Thousands Join to Honour Ghasiyaris – the Struggling Women of Uttarakhand

January 9, 2016

Report by Chetna Andolan

(Received on Jan 6)

Today, at Kotiyada, Chamiyala, Tehri Garhwal, more than three thousand people joined a public meeting in honour of ghashiyaris – women who cut grass in the hills of Uttarakhand. These women have been at the forefront of every struggle for justice in the State. Following a month long competition held across Bilangana block, Reja Devi of Amarsar, Basar was awarded the “best ecologist award”. The meeting was addressed by intellectuals and leaders from across Uttarakhand.

The competition was organised to honour and highlight the skills of ghasiyaris. Participants were evaluated on the amount of grass that they were able to cut in two minutes; the quality of the grass that was cut; and their knowledge and experience of the forest and its ecology. Any person who injured themselves, pushed another or cut plants other than grass was disqualified. The first round of the competition was held across 112 villages in which more than 1000 people participated. The second round was held at the nyay panchayat level (across ten nyay panchayats). The final round was held today, in which the thirty finalists competed on a patch of grass in the forest of Kotiyada village.

The winners were Reja Devi, in first place, who was given a silver crown and a cheque for one lakh; Yashoda Devi, of Mald village, who was given a smaller crown and a cheque for Rs. 51,000; and Avali Devi, of Anuwa village, who was given the smallest crown and a cheque for Rs. 21,000. The next ten runners up were given silver coins worth Rs. 10,000 each. The remaining seventeen finalists received silver coins worth Rs. 5,000 each. All the finalists were called on stage and honoured.

Photos of the competition, the meeting and the winners are available at our website, http://chetnamovement.wordpress.com. Videos will be uploaded shortly.

The meeting was addressed by senior intellectuals and leaders, including the famous Garhwali singer Narendra Singh Negi, the playwright Shirish Dobhal, the famous ghazal singer Bali Singh Cheema (whose songs are known across India), the editor of Nainital Samachar Rajiv Lochan Sah, the women’s leader Kamala Pant, the writer and Chetna Andolan leader Trepan Singh Chauhan, and several others.

All the speakers focused on how the State and Central governments are systematically destroying the livelihoods and rights of Uttarakhandis, particularly their right to use, protect and manage their forests (under the Forest Rights Act and otherwise). The struggle for community controlled micro hydroelectricity projects and for the rights of women were also discussed.

All expenses for the meeting and competition were borne from contributions and donations, the vast majority of them from the area. No assistance was taken from any agency or any government department. The accounts of the competition and the meeting will be posted on our website within fifteen days.