“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Women in Leadership. That’s what am I supposed to write here. I could have chosen to write about the leading banker women of India. Or the former Indian Presidents and Prime Ministers. But that’s like repeating the same stories over and over again.
Not that their stories shouldn’t be told but we need to hear new stories. Stories that are waiting to be told.
The story of Gaddi Womenfolk of Himachal Pradesh.
Gaddis are not nomads. They are real family
men people with real families residing along the both sides of the Great Dhauladhar Range of Himachal Pradesh. They are a transhumant tribe who move livestock seasonally between the planes of Punjab and the mighty Himalayas of Himachal and Uttarakhand.
The menfolk take care of their cattle. The womenfolk take care of everything else. Literally!
And everything doesn’t mean just looking after the ageing parents. Or taking kids to school. It also means taking care of plantations spread over a vast area, sometimes over the entire mountain. Cash crops, domestic agriculture, all included. Also, trading goat milk in the nearby markets.
The gaddi womenfolk stay back while the men move out with livestock. And when they are gone, they are gone for months. Sometimes, as long as six months. Summers are spent in the mountains while winters are spent in the planes of Punjab or Kangra.
Either way, irrespective of the season, men of the house, are always out.
And this tradition is in practice since times immemorial.
Meanwhile, the household is entirely managed by women. Last year, while returning from a trek, I met a 65 year old lady 3400 meters above the MSL (12000 feet).
She got her two grandchildren admitted into a government polytechnic college and after the job was done, she was going back home. All the way on foot by herself. A 65 year old lady walking her little girls to school. She told me that she arranged for everything, from getting attested copies of certificates to finding a good hostel room for her kids, on her own.
And no, it was not an ordinary walk. She walked 25 km in one day, 12000 feet above the sea level, so that her kids could study further. That is leadership, that is empowerment. An illiterate lady going out of her way to get her children educated.
There are numerous such stories in the mountains. Womenfolk are not restricted to household work in the Himalayas. They take up the field job, the house job, the management job, and they have been doing pretty well.
Why else would the system of ‘all men moving out’ be still in place, till date? In the Himalayas, #everywomanisaleader
The literacy rate among gaddis’ is not very high, relatively speaking. And a good number of families are illiterate too. But that hasn’t stopped them from trusting their women with responsibilities. That’s how the process of empowerment must start. With trust.
These tribes from the remote Himalayas have been trusting their women since ages. It has been on record said by many renowned authors and even the State Government that women share more responsibilities than their men counterparts in these areas.
And a visit to these villages, and your cynicism about my claims will go out of the window.
And what better way to celebrate your work than drink self brewed whiskey. Men and women folk drink and dance together after every crop cycle has been completed. Nobody objectifies women if they drink or dance in the public.
Does drinking empower women? No, it doesn’t.
What empowers them is the belief that they can do all those things, which supposedly are meant for men only. Drinking, like working in the fields, is a part and parcel for womenfolk in the mountains. A visit to a Himalayan village during the festival times will make you understand what am I referring to here.
They dine and wine together. And that’s why the land of gaddis’ is aptly known as the land of Festivals, Joy, and Infinite Happiness.
Feeling empowered comes from within. Education is certainly an aid to it but education alone cannot lead to empowerment. A substantial number of highly educated women still take insults in the form of domestic violence, repeated illegal abortions for want of a male child and dowry deaths, unable to free themselves from the shackles of a dominating society.
It is said that generally women reach their full potential only when they have encouraging fathers, supportive husbands and understanding families and here these tribal women hold the front all by themselves with their men gone for months together.