A Land Of Hardy Mountain Women Who Make Light Of Their Harsh Life Realities

Posted: April 23, 2018

Google recently paid tribute to the Chipko movement with a Google doodle, but what do we really know about the lives of the mountain women who drove it?

When we think of mountains what images do that invoke? A nice holiday in the mist, Maggi at a pit stop, coffee at a cool corner, some treks, lovely pine lined drives, and opening your eyes in the morning to delectable snow clad peaks.

But have we ever dwelt upon the mountain women? Himalayas run from the north to the east of our country providing a formidable frontier against the cold winds from the north. They prevent what could have been a lot harder for Indians, but on these arduous mountains dwell the most indomitable breed of women – the Himalayan mountain women.

Have you ever taken a chance to see the sunrise on Tiger Hill at 4am in Sikkim? Well as your jeep chugs ahead to reach the hilltop to get glimpses of a dawn kissed Kunchenjunga, you will see the strong mountain women carrying tall flasks of tea to sell at the Tiger hill. Should you get to talk to them, you would know that they start at 3am to walk up to Tiger Hill, in order to earn a paltry sum of money by selling tea. The walk is all uphill, lined by pine and juniper forests, and is often frequented by leopards and hyenas. But putting their life at peril each day, they, in all confidence, start their march up on the hill with their economy paraphernalia.

Such is life. But do the mountain women speak of this by way of remorse of regret? No. They state that as a matter of fact. A fact of their everyday existence in the mountains, wrought in adventure, gumption, courage, and a never-say-die spirit.

Recently Google payed a tribute to the Chipko Movement through a doodle on the mountain women who were front runners for the cause of climate and were the greatest votaries of the environmental protection. It was these women, like Gaura, Suraksha, Sudeshna and many more whose name is not in any record, who fought against the deforestation back in 1973, when environmental concerns were not as fashionable to talk about as now. It was an era when one wasn’t posing with the tree trunk to post a picture on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, account.

However, the irony is that even through Google spoke of it, they won’t know as they have not been the beneficiaries of the so called development in their domain. The trees continue to be cut, the glaciers continue to melt, men folk continue to set out for work in the plains, sometimes for good, and they continue to find new reasons and courage to hold fort back in their mountainous habitats. They still stay back in harmony with nature, taking the ups and downs of the mountain life in their stride.

Historically, out-migration has been a way of life for mountain men. With small land holdings, most of them are forced to seek employment outside, based on their merit and qualifications. Traditionally mountain men have been rich feeders of the uniformed services, hotel industry, and lower clerical jobs with islands of great achievements once in a while. As they move out what remains behind are the mountain women who have on them the onus of maintaining that link with the mountain habitat and culture; and also to raise their children and fend for them.

Such is this formidable breed of mountain women who have made rich contributions in terms of being the best climate warriors.

In the harshest of climates, many third generation out-migrants whose families still dwell in the mountains have to toil harder to bear life with its eroded social fabric. With generations of families out-migrated wholly or partially, it’s the mountain women who have to pay the price. It could be as simple as living in absence of her partner, to as tough at maintaining a semblance of order in almost ghost turned villages.

Constant out-migration has also impacted the development of these mountainous areas primarily inhabited by women. The investment on the mountain development deludes focus and locus often due to lack of a strong voice to air their needs and demands. But for those who continue to  remain there in their mountain villages, it is a challenge to gather amenities which make for a basic life.

To many such mountain women we today pay rich tributes and commit to do our bit!

Image source: By Nancy Collins [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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