Colonialism and Development: Reinventing 'Tradition' and Gendered Work in Kumaon, India
Fracchia, Elena M.
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Fracchia, Elena M.
The forests of the Kumaon Himalayas in northern India contain a wide variety of living materials essential to the subsistence production of the people. Women and men alike have a strong sense of history connecting them to the forests and the life it provides. However, during colonial times women took on the bulk of the work associated with gathering and maintaining these forests while their male counterparts were forced out of the villages to earn an income in the cities. Over time, women adjusted to male members of the family being gone by taking on large, burdensome workloads to maintain the household. This reformation of the division of labor became the new “tradition” the villagers lived by. As women did this survival work, they also created a community and network of support for each other while they worked together to gather fuel, fodder, food and even medicine from the forest areas. The women preserved and passed down knowledge through oral traditions, giving them a complete and highly accurate understanding of how to maintain the forestland. However, social structures of a male-dominated society have kept women, and particularly their knowledge, out of the public realm. Though women could be helpful to policy formation, their participation and presence is rendered invisible through a series of cultural barriers (i.e. time constraints, gender-segregated society, male dominated families, etc). This research considers the effects of current development projects in Kumaoni culture, particularly as they affect women. Development discourse is addressed in relation to projects and the allocation of resources relating to both developing areas and women. By examining women’s work, knowledge and participation in community activities, I examine issues regarding the outcomes of British colonial rule, the breadth of wisdom which is unused and dismissed by cultural norms, and the extent to which women’s “traditional” work is hampered by public policies.