Pahari - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Pahari economy is based on subsistence agriculture, engaged in by landowning high castes (Brahmans and Kshatriyas). Extended joint Families cultivate terraced fields that produce two crops per year. The winter crop, primarily wheat and barley, is planted in October-November and harvested in March-April; the rainy-season crop, primarily millets but also including substantial amounts of amaranth, maize, dry and wet rice (where irrigation permits), and a variety of lentils and vegetables, is planted in April-May and harvested in September-October. Fields are kept productive by intensive fertilizing with animal manure and systematic fallowing. Milk and milk products, along with potatoes, ginger, and some vegetables, are produced for sale as well as for consumption where markets are accessible. Apricots are a cash crop in some areas, and near Kotgarh, north of Simla, apples have also become so. Opium is another, notably in Himachal Pradesh.

Buffalo and cattle are kept both for the milk they produce and for the manure. In Sirkanda, agricultural Households averaged three to four buffalo and sixteen to eighteen cattle. In villages more remote from markets, fewer of these livestock are kept. Buffalo produce more and richer milk than cows, but they are harder to maintain because they eat more, must be kept well watered and cool, and unlike cattle must be stall-fed and watered because they are regarded as too clumsy to fend for themselves. Most highly prized of all livestock are the small but sturdy Pahari bullocks used as draft animals: there are usually one to three pairs per household (depending upon the size of landholdings). Goats and in some areas sheep are kept largely for sale but also for domestic sacrifice (and subsequent consumption). About half of Sirkanda households keep an average of fifteen of these animals per household. Horses or mules, one or rarely two, are kept by about a third of the landed families in Sirkanda, for transport of products to and from markets.

Industrial Arts. What might be called "industrial arts" are engaged in only for domestic use, not sale or export. Low castes of artisans are to be found in most regions if not in most villages: smiths (blacksmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths), carpenters, lathe turners, masons, weavers, tailors, rope makers, shoemakers. Traditionally they did their work not by the piece and not for cash but in the well-known South Asian jajmani relationship, as clients to a landed patron who compensated them for their service and loyalty with agricultural produce. Where no specialist caste is available to supply a required product or service, another low caste will generally be pressed into service or the high-caste community members will take the job. As transportation has enhanced contact with markets, piecework and cash purchases have impinged on this system, to the advantage of the consumers and the disadvantage of the providers (who are rendered superfluous by the availability of commercial products).

Trade. See preceding subheadings under "Economy."

Division of Labor. The fundamental divisions of Pahari labor are by sex and caste. The high castes are landowning farmers who do all of the work required to grow and process crops and to husband domestic animals. The low castes are their hereditary landless servants. The latter are defined as artisans, as is suggested by their derogatory-descriptive appellation, shilpkar (literally, "handworker"). They include, in addition to the artisan specialties described above, service specialties such as musician, entertainer, and barber. Service castes are required as well to perform any domestic service their patrons may demand of them. Among themselves, they exchange their special products and services. The one highcaste specialty is that of the Brahman priest. Most people of this caste are farmers like their Kshatriya village mates, but some men—often only one in an extended family or in a village—specialize in priestly activities. These men tend to rituals—annual or periodic rites, life-cycle rites, horoscopes, temple worship, etc—for their fellow high castes in the same jajmani relationship to those they service as is found among the artisan castes—except that here the Brahman server may be more accurately regarded as the patron and the person served as the client.

The sexual division of labor varies somewhat by caste. High-caste men and women share the agricultural labor, but men alone do the tasks entailing the use of draft animals (plowing, harrowing) and sow the seed, while women prepare the manure to be used as fertilizer, winnow and handmill the grain, and handle all phases in the preparation of food for eating. Men build and maintain houses and other structures and the terraces, transport goods into and out of the village, and handle the trading and all dealings with outsiders. Women care for the children, do the housekeeping, and handle most of the day-to-day maintenance and provisioning of persons and animals that farming households require. Among the service castes, the division of labor is the same except that men do most or all of the activities that their occupational specialty requires (essentially substituting such activities for the exclusively male agricultural activities of the high castes). Low-caste women perform a few special tasks to support their menfolk's caste specialties, but for the most part they have the same tasks and responsibilities as high-caste women: they process and prepare the food, care for the children, keep house, and do much of the care of animals.

It is important to note that the position of women in Pahari society is distinctly superior to the position of women in plains society. Both women and men are aware and proud of this feature of their society. Pahari women play an essential and recognized role in almost all aspects of the economy. They are not secluded, they are not limited in their movements within and around the village, and they participate fully in ritual and religious activities, except those reserved for priests and those which take place outside the village in which they live. They also participate fully in recreational activities including traditional dancing. Their marriage brings a bride-price to their family rather than costing a dowry. They can divorce and remarry as easily as men. Widows are not constrained by widowhood and routinely remarry. Pahari women are noticeably more outspoken and self-confident in the presence of others, including strangers, as compared to women of the plains. As the culture of the politically, Economically, educationally, and numerically dominant plains society increasingly impinges upon Pahari people, their worldview is inevitably affected. Sanskritic standards of the plains distort or replace Pahari customs, to the point that not only plainspeople but expatriate Paharis as well become critical, even ashamed, of Pahari traditions. Thus traditional Pahari religious and ritual activities, which are matters of pride for many, have become matters of shame and denial for those seeking the approval of plainspeople. Among such customs are animal (especially buffalo) sacrifice, bride-price, Marriage, female-initiated divorce, widow and divorcée remarriage, polygyny, polyandry (where it occurs), female singing and dancing in public—in fact, almost all expressions of female freedom of action, options, participation, and assertiveness in social life. Division of labor by age and familial status (e.g., daughter vs. daughter-in-law) also exists but harbors few surprises for those familiar with Indian society, and in any case it cannot be examined within the limitations of this space.


Land Tenure. This topic is too complex to discuss in detail here. Suffice it to repeat that traditionally only the highcaste (Brahman and Kshatriya) categories were allowed to own land. Independent India has abolished this rule, and efforts have been made to provide land to the landless, but the overwhelming preponderance of low-caste people still own very little and very poor land, if any at all. The problem of bonded labor and "debt slavery" among low castes remains endemic in many Pahari areas.

In the vicinity of my research, there is very little in the way of sharecropping, renting, absentee landlordism, and the like. These are true extended joint-family subsistence farms, worked by the members of the owner families with the assistance of artisan castes and an occasional hired servant. But in other Pahari regions one can discover instances of virtually every conceivable alternative system of ownership and subsidiary rights to the land, as well as every manifestation of subinfeudation and exploitation.

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