.

Children are much bolder here than in Kolti. They are good children, but I suppose because they have road access and are able to frequent places like nearby Kempty Falls and Mussoorie more often they are slightly more confident. As well more families have television, and radios. Most significantly the village has over the years seen a long procession of foriegners due to the on-going NGO work in the area.

For anyone who would like to visit Sainji, and learn more about the area, my husband and I have started a cultural stay business in the village. You can visit our website at