Academic journal article Canadian Woman Studies

Hidden Hardships: Water, Women's Health, and Livelihood Struggles in Rural Garhwal, India

Academic journal article Canadian Woman Studies

Hidden Hardships: Water, Women's Health, and Livelihood Struggles in Rural Garhwal, India

Article excerpt

Tire d'un travail ethnographique sur Uttarakhand, en Indes, cet article examine les luttes pour la survie des femmes vivant dans les montagnes dans une perspective politique et ecologique. Leurs commentaires et leurs experiences mettent en evidence les aspects genres de la pauvrete et des inegalites dans ces villages des Himalaya ainsi que le stress lie a Teau qui ne fait qu'exacerber leurs miseres.

Hidden Hardships and Growing Disparities in a Rising India

The contemporary moment in many pockets of India, often the ones in which educated urbanites live, is marked by market euphoria. India--with its high savings rates, low mortgage vulnerability, and growing numbers of educated, tech-savvy youth--has been proclaimed in many spheres to be well on its way to achieving the dream of becoming an economic superpower. As critics have pointed out, however, the boons and booms of India's new wealth and opportunities are not evenly distributed. Life is particularly hard for small-scale agriculturalists. Some estimate that 150,000 farmers committed suicide in India from the early 1990s to 2006 due to the crushing weight of agricultural and medical debts that they could not repay (Newman). Those who comment on the horrific problem of farmer suicides point out that many agriculturalists feel marginalized and dejected in a country where the spoils of economic success are dangled just out of reach and that the decision to take one's life is a result of rural disenfranchisement. While phenomena such as farmer suicides must remain front and center to push the needed policy correctives, I would suggest that there are many more everyday struggles for survival that take place out of the public eye which also merit attention. This article is an effort to examine the difficulties that mountain women in the Garhwal Himalaya of India's Uttarakhand state experience as a means to bring such struggles further into the limelight. I argue that the challenges that women face are complicated by ecological change and by development projects that transform the water balance. Towards the end of the article, I use political ecology as a way to add conceptual clarity to the dynamics at hand.

To orient the reader, some background to the challenges of everyday life in Garhwal is needed. Geographically, Garhwal is located in India's northwestern mountains near to the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in a hilly topography that experiences tectonic activity as the late blooming Himalaya continues to shift and settle. It is through this terrain that the first stretch of the Ganges River, known regionally as the Bhagirathi tributary or the Bhagirathi Ganges, flows. The river emerges from a retreating glacial source known as the Gangotri Glacier. Along with melting ice formations, the ecological balance of the region, and of the greater Himalaya, is changing rapidly due to substantial variations in precipitation, a growing lack of potable water in many locations, and the sudden cloud bursts that occasionally floods inhabited riverbanks. An increasing number of contested development and hydroelectric projects are also adding to the water stress scenarios (which include too little as well as too much water).

In Garhwal's Uttarkashi District, for instance, the 260-metre (or 855 foot) Tehri dam caused numerous changes to the water balance of the region when it was completed in 2006. The dam created a 45-kilometre reservoir up the Bhagirathi Ganges that instigated the loss of some of the valley's most fertile and water abundant land. It also displaced up to 100,000 people, many of whom were forced to eke out a living in unfamiliar uphill terrain or move to cities such as Dehradun where they experienced social vulnerability, physical insecurity, and feelings of dejection and cultural loss (Kedia). While the displaced struggled to adjust, downstream cities began to enjoy the benefits of the dam's water diversion and hydroelectricity generation. …

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