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Those who are left behind: A tale of augmented misery and dwindling cultural identity

November 27, 2017
The current photo-series talks about the result of outmigration on those who are left behind and how these are affected more in case of various environmental changes and social-economic transitions.
The rural mountainous communities of Indian Himalayan Region have a long history of marginal agriculture-based economy that is intimately associated with the mountainous forests for subsistence as well income generation. These forest-resources based activities lay the foundation of human wellbeing in the region and are crucial components of traditional agro-system modelled on women’s participation. Women, as the vital workers, are pillars that support and nurture these systems. Both agriculture and traditional animal husbandry practices are mostly subsistence in nature, and with increase in population and influence of market economy on traditional rural economy, the farm households are forced to seek nonfarm incomes. For long, the males of region have been migrating to urban centers of the country to find employment opportunities. This outmigration has acted as a driver of both demographic and cultural change in the region. Under the circumstances of male outmigration, women are crucial in providing labor to sustain hill economy.
The males working outside send money back home that gives greater purchase power to the household. However, on the other hand this also results in increased workload for family members who are left behind. In such scenario, women are most affected, particularly those living in a nuclear family. In a traditional Himalayan household, women play a crucial role in ensuring the well-being of family members. They work on farms, bring resources from forests, and take care of children and elderly in the family. However, as the males go out to earn, women have to compromise with the leisure time that already is a luxury for hill women.
The photographs show how women are the ones who dominate the social-ecological scenery of these villages, as they bring fodder for livestock, many times back-breaking loads. They are the ones that you encounter when it is the season of preparing farmlands for sowing seeds or whether it’s time to harvest the crop. After they feed lunch to the children, they are the ones taking livestock for grazing and bringing fuelwood and fodder. Large scale commercial exploitation of resources, continuous damaging harvest practices, accompanied by natural disasters, have degraded the forests of the region. This put extra burden on the ones responsible for collecting resources, as they have to go farther and work harder to ensure food-security and well-being of family members. In such scenarios, even age is no bar for women. Many times elderly women bring heavy loads on their backs. Situations worsen for them if the young women also migrate with their husbands leaving behind the aging parents. It also greatly impacts the education of children in the households with fewer adult members, as they take the responsibilities of bringing forest resources or taking cattle for grazing.
This outmigration of people, particularly youth from villages impacts local culture hugely. Many traditional art forms (preparing woolen items and containers from hill bamboos, playing traditional music instruments and songs which tell the stories of local deities and kings) are being lost. The ethno-medicinal knowledge in traditional health care system is also being lost gradually. Driven by a social-cultural change from subsistence to market economy, local communities are preferring cash crops over traditional crops resulting in loss of many traditional varieties. This gradual alienation of people from their land and culture might result in loss of religious customs and cultural norms along with the indigenous knowledge with time.
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