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Women and young people

Since the mid-1970s many UN reports about women, children, and youth have appeared, including reports from Nepal, even if the UN has never defined (or recognized other definitions of) what is a child and has accepted a purely chronological limit for youth (up to 26 years!). The argument is being developed that women, in the past, to use the World Bank's phrase, have been 'invisible,' and that all three groups are the most deprived in poverty, especially in extreme poverty situations.

How does this fit in Nepal and the Himalaya in general? Are women/children/youth 'problem' groups? What roles do they play in the developing 'crisis'? What roles do they, can they, play in the dynamics of development (local innovation versus centric, or outside agency, intervention Messerschmidt, 1987)?

At first glance women seem to have received the worst of the poverty situation. Female infant mortality rates (1976) are higher; women's incomes, life expectancies, literacy rates, and so on, are lower in the Himalaya, though, as we have indicated, this does not hold true across all caste and ethnic divisions, nor for life expectancy, which in some instances, at least for 1982, is nearly in balance (females - 45; males - 46 years).

The World Bank in its latest report (1984a:198) also has a battery of indicators showing the'low' international status of Nepalese women. In 1980 they had a ratio of adult male/adult female literacy worse than any other country in the world except the Yemen Arab Republic. They also had the fourth lowest percentage (aged 15 44) in the world enrolled in a primary school (just ahead of Somalia, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, and equal with Ethiopia). In 1977 they had the lowest mean age at marriage (17), sharing lowest place with the Yemen Arab Republic.

The Child Welfare Coordinating Committee (CWCC, of UNICEF, 1980) have also collected very interesting documentation on the deprived status of the child in Nepal. The death rate of children aged one to four years old was high (35.3 percent) and this was highest in rural areas. Morbidity rates were high, and the CWCC gives a rate of 23.2 percent for intestinal infections, the most common illness, with pneumonia second (16.7 percent). One survey (CWCC, 1980:15) reports a high incidence of stunting (48.1 percent) amongst rural children, especially males. Dr. Bagchi, of WHO, reports that 70 percent of preschool children are malnourished (WHO, no date). Primary school enrolment has risen (Ministry of Education and Culture, 1984: 14), although it is much lower in remote regions, and the drop-out rate (Grade 1) has been put at 53.3 percent, mainly due to examination failures. In 1977 68.8 percent of girls, but less than 10 percent of boys, had no access to education. Many children are working, a figure of 13.5 percent (for the late-1970s) of the total work force has been officially given, which is very high internationally when compared with the global average (cf. Bangladesh, 10.2 percent). Unofficially as many as 75 percent of children of school age may be working or are what the ILO euphemistically calls 'unemployed.' The effects of child labour on health and life opportunities are enormous. Nevertheless, it is difficult to interpret these statements without the ability to determine what is meant by 'working.' And again, many of these figures need to be broken down into ethnic, caste, or regional components. Infant mortality rates are much lower in urban areas, for instance; fewer children in the Terai (CWCC, 1980:46) are below height for age (45.5 percent) than in the Middle Mountains (55.5 percent). Rates for Terai Brahmins were lower (35.9 percent) than for Terai Chhetri (43.3 percent) and both were better than their mountain caste peers.

Women and children certainly do suffer from many forms of deprivation or exploitation. First, they work relatively long hours. The women's sphere in Nepal is still mainly in the household, including subsistence farm work. There are exceptions: for example, Thakali women are involved in the hotel and catering business, educated Gurung and Chhetri women are employed in clerical positions in the private and public sectors, women from occupational castes may work as labourers or porters (Seddon, 1983: 139). Women who are in the household sector have a major role in subsistence work. Acharya and Bennett (1983) estimate that women account for 57 percent of adult input time into subsistence agriculture and contribute half of household income (compared with 44 percent for men and 6 percent for children). These patterns varied to some degree in different communities, but always the women put in more hours than the men. For example, Acharya and Bennett again report that in Parbatiya Bakundel the women work 12.5 hours per day as opposed to men 8.16. The lowest number of hours worked by women was among the Tamang, 8.46 hours, compared with Tamang men, 7.65 hours. In several groups men did more work in what Acharya and Bennett (1983) call sphere one (cooking, serving, cleaning, shopping, and child care); notably the Tharu-Sukraware men worked 7.29 hours per day, the women 4.97 hours.

The long hours worked by women were not well rewarded in money terms, even if the value of the subsistence sector was relatively high, up to 80.8 percent in the Acharya and Bennett (1983) studies, and even if women's work was more valuable than men's in the cash and subsistence sector combined. Nor did women have the major voice in the important decision-making processes, certainly not concerning labour allocation, though they did help to decide technical matters such as what crop to plant, what seed to use, and the amount and kind of fertilizer.

It is necessary, once again, to reflect on the risks of generalization, this time in terms of the claims for the systematic exploitation of women. That women work long hours and are not well rewarded in monetary terms is equally true of the developed world, capitalist and centralized economies alike, and the same qualification, 'except in pockets,' is likewise true. Such pockets do exist in the Himalaya. Sherpa women seem to experience a relatively egalitarian existence with their menfolk, and some of the most successful entrepreneurs in tourism and trade are Sherpa and Thakali women. To distinguish these pockets and encourage their growth and multiplication, however, requires disaggregation of a national or regional population according to sectoral strategies. This appears to be something of great importance, which is inhibited by the steadfast processes of data aggregation characteristic of many agencies (Thompson, personal communication, February 1987).

These studies, however, do provide data which may challenge ideas of how women spend their time, at least in some areas. The classic version of the deforestation segment of the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation, for instance, has women walking further and further to the shrinking forests for fuelwood, or for water, as aquifers, wells, and other water supplies dry up on eroded terrain. As a result the women are worn out, and their own and their babies' hearth suffers. World Bank figures show that the most time any group of women spent on fuel collection was 0.69 hours per day (Newer women), or about 6 to 7 percent of their time. In a number of cases men spent more time than women collecting fuelwood, but this never exceeded 0.58 hours per day. Water collection involved more time in some communities, although the average was about the same as fuelwood collecting. The most time recorded was 1.12 hours per day in Pangma Panchayat, which was still less than 10 percent of the time spent on all activities. The biggest single activity involved agricultural work. However, in Ehrich's (1980) fieldwork in Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh, India, fuelwood and water collecting did account for 55 percent of women's time, again raising the danger of extrapolating conclusions drawn from one region to another; perhaps an even more fundamental question raised by this discussion is, once again, that of the reliability of the primary data.

There is also now documentation showing the low status and oppression of many women within this domestic-subsistence sector (CEDA, 1979). Seddon (1983) cites of a strong tendency in 'high-caste' Hindu families, and particularly amongst Brahmins, for women to be more oppressed than among the tribal groups, such as the Limbus, Magars, Gurungs, or the 'untouchables.' These restrictions result in severely reduced access to education and health facilities. Women, especially young women, in many areas, had few rights with regard to choosing marriage partners or the age of marriage, and the early arranged marriages may be a significant contribution to the population explosion, although this situation is not new.

Poor health and nutrition amongst women were reflected in the health and welfare of infants and young children, according to recent materials published on the child-care programme in Dhankuta, a "Save the Children" United Kingdom project, and in the Kosi Hill Area Rural Development Programme (Ministry of Local Development and Britain's Overseas Development Administration; Nabarro, 1984). These figures show both time and space variations and raise important issues. For example, wasting amongst children was highest at the end of the summer monsoon (Nepalese month of Bhadra- August/September) and lowest in Mangsir (November/December), three months after the maize harvest. Food shortage was a reason for this but the prevalence of diseases, notably diarrhoeal, was an important contributing factor. Nabarro speculates that the incidence of diarrhoea was related to outbreaks of measles. But the causes of the wasting were multiple: food shortage; a moist environment which favoured faecal transmission; parents who could not afford time to go to a health post or to provide the child with extra ghee or sugar; and measles, which often may have been, as studies have shown elsewhere, the catastrophic straw which breaks the camel's back. But there were also many hidden factors: the time it takes to try to raise extra income or to negotiate loans, or to persuade children without appetites to eat when they are sick. An interesting point to emerge is that, although the research team could show that wasting or stunting vary with the amount of land a family held, it was less easy to explain morbidity and mortality. Much depends on the mother's behaviour and ability to cope. Some mothers'innovate' because of superior education or wealth; other, poorer mothers out of desperation.

Table 7.1 Comparative average daily time allocation by sex and age-group, expressed in hours and decimals, in Nepal (after Acharya and Bennett, 1983).

Activities 15 years and older 10 to 14 years 5 to 9 years
Male Female Both Male Female Both Male Female Both
Labourforce participation                  
Animal husbandry 1.43 0.97 1.17 2.46 2.44 2.45 1.10 1.17 1.13
Agriculture 2.73 2.74 2.72 0.90 1.51 1.25 0.53 0.72 0.63
Manufacturing 0.42 0.45 0.44 0.03 0.08 0.06 0.01 0.01 0.01
Market activities(in village) 1.24 0.46 0.81 0.25 0.13 0.18 0.13 0.35 0.24
Subtotal 5.82 4.62 5.14 3.64 4.16 3.94 1.77 2.25 2.01
Subsistence economic                  
Hunting and gathering 0.17 0.05 0.11 0.08 0.03 0.03 0.02 0.03 0.01
Fuel collection 0.24 0.38 0.32 0.15 0.43 0.31 0.06 0.14 0.10
Fetching water 0.07 0.67 0.40 0.23 0.70 0.50 0.11 0.21 0.16
Housing construction 0.25 0.08 0.16 0.06 0.02 0.04 0.03 0.03 0.03
Food processing 0.18 0.97 0.62 0.12 0.34 0.24 0.07 0.09 0.08
Subtotal 0.91 2.15 1.61 0.64 1.15 1.12 0.29 0.50 0.38
Cooking/serving 0.27 2.05 1.25 0.15 0.63 0.42 0.03 0.07 0.07
Cleaning dishes and pots 0.03 0.39 0.23 0.03 0.23 0.15 0.01 0.07 0.04
Cleaning house/mud 0.04 0.46 0.27 0.04 0.24 0.15 0.02 0.05 0.04
Laundry 0.02 0.15 0.09 0.01 0.06 0.04 0.01 0.03 0.02
Shopping 0.24 0.17 0.20 0.06 0.06 0.06 0.02 0.06 0.04
Other domestic 0.04 0.13 0.09 0.05 0.06 0.06 0.03 0.03 0.03
Child care and rearing 0.16 0.06 0.45 0.22 0.35 0.29 0.15 0.34 0.24
Subtotal 0.80 3.41 2.58 0.56 1.63 1.17 0.27 0.65 0.48
Total work burden 7.53 10.18 9.33 4.84 7.31 6.23 2.33 3.40 2.87
Education 0.43 0.10 0.25 1.72 0.83 1.22 0.96 0.14 0.54
Personal maintenance 1.45 1.12 1.27 1.35 1.33 1.33 1.40 1.45 1.42
Social activities 0.31 0.16 0.23 0.12 0.23 0.19 0.10 0.10 0.10
Leisure 6.30 3.81 4.93 7.98 6.30 7.03 11.21 10.92 11.07

The status of older children seems to be bad also, and is compounded in the case of females. Child labour is apparently far more prevalent in Nepal (at least according to official figures) than in India or Bangladesh. In the AcharyaBennett studies (1983:43) girls contributed more than twice as much as boys to household production (Table 7.1). The effects and consequences of child labour are not well understood, partly because in some sectors, notably the urban, it is a relatively new activity and the long-term effects (for instance, on health) may not be apparent for some years. The UN, ILO, and some non-government organizations (NGOs) (Pitt and Shah, 1982) have recently put together a catalogue of major health and other exploitative consequences which may contribute to low life expectancy and high morbidity. The UNICEF/CWCC investigation (CWCC, 1980) has provided case studies of child labour in Nepal. This includes work in restaurants, domestic service, and newspaper stalls. Working children are to be found also in the so-called 'black economy,' and in criminal and related activities, especially in Kathmandu. There is also a large amount of anecdotal information about the fear of girls and young women being kidnapped and taken to India and being forced into prostitution. This was headline news in the Rising Nepal (Kathmandu's English-language newspaper) in early 1986, for instance, which described a rash of kidnappings of young girls from Terai locales for sale to the prostitution markets of Bombay.

Most working children (well over 90 percent), however, recorded in the censuses are in the agricultural sector and this proportion has not changed much since the 1952 census. Some authorities have pointed out that the figures on health hazards are somewhat speculative and, in any case, if children did not work in the agricultural sector, families would starve. The force of this argument is somewhat diminished by the fact that some families would starve anyway and that the causes of this starvation are related to external factors, notably prices, and the associated difficulty for subsistence families to acquire cash.

Nonetheless, a distinction should be made, as Bouhdiba (1982) has made, between exploitative child labour and that labour which contributes to the child's education and his family's subsistence and well-being. Certainly the growth of and opportunities for child labour is one reason for a continuing high population growth.

One of the most serious consequences of child labour is simply that children, especially female children, do not receive even primary-school education. In 1977, for example, in a number of districts, notably in the far west, over 90 percent of female children had no access to primary school education (CWCC, 1980).

Little is known about the social dynamics of child labour, and even less about the 15-26-year-old group, which is generally called 'youth' in the UN nomenclature. This group has certainly a high rate of unemployment or underemployment. Many are married with children. In the 1971 Census, 7 percent of the population between 6 and 14 years old in the central and western Development Regions in Nepal were already married. Many of this group migrate to the cities, notably to Kathmandu, and Sacherer's studies (1979, 1980), for example, show that young people were more ready to change their attitudes and behaviour in response to outside cultural influences.

Nevertheless, it should not be assumed that Nepalese youth are simply a component of the global mass-culture youth model. For example, in Nepal migration has been regarded as a 'final' option for those in the most desperate category. According to a study quoted by Seddon (1983), there has been a change in the basic reasons for migration over the past twenty-five years. In the early period migration of households (and this should be distinguished from individual migration) was largely because of natural calamities, particularly the loss of hill land through erosion, or its progressive degradation until it could no longer support a family. It is argued that more recently the increasing pressure of debt has become the main cause. Both reasons involved loss of, or greatly reduced access to, suitable land. Young people were carried along on this tide with their families, but until recently such migration was to other farmland and primarily involved migration from the Middle Mountains to the Terai. In recent years, however, this option has gradually been closed by the government's move to control resettlement, as conflicts have developed between officials and other land-hungry people in the Terai, and as the stock of land has progressively decreased.

Desire for land has remained the fundamental motive, and when a sample of Middle Mountain people were asked why they wanted to migrate, most (over 60 percent) gave reasons relating to the difficulties of producing enough on land in the Middle Mountains and the prospects of more land elsewhere. A comparable proportion of those who had already migrated to the Terai gave similar reasons. It is interesting to note that a relatively small proportion (around 5 percent) of both samples gave the loss of land through foreclosure on outstanding debts as the reason, or indeed, total loss of land through erosion and natural calamities (3.9 percent of the Terai sample).

New strategies for households to cope with this situation seem to be emerging and in these young people play a major role. First, since there are, or are thought to be, wage-earning opportunities in the cities, permanent migration of households may be giving way to individual migration of young people who are remitting wages back to support older and younger members of the family. As the debt problem is one of structural relationships - however unequal between lenders and borrowers, other forms of exchange may be taking place across this divide. For instance, Sacherer (1980) has referred to the marriage of low-caste young women to higher-caste men. However, the situation may not be stable since the higher-caste men are also, or have been, migrants. This may help to explain the sudden upsurge in urban population numbers in the 1981 Nepal Census (Goldstein et al., 1983).

Overall, therefore, there appears to be a worsening situation in the status of Nepalese women and children in the general context of deepening poverty. This is not the place to examine the efforts of government and the various agencies who are trying to improve the situation. The literature that is available paints a picture in the 1960s and 1970s of a centralized monarchy which had introduced the so-called 'panchayat democracy' in order to preserve the traditional structure. There was much rhetoric about decentralization and 'back to the village' slogans, but popular participation was, according to most reports, limited. Shrestha and Mosin (1970), in their survey of village panchayats in the late 1960s, report that most people were confused about, or had little knowledge of, the panchayat system, though a popular vote in 1981 confirmed its continuation and political parties have been banned since 1961.

Since the beginning of the 1980s there have been changes stimulated by unrest amongst the students and intelligentsia and by pressure from leaders of banned parties, if not from the grass roots. The Royal Palace is still central, perhaps more so, but here, and in government and the bureaucracy, exists what Seddon (1983) has called 'a new cast of thinking.' The essence of this new thinking, which can be seen clearly in the sixth and seventh Five Year Plans (1981-85; 1986-90), is the so-called Basic Needs Strategy. This strategy, according to Seddon, initially owed much to the work of the international agencies and foreign donors. But it has been taken up by local politicians, bureaucrats, and the intelligentsia, and has already some concrete results, including specific legislation on decentralisation and increased participation. What was seen by most observers as a 'bottom-tip' rhetoric early in the 1970s, may become a part of the dynamic structure of the society.

Notwithstanding the impacts of the new thinking, some doubts have been expressed. First, in recent interviews the King himself has favoured freemarket economy forces: this is contradictory to the Basic Needs philosophy. The top ranks of the bureaucracy (including the military) are dominated by three castes, Brahmins, Chhetris, and Newars, and this has been true for over one hundred years (Beenhakker, 1973). Most come from the Kathmandu Valley (in one estimate, nearly half of the entire Civil Service comes from this region, which has only 5 percent of the total national population). However, increasingly a meritocracy is emerging, of what Blaikie e' al. (1980) call 'modern bureaucrats' - those who have taken advantage of the new educational openings, including study abroad. These 'key' personnel have 'radical' new ideas which are already showing, for instance, in the Nepal National Planning Commission. There remain many obstacles to this new thinking and action, notably inter-departmental rivalries, lack of vertical coordination, the poor quality and training of the middle-level bureaucrat, the existence of a parallel foreign-manned bureaucracy in some sectors disguised as a 'counterpart system,' and so on. The Decentralization Act of 1983, however, is a particularly important initiative on the part of the government and is further evidence of the progressive shift from rhetoric to determined action.

Important as any new directions at the centre may be, the new decentralization processes put district-level officials in much closer contact with the panchayats and create new district organizations which group together workers, women, young people, and ax-servicemen. There are many problems, too, with the new decentralization measures; for instance, continuing feuds and corruption in the panchayats and the persistent influence of a rural elite. Most influential panchayat positions (for example, chairmen) were held by the larger upper-caste landowners in the 1960s and 1970s, except in those villages which are all low-caste. This power structure continues and has been cited as a major factor in inhibiting recent food distribution schemes in food-scarce areas.

In terms of meeting basic needs the greatest difficulties can be expected in the health and education fields. Although there have been significant improvements, Nepal still spends much less (as a proportion of total expenditure) on such sectors as education, health, housing, community amenities, and social welfare, than many other countries. According to the 1984 World Bank Development Report (p. 268), in 1981 9.7 percent of total expenditures was devoted to education (11.5 percent was the average for lowincome countries), 4.1 percent to health (a decline from 1972 when 4.4 percent was the low-income country average), 1.5 percent to housing and community amenities, social security and welfare (6.1 percent for all lowincome countries). All of these data have an important bearing on the situation of the poorest sectors, and especially women and young people within those sectors. It is too early to predict whether conditions will improve after the new legislation and whether there will be many ameliorating effects but certainly it will be an uphill struggle.

Most central government expenditure in Nepal during the 1970s and 1980s (around 57 percent) has gone into the economic sector, particularly agriculture, and in the views of many observers this has favoured the wealthier rural classes. Some Nepalese by the mid-1970s, however, were calling for'an integrated rural development' end this idea was supported by a number of international agencies and foreign donors. The Agricultural Project Services Centre (APROSC) acquired a central role, and many new programmes were directed toward the small farmer. There was a national 'back to the village' campaign and the co-operative movement (Sajha) took on new momentum. Blaikie et al. (1980) have claimed that the more general campaigns were largely rhetoric but specific programmes may have been more successful.

But are there no indigenous collective social forms? What place do women and young people have in this structure and process? What roles can they play? The role and potential of traditional co-operatives have been described elsewhere (Messerschmidt, 1981). These may remain outside the official ambit but despite - or because of - this, may have a significant, if unrecognized, potential. In Nepal, co-operative groups become increasingly important in any switch from herding to cropping, where there may be more need for cooperative labour inputs. In such 'non-conventional' co-operative forms both women and young people play an important role. And women play a much greater role in health activities. Here, and in the analysis of the role of young people, there is a lack of data. There is certainly a growing literature on women in Nepal both from expatriate researchers and local scholars. But many of the foreign works, Pitt (1986) claims, at least in anthropology, reflect the biases of western scholarship. For example, there is the obsession with kinship, originally mainly male, but now concerned with the analysis of topics such as 'mothers' milk and mothers' brood,' that is, with women's symbolic roles.

It must also be emphasized, however, that kinship and women's symbolic roles are extremely important to an understanding of social organization, including co-operation in traditional forms. And there is a small but growing group of expatriate and local applied anthropologists who are playing an increasingly vital role in furthering this understanding. This group includes Manzardo (Manzardo et al, 1975), Fisher (1978), Messerschmidt (1978, 1981, 1987), Campbell (1979; Dani and Campbell, 1988), Gurung (1981a and b), Goldstein (1981; Goldstein et al., 1983), Acharya and Bennett (1983), and Dani et al. (1987). Further progress along these lines is essential if unwanted and unexpected social disruptions arising from development policies and their central implementation are to be avoided.

There is also literature on women's roles in agriculture (Schroeder and Schroeder, 1979), and in maternal and child health (CWCC, 1980). The CWCC has produced interesting materials on the role of women in child rearing in a number of castes and ethnic groups. For example, in the Sherpa community studied (Rolwaling) there was no diarrhoea, partly, it seems, because nobody defecates or urinates near the water sources, and parents take pains to clean up the children's defecations. Nutrition in this high-altitude community depends a good deal on potatoes, which are also fed at an early age to children. Infant and child mortality rates appear from both this and Sacherer's (1979, 1980) studies of this group to be low, and the level of nutrition relatively high. Other factors may be the somewhat later age at which women marry, the spacing of children, and breast-feeding.

In the Rolwaling case the role of women is important, but it is not particularly collective. Women perform tasks, even childbirth, without the help of others. Much of what they do is based on the traditional oral knowledge system. Twenty percent of the people, in fact, had learned to read and write from the lames, but none of these are women, except for two anis (nuns). However, since 1972 there has been a school established by Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalaya Foundation and this has been enthusiastically received, and girls, who have apparently been impressed by the superiority of women tourists, are going to school in increasing numbers.

The role of women and young people in agricultural co-operatives shows how this kind of organization may form the base for an upward internal generation of development and, even more interestingly, provide a mechanism for crossing horizontal ethnic and caste lines. Some of the basic tenets of the official cooperative movement (formal government, as opposed to informal and traditional) in Nepal are questioned by Messerschmidt (1981). Compulsory savings were the problem in the 1960s, 'faltering' administration in the 1970s, and outright official hostility in the 1980s, as the economic situation worsened. But most forms of traditional co-operation in Nepal were neither officially inspired nor directed. They existed before, during, and after the official programmes and in them women and young people were prominent, if not the principal participants. Most commentators from western societies have discussed co-operatives in terms of spheres of male influence and power, but it is hardly surprising that women and youth should be the most active groups in the Nepalese co-operatives since most of the work is done by them. There are certainly some male-dominated cooperatives in Nepal, apart from the official ones; they include, for example, the temple associations (Greenwold, 1974).

Traditional forms of labour co-operations are rather different. A welldescribed and typical example is the Gurung Nogar (Messerschmidt, 1981), which is a temporary village-level association of Gurung youth. Nogar, in fact, are occasionally all female, but the shortage of males has been explained by their absence on military service with the Gurkhas. Most Nogar members are in their teens and twenties, usually drawn from the female rodi communal houses. Rodi girls, in fact, invite boys to work with them. Rodis, it should be noted, act as a means of uniting people from different villages. They also play an important role in courtship, focusing on the rodi-ghar (girls' sleeping dormitories). Nogars may also cross ethnic and caste lines. There are examples in the literature of non-Gurung blacksmiths (Kami) joining. There are also records of exclusively 'untouchable' Nogars (Pignede, 1966), and Tamang membership (Macfarlane, 1976). The fact that there are not more records, according to Messerschmidt (1981), is because scholars have never really looked at this phenomenon and because caste groups live at some distance from each other. The poorest families have their own smaller cooperative activities.

Nogars seem to be very successful with great morale and bursts of energy. This positive, productive attitude, what Pignede (1966) calls the esprit de nogar, is a major driving force in the subsistence economy. Because Nogars are 'part of life', especially part of the marriage cycle, they encourage motivation. All this is part of the Gurung success. Other groups, however, may be less likely to co-operate successfully. An example is Doherty's (1975) study of the Brahmin and Chhetri castes where the woman's role is much less dominant.

Finally, the long-standing existence and survival of many groups through the period of nationalization of the forests by the government, and recent re-activation of the traditional systems of natural resource control and protection have been and remain extremely important (Messerschmidt, 1987).


Despite all the complexity and scarcity of systematic data, it is possible to draw some general conclusions. Some of these raise doubts about much of the conventional wisdom on the Himalayan crisis.

1. This general discussion on the human dimension demonstrates a comparable degree of lack of data, confusion in the use of data, reliability and representativeness, to add to the earlier discussion on the physical components of the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation. Poverty, population growth, and increasing demands on limited, if not finite, natural resources, are central to the Himalayan Problem.

2. In terms of the problems of subsistence and access to land, the role of debt may be a less disadvantageous factor (for local people) than burdens which are imposed from above and from outside, as the influence of the world market economy expands.

3. Women, children, and young people do suffer most in a situation where wealth, power, and prestige are to some degree male preserves and are assets which often are distributed through interventive mechanisms, such as foreign aid and development and government central planning without local input.

4. The low status of women and children varies across different sub-cultural groups and in different situations. Some caste/ethnic groups are more egalitarian, and some young people are achieving mobility. Both women and young people are involved in co-operative, traditional activities.

5. It may be that the more traditional caste groups, in some cases, are faring better, despite, or possibly because of, their traditionality which provides resilience against the more negative and disruptive aspects of intervention.

6. There is some evidence in Nepal, as in the Indian Himalaya, that women are the heralds and foot-soldiers of grass-roots movements in which environment and health are major sectors. Hugging the trees is not only to be found in the Chipko Movement (cf. Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, 1986b). But in the Nepalese setting, the woman's role may be rather in health, particularly child health, which remains quite traditional and sometimes very effective, especially amongst the sub-cultures of the high Himalaya. The recent improvements in infant mortality rates, therefore, may well be a sign of this growing role of women.

7. If women are a force in local developments, young people are more involved in the linkages between innovation at the local level and the processes of intervention because they are the migrants in body, and mind, and because they are prepared to change their attitudes and behaviours.

The seven concluding points are primarily applicable to Nepal. However, they are relevant to a certain extent to other parts of the Himalaya. For example, in Bhutan (World Bank, 1984b), though data is still very scanty, the traditional ways of life are still very strong. Urban development has been much slower than in Nepal, partly because of a government policy making sure that each district has its own town. Subsistence agriculture dominates, is labour intensive (so that population increases are absorbed), but also it is even more of a male preserve. Also land is apparently temporarily reassigned to equalize the land-labour ratio. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) there is no significant pressure on fuelwood sources. The absence of labour and forest problems has been partly due to government controls through compulsory employment practices and severe restrictions on commercial felling (from 1979) amounting to nationalization. Tourism, too, has been greatly restricted, partly because there is a relatively small need for hard currency. Very little is known, however, about the status of women and young people in Bhutan although, even compared to Nepal, a very small proportion are in school.

Certainly the World Bank report paints a relatively glowing picture of Bhutan and expresses surprise at finding a 'well-managed' economy and a much higher than expected overall standard of living, despite the retention of the traditional way of life. This is a reflection on the view from the top! Nevertheless, not all indicators are so positive, of course - for instance, the infant mortality rate. But this rate itself may require closer scrutiny. If the total population of Bhutan is not known with any degree of precision, it is unlikely that a far more socially sensitive figure, such as infant mortality, will be accurate. In any case, such rates are themselves heavily influenced by cultural practices, as for example, in attitudes to handicapped babies. More important perhaps, infant mortality rates can be lowered dramatically when women (through village committees) have more power.

In the Indian Himalayan regions, women's movements of the Chipko type have been a marked and well-publicized feature of recent history. This, however, has been less a sub-cultural social fact, in the sense of the preservation of traditions, rather than an assertion of power at the grass roots. It is populism rather than traditionalism, with many political ramifications, notably a strategy to remain in the mountain regions and to confront the outside interventionist forces. Nevertheless, it is firmly based on a very old traditional philosophy which also gave birth to the Gandhian non-violent protest movement and the forest satyagrahas - organizations for resolving conflicts by non-violent refusal to co-operate - of the last half-century of British rule (Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, 1986b). As mentioned earlier, the current situation in Arunachal Pradesh, and the eastern Indian Himalaya in general, is unclear because of difficulty of access and lack of reliable data. It is clear, however, that the entire area is in a condition of serious political unrest, with demands in the Darjeeling Himalaya for autonomy from the State of West Bengal and a large and growing population movement from the Brahmaputra plains of Assam into the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. This latter development is particularly interesting because it is the converse of migration patterns typical of most of the Himalaya where people are moving onto the lowlands from the Middle Mountain belt. Goswami (1985, and personal communication, October 1987) presents a strong case for recent increases in sedimentation and annual flooding in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam compared to the long-term (past two to three million years) average. This he attributes to present-day rapid uplift of the mountain system, recent earthquake activity, and the high susceptibility of geological formations to erosion by running water under a monsoonal rainfall regime. Of particular relevance to the topic under discussion in this chapter, these geophysical processes are prompting a significant migration trend into the mountains, presumably with increased pressures on the mountain landscapes and accelerated socio-economic and political conflict.

We can only sum up by returning to our opening questions: (1) the subsistence farmer does, indeed, lie at the core of the Theory of Himalayan Environmental Degradation and also at the core of what we prefer to introduce as an entirely differently structured Himalayan Problem; (2) misconception and misunderstanding are rife, in large part because of absence or unreliability of data and the unrepresentative character of the data that are available - there are, indeed, as many 'sacred cows' that must be confronted as in the 'physical' sector of the Theory; and (3) resolution of the Himalayan Problem will depend heavily upon much better problem definition than hitherto has been achieved, together with the introduction of multiple approaches to solution identification and implementation to match local-felt needs.

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