This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Women Tales from Tehri-Garhwal

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Meenal Tatpati:

The summer of 2010 was an especially exciting time for me when as a part of a course organized by the Centre of Science and Environment, Delhi we were taken to Tehri-Garhwal, Uttarakhand to visit villages which transformed the way the world looks at environmental activism and conservation. Names like Uttarkashi, Birahi, Srinagar, Makku, and Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary keep appearing on the pages of my field diary when I flip through it. It was here that I truly started collecting experience, inspiration and stories related to my educational field.

I feel like I’ve been re-visiting Uttarakhand off and on through Ramachandra Guha’s thesis, “Unquiet Woods”. I had read it earlier this year for my Master’s thesis, and I couldn’t wait to read it again since the Garhwal I experienced last year was exactly like it has been described by him in 1992. Well, figuratively at least, excluding the major dam sites that seem to interrupt the picturesque themes at every corner and the huge stone quarries that raise their ugly heads at every second turn along the highways and also not to metion the general mayhem such projects tend to leave in their wake. But it still has the same sereneness, same people and the same money-order economies.

All the villages I travelled to in Uttarakhand have one particular thing that I noticed right away. There are no men! You see women of all ages, they work at home and on farms, they tend cattle, look after the family. I was so riveted by this that I eventually wrote my entire article on the women there.

Historical records show that women in Garhwal had to assume responsibilities of both the fields and the homes. The men were generally lazy, needing help in fields and considering it only right that the wife does all the chores at home too! They would gather near village squares and gossip or share a smoke. Also, in the past decades, due to increased education as well as migration of men to cities and nearby towns and their traditional role in the Indian army, men in these villages are not really the ones who look after hearth and fields.

The fact that the women here have to take up a lot also speaks volumes of their courage and determination. They particularly know a lot about their forests as well as governance initiatives because they have to deal with almost everything themselves! The older women I came across were deeply attached to the basic natural resources that are available here. Many of them were witnesses to the total destruction of their forests in the past and are protective about their resources.

Mahila Mangal Dal at Reni

When we visited Makku village in Rudraprayag district, the head of one of the largest Van Panchayats, Manorama Devi who is about 53 and was witness to the total destruction of her village forest in 1985, spoke to me for a few minutes. She highlighted the fact that there is electricity but no hospital….that the weather is definitely changing and that it has progressively warmed over the years. She didn’t speak a lot, like most younger women there but was disappointed with the fact that the youngsters didn’t want to stay on in the villages and that the city attracted them.

When I asked her why the forest was so important to her, she replied with such simplicity, “Agar Van chaley jayenge toh hum kya karenge?” (What will I do if the forests are not there)? Almost as if the forests were her life…

Manorama Devi at Makku

In the same village the younger women didn’t want to collect forest produce all their life. They wanted roads, education for their children, to stay alone with the husband and children.

They may be right in their own way, but if the Unity that was the cornerstone of these villages is gone, will they be able to sustain their forests like they have for so many years? At the same time, as a urban dweller, I realized that I had no right to ask this question to them because I hardly have to face the wrath of nature and work so closely with it as they have been doing, since their birth.

In Sari, I was struggling to climb a pretty steep hill with nothing but my cell phone and a notebook when a tiny lady with the bamboo basket on her back, full of fresh, sweet smelling fodder came bounding down right in front of me.

She smiled very sweetly for a picture. I asked her if I could lift her load and see if I can carry it. She obliged and when I put it on I almost fell over backwards! That thing was heavy! And carrying it either up or down the hill looked like serious work!

Another woman I encountered at Guptakashi was taking the load to her house uphill! When asked where she lived she said I needn’t bother to come because I would not be able to breathe where she stayed! She pointed to her house and it wasn’t even visible because it was covered by fog!

I was amazed at the strength these tiny women had. And the unique sense of humour is probably important to sustain them here.

At Reni, Bali Devi had me mesmerized. This woman was the epitome of a perfect grandma….wrinkled skin, rosy cheeks, naughty sparkling slits for eyes, so deliciously wizened! I was enthralled as I sat by her feet and listened to her Chipko reminiscences.
She told us stories about Chipko and slammed Sunderlal Bahuguna as a Thekedar, probably brought on by the fact that Bahuguna, years after Chipko actually became a strict conservationist! She also told us of the love and respect the women who were a part of Chipko feel towards Chandi Prasad Bhatt and his people centric view of conservation.

She was apparently happy with the eager audience, so she gladly recited many Chipko songs for us…

“Chal didi, chal bhayya
Sab milkey jungle bacholo”

“Char din ki saheli mat bani rehna
Umar bhar ki saheli bano, jungle ki raksha karo”

This Bali Devi is recognized as the Global face of Chipko now, having been to Kenya to meet Mathai and was supposed to be a close associate of Gaura Devi, the famous woman activist from Reni. Later as we walked down towards the bus, we were told that she was an imposter that the real Bali Devi was long dead and the village was totally against her! Yet, the simplicity with which she recited the songs and talked to us about the forests was truly endearing.

With Bali Devi at Reni

The most striking woman I met was in Tolma, a village in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, and ironically I don’t know how she looks because I met her at night and it was pitch dark!

She was the wife of a man whose flex poster, announcing his candidacy for Gram Sabha was plastered all over the village .My friend and I wanted to meet this man who looked like he could tell us something about the village.

So we waited for him near his home one evening. We were told that he had gone down to Joshimath and would return in the evening.
Poonam, his wife, came home with their cattle at about 6 and made us saccharine sweet tea. Barely 30, she had two sons and a husband who was never home. She gets up at four in the morning, goes to her fields and comes back only by 6. She also knits woolen caps and sells them to tourists. This brave soul was almost attacked by a Himalayan bear once and has never gone beyond Joshimath, the village downhill where the entire village of Tolma shifts in winter. Her husband, who is a trekking instructor frequently, travels all across India. The walls of their home are covered with pictures of her husband with celebrities he’s met. This woman is by far the closest I’ve come to the description of the term we city women use: – “working woman”!

The loneliness of her house and existence and the amount of respect she had for her husband as she proudly showed us his trekking gear and the tool-shed he was building touched me a lot.

Simple lives and simple minds, yet incredibly strong and individualistic women. The more I travel to rural India, the more I realize that women are the back —bone of our economy as well as the epitome of ecological warriors.

They have to battle nature’s wrath, which we, as urban dwellers rarely have to face, yet their lives are linked to nature and its many intricacies.

More power to these women.

Meenal Tatpati is a Student and Environ-“mental”

Photos by Serena Thangjam


Guha R; 1991; The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalayas; Oxford University Press; New Delhi.
Mitra A;1993; Chipko: an unfinished mission; Down To Earth, Vol 1 Issue 19930430; New Delhi

You must be to comment.
  1. invincible

    agree with you that the women of uttrakhand know their responsibilities they do all works from home to fields…
    but the absence of men is becoz the get migrated to cities for a better work..
    one thing which we should not forget is that many men form uttrakhand join army and protect our country…

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Ritwik Trivedi

By SGT University

By Richa Kumari

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below