I hear it all the time. How lucky I am to be able to live in the mountains. With my pack of dogs and brood of hens. Eating what we grow with our own hands. Where the sky is blue and the air is fresh and crisp. And, where we still sleep under blankets in May.
All this is true. And, it probably explains why Stephen and I got over our erstwhile busy Delhi lives pretty quickly. But there’s another – less palatable – side to life in the mountains. Alongside the stunning views of the snow-capped mountains comes a deeply entrenched problem of alcoholism.
Himalayan Haat works with ladies from the neighbouring villages. One common thread that seems to run through all their lives is this: at least one male member in their families is an alcoholic. A husband, a brother, a father-in-law, a son, a nephew.
Last year, there was a wedding in the neighbouring village. The ladies who attended one of the events told us that the men were so drunk that they failed to make any arrangement for food for their guests. While this made great fuel for typical village gossip, I couldn’t help thinking how helpless and frustrated it would have been for the sober hosts, namely the women of the house.
A month or so later, the newlywed young man passed away because of his drinking problem. He was 21. He left behind a grieving mother and a young widow who was delirious when she heard the tragic news.
I can go on:
Ramu* is a huge blessing to our farm. Not only is he incredibly hardworking, but he genuinely loves farming. Often, we see him working in the fields beyond his hours just because he enjoys it so much. However, every month or so, Ramu disappears for a few days. Sometimes, he’s found lying drunk on the road and needs to be carried home.
Ganesh* is another amazing worker on the farm. Last year, he got into an altercation with his twenty-something son – both were under the influence of alcohol. His son left him with a black eye and a bruised ego. The boy took off with all his father’s clothes and wages.
Nitu* is one of our Himalayan Haat ladies. Her husband has a steady government job. He’s mostly posted out of town but sends her no money for expenses. We all know where it goes.
Then there’s Sunita*, another Himalayan Haat lady who is a mother of five. Her husband would blow up all his money on booze and gambling, leaving her to run her home by selling milk from her small pahadi cow. If that was not bad enough, he would come home drunk and lash out at her (both verbally and physically) without provocation.
Sunita has been working with us for about a year and a half now. I remember my first meeting with a meek and distraught woman. Today, she’s a happier, more confident lady who is able to send her daughter to college and who takes great pride in the products she creates. Yes, she has benefitted from the financial independence Himalayan Haat gives her. But, more importantly, she has a new sense of security and community.
Women need to stick together. Unfortunately, these ladies find it very hard to rise above village politics and petty gossip to stand up for each other. We’re hoping that Himalayan Haat can create a counter-culture where women are encouraged to support each other.
In fact, a women’s protest in Pauri against alcohol shops opening in the centre of town showed us all that this is possible! In April this year, women from many villages around Pauri gathered together and succeeded in getting three alcohol shops sealed. Many of our Himalayan Haat ladies also participated in this protest. They were so excited to see the tangible results of #girlpower and #womenmovements.
There’s a lot left to be desired, but things are changing. We’ll keep you updated.
* Names changed.