Chhoti si gudhiya ki lambi kahani…

Declining sex ratio in the hills is raising an alarm as girl students are vanishing from primary schools, reports Rakesh Lohumi

The declining sex ratio in the hill state is manifesting itself in more boys studying in schools. Decreasing number of girls in schools according to a recent report by the State Institute of Educational Management and Training, on the status of elementary education, based on data for the year 2005-06 raises alarm for the state. The report shows that boys heavily outnumber girls in schools.

The gender parity index (GPI) for the state stands at 0.91 (point 91) with a significant difference between rural and urban areas on one hand and government and private institutions on the other. The GPI at primary level (Class I to V) is 0.92 in rural areas and 0.78 in urban areas. Similarly, at the upper primary level (Class V to VIII) it is 0.91 in rural areas and 0.84 in the urban areas. The GPI for all government schools is 0.96 and only 0.66 for all private schools.

Tribal districts

Only two tribal districts, Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur, have a GPI of more than one. It is as low as 0.85 in Una, 0.87 in Hamirpur and 0.88 in Chamba and Kangra districts. The GPI at the primary level is still lower at 0.83 for Una, 0.85 for Hamirpur and 0.87 for Kangra. The main reason for lower GPI at primary level is that there is a lower population of school going girls in these areas, a result of declining sex ratio. While the overall sex ratio has declined to 968 in the state, it has plunged alarmingly to 896 in the age group of 0-6 years according to the 2001 census. Kangra has the lowest sex ratio of 836, followed by Una (837) and Hamirpur (850), while tribal districts, which have the highest GPI, also have a high sex ratio of 979 for Kinnaur and 961 for Lahaul- Spiti.

While the enrolment of girls in Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur is above 50 per cent, it is only 46 percent in Una and Hamirpur districts and around 47 per cent in Chamba, Bilaspur, Solan and Kangra districts. Since the trends of enrolment are almost the same at the primary and upper primary level, lower percentage of girls is due to the decline in sex ratio in the lower age groups in these districts.

Primary classes

The report also reveals that the enrolment in the government schools is decreasing. This is despite the fact that more and more new government schools are being opened every year. The share of government schools in enrolment up to the elementary level, which was 87.70 per cent in 2003-04, has come down to 84.75 in 2005-06. Obviously, the people believe that the quality of teaching was better in private schools.

The overall enrolment up to upper primary level has dwindled further over the past one year. It has started declining even in districts like Shimla and Kinnaur, which registered a marginal increase last year. In all nine out of the total 12 districts showed a declining trend, while there was no appreciable change in two districts. The enrolment in government schools came down form 5,89,741 in 2003-04 to 5,67,734 in 2004-05 and to 5,43,805 last year. The decline for all schools, including private institutions, was marginal from 6,66,941 to 6,60,960 over the three-year period.

The teacher-student ratio is as high as one is to 20 as against the norm of one is to 40 and in Lahual-Spiti there was a teacher for every six students. Yet the quality of education has not reached the acceptable standards. Obviously, merely opening more schools and recruiting more teachers has not helped. The government must take steps to improve the management. It must have a rigid transfer policy to ensure minimum fixed tenure of teachers as round the year shifting of staff affects teaching. The deployment of teachers should be rationalised and they should be made accountable. 



Roshni Johar

Himachal’s sheer scenic charm has permeated into the artistic consciousness of paharis, evoking their talent. And ‘Kokila of Himachali Folk Songs,’ Sharda Sharma combines lilt and lore in her melodies that unfold hill culture’s myriad forms portraying, weddings, seasons, festivals, love, separation, joy, etc. of simple paharis who live in complete harmony with nature.

Hailing from Theog’s Dhamandri village, her passion for singing, showcased in school’s concerts. Her 17 year-old career took wings when singer Hira Singh Kanwar took her to Mandi for a recording, to sing in a chorus for his own song. But destiny willed a different path for her. For during audition, when the music director recognized her talent, she stepped out as a solo singer, a far cry from a chorus crooner. Soon in 1990, she sang her first solo ‘Nilima,’ an instant hit, on every pahari’s lips. Tracing her identity to it, Sharda was reborn as ‘Nilima Girl.’ Another hit Niru Chaale Ghumde followed.

Since then, self-taught Sharda has recorded 24 audio cassettes, 6 video CDs plus several live shows with never-ending encores in Shimla’s Summer Festivals, Chamba’s Minjar fair, Kullu’s Dusehra celebrations, Rampur’s Lavi ka Mela, Mandi’s Shivratri fair as well as at Renuka, Kinnaur, Palampur, Jogindernagar, Kangra, Hamirpur, Theog, etc. often with nephew Kuldip Sharma on stage. Now she’s crossed Himachal’s borders to sing in A.I.R’S Jalandhar, Jammu and Bikaner stations as well as their stage shows. In Jalandhar she recalls singing with Punjab’s Nightingale late Surinder Kaur, applying make-up on her too. Sharda’s lent her voice to Uttaranchali melodies like Papo laage goya tera.

What’s more, talented Sharda has composed 15 songs. In Chandigarh for a recording session, while bathing, she suddenly asked for paper n’ pen. And it took her only 10 minutes to write Gore Gore Chhotua! At past midnight, she composed Aaja Tu Aaja After the Kargil war, Sharda wrote a song especially for faujis, which is featured in recent video CD Meri Tamanna (T-series), filmed on Fagu Top and Naldehra, 22 kms. beyond Shimla. Another composition Chhotu Diwana is due shortly. Says Vijay Singh Kaushal her husband who manages their Melody Troupe, ‘A song’s opening line must carry weight, never sag in middle and end on a right note.’

She’s very particular that in her video CDs, Himachali culture e.g. costume rezta-sadri-datu is worn, disapproving of performing traditional folk dance ‘nati’ in trousers. ‘Lets not tamper with unique hill culture,’ she opines.

When her 80 year-old father-in-law, Late Shri Surat Singh, himself a famed Karyala (theatre) artiste learnt that Sharda will sing on A.I.R., tears of joy streamed down his face. He had said, “Bitiya has achieved what I couldn’t do in my life.” Sharda humbly considers this a tribute to her talent that triumphs with morning riyaz and pranayam.

Sharda has sung in unknown remote niches of Himachal’s valleys especially Upper Mahasu where paharis have welcomed her in their hearts and households. Indeed, her melodies continue to echo in hills and beyond, as music transcends all barriers.



Shimla’s Jennyrickshaw
by Shriniwas Joshi

Jennyrickshaw, borrowed from Japan is the original name of a rickshaw. Japan saw its first ‘Jennyrickshaw’ in 1868-70. It was pronounced as jin-ricki-sha signifying ‘Man-Strength-Cart’. In Shimla, a rickshaw-man’s strength was to develop ‘winds’ in the chest to pull the cart in deep ascents and descents and his ability to run in step with other pullers. Shimla rickshaw was different from the single-coolie-one that used to ply in the plains. It was heavier weighing from 117 to 162 kilograms and was nine feet in length and four feet in width and pulled by four coolies-two in front and two in the back. Sometimes the fifth one would run by the side of a rickshaw. He performed the same duty as a stepney in a car and would replace the tired coolie.

Shimla saw its first rickshaw in 1880 owned by Rev. J. Fordyce. ‘A.E.D.’ had written a song on the shape, size and introduction of Shimla Rickshaw. An extract is, “During the early Eighties, / When Mrs Reverend J. / Invented our first rickshaw/ For Shimla during May, / Old C. declared it was ‘a cross/ ‘Twixt Bath-chair and a hearse’/ But others said they thought it might/ Be something even worse!”

The Census of 1931 showed that Shimla had 476 rickshaws and 2863 licensed rickshaw pullers in that year. Shimla Municipality had provided 38 labour hostels / sheds all over the town as shelter to the carriages and their pullers. One built in 1943 that displayed the name ‘Rickshaw Shed and Labour Hostel’ could, at present, be seen near the Shimla Club. The rickshaws required building, repairing and maintenance so Jack Blessington had opened a Workshop near the present ice-skating rink. Another one was Imperial Rickshaw Works at Lakkar Bazaar, the place which today stood covered by shops on the southern end of LB tunnel.

Rickshaw coolies were treated as wretched human beings both by the British and the Chaudharies (Indian contractors). They were given liveries but not the shoes and would negotiate the curvy paths of the town barefoot. Pamela Kanwar in her Imperial Simla narrates how a savage kick by Mansel-Playdell, Controller of the Army Canteen Board, resulted in death of a rickshaw coolie Jageshar in 1925. In this Rickshaw Coolie Murder Case, Mansel-Playdell was sentenced to eighteen months’ rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 4000. He committed suicide in jail.

Doz in his book Simla in Ragtime described a cheery incident of a rickshaw mate fully dressed in uniform wearing turban, badge etc. who carried a letter from a respectable lady to a visiting Frenchman and informed him that he was lady’s mate; the monsieur took the meaning of the word ‘mate’ literally (partner in marriage) and provided him all the courtesies that a Frenchman could offer. The rickshaw coolie felt like a non-plus bridegroom in the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan.

There are many stories on phantom rickshaws in the air of this hilly town. These have traveled from mouth to mouth. The one that is read worldwide, however, is The Phantom Rickshaw by Rudyard Kipling, in which a dead Keith Wessington riding a yellow paneled rickshaw being pulled by four jhampanies (rickshaw pullers) in ‘magpie’ livery haunted her lover Jack Pansy who had jilted her. The phantom rickshaw moved along the Jakko round and the first encounter of the rickshaw and Jack had occurred at Combermere Bridge. The one that I had heard in my youth was about an ethereal rickshaw that plied between the ice-skating rink and Tara Hall at midnight. The occupant of that too was a ghost Englishwoman.

Mahatma Gandhi, in 1921, had decried the use of hand-driven rickshaws in an article published in Gujarati Navjivan. He had written, “men are yoked to a vehicle – we also join them (the British) in turning people into bullocks…” But when he came here to attend The Simla Conference in the year 1945, he had no option but to ride human-driven rickshaw as he could not ride a horse as Jawahar Lal did. Dr Rajendra Prasad, as President of India, on his sojourn in Shimla was a frequent user of rickshaws. Raja Bhasin writes in his popular Simla, “The rickshaw is almost unknown in today’s Shimla, having been discontinued on humanitarian grounds by a court order.” He, however, admitted having used rickshaw in the eighties when he got his leg fractured. The State High Court order, probably issued in 1968, did not put rickshaws under immediate injunction but prohibited grant of new licenses to hand-driven rickshaws that meant the vehicle that had entered SIMLA in 1880s faded out of Shimla in 1980s.


A Deputy Director looking after departmental vehicles besides his own subject of MIS was ordered by the superior through his PA (personal assistant) to attend a Workshop being organised by the Social Empowerment and Justice Department as the topic is on reducing traffic problem in the town. He attended the Workshop and sat paralysed there because the topic for deliberation was ‘measures for preventing immoral traffic.’



shimla Diary
Tough challenge for Forest Minister
Pratibha Chauhan

Will the Forest Minister, Mr Ram Lal Thakur, be willing to contest from the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat for the third consecutive time after the unseating of the BJP, MP, Mr Suresh Chandel, who had trounced him twice?

With the Supreme Court upholding the unseating of the MP’s found guilty in the cash on camera scam, the elections to the Hamirpur Parliamentary seat will be held within the next six months. The election is being considered very important as it will indicate the electorate mood and thus give an idea as to which party could come to power in the Assembly elections.

On each of the two earlier occasions, when Mr Thakur was pitted against Mr Chandel, now Forest Minister in the Virbhadra Cabinet, was a reluctant candidate, not keen to take the plunge. In fact, the second time when he lost, people said it was victory in defeat as he would have had to relinquish his cushy post of the Forest Minister.

On the other hand, with Mr Chandel having virtually become a political untouchable, it remains to be seen who the BJP would field in the crucial election. Names of leaders like former Health Minister, Mr J.P. Nadda, and even former Chief Minister, Mr P.K. Dhumal, are doing the rounds. It’s a different matter that practically everyone in the BJP are dreading to be in the fray as there is little they can say in defence of their party or Mr Chandel, who has been found guilty of demanding money for raising questions in the Parliament.

Due to unexpected turn of political events, the two main parties, the Congress and the BJP instead of focusing on the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections will now have to chalk out their strategy for the Hamirpur Lok Sabha elections.

Ice King

The Shimla Ice Skating rink organised its two-day annual Gymkhana last week. The organisers were unable to hold the carnival on December 25 as there was no snow and the temperatures not low enough to enable holding of an event.

Various events in the senior and junior categories were held with an overwhelming participation. In the senior ice hockey competition, the Dare Devils defeated Evergreens to lift the Marshall Tito trophy. Gagandeep Singh was adjudged the best skater of the year.

Events were held for all categories including the tiny tots category for children below the age of eight years. The Excise Commissioner, Mr Sushil Negi, who was the chief guest at the function gave away the trophy and other prizes to the winners.

Cellular fun

Thanks to the entry of new cellular phone operators into the hill state, the residents of the town are getting to enjoy live performances by top artistes like famous playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan, Abhijit Sawant and comedians from the Laughter Challenge show like Bhagwant Mann.

While the government owned BSNL, Reliance and Airtel already being in the filed, the competition is growing tougher by the day with the entry of Idea and Aircel. With astute marketing strategies, each company wants to impress the customers with big shows having a lot of pomp and show.

Aircel at its launch party had the people dancing to the renditions of winner of the Indian idol show Abhijit Sawant. Bhagwant Mann too regaled the audience with his great sense of humour.

Now it is the turn of peppy playback singer, Sunidhi Chauhan to sing into the hearts of Shimalites, who are eagerly awaiting her performance, scheduled for March 14. It is the idea cellular company, which will bring the young talented singer to the town.

Both Idea and Aircel had held special Christmas and New Year festivities for the Mall and the Ridge to regale the tourists as well as locals.



Bard champions tribal cause
Kuldeep Chauhan

He represents local Hindi bards championing cause of tribals, including their rich art, culture and literature. In fact, Hindi poetry is taking up a new form in its own silent way in an unlikely place in Himachal Pradesh in the landlocked snowbound Lahaul valley.

The poet championing the cause and feelings of snowy Lahaul valley is Ajey, a young bard, whose poetry has hit the national poetry though what he calls a modern innovative medium of Internet and live Kavi Sammelan including several Hindi magazines and journals.

Ajey’s poems reflect the untold and unheard agonies of snow-swathed Lahaul and its people. An abandoned tribal constantly addresses the mainstream of society in most of his poems. “The address of his poems is neither meek nor raving or loud, comments, Soresh Vidyarthi, himself a Lahauli poet, who has translated his poems into English, who along with Ajey have founded the UFO, an NGO, which champions the cause of tribal people, its cultural and traditions in Lahaul valley and outside.

The UFO has so far made documentary, Astha Ke Rang, on the gods of Lahaul and Bhonra, a CD on 8 folk songs of Lower Pattan valley in Lahaul. “Now we are making video musical on folk songs sing during work by women in the field. UFO members remain in touch with each other through Internet”, says Ajey.

Ajey’s poems richly and uniquely delineate feelings of tribal people, who live in complete harmony and symbiosis with nature, which otherwise is harsh and inhospitable- a world outside pale of human civilization.

His poems delineate how Lahaulis suffer agonies from the “sophisticated outsiders”. You have put four things in two hands and tell him that he should have Tameez, when he opens the door pushing the door by foot.

Presently, Ajey is compiling a collection of poems by ten young poets of Lahaul. Besides, he has an ambitions project of translation of all available songs of Mila Repa, the great Buddhist Saint poet of 12th century into Hindi.

For six long winter months in a year, tribal live in snow. Snow comes silently like flock of fluttering butterflies, sits on the valley’s throne like a king and vanishes like thief, reads Ajey’s line on Snow, which remains inseparable part of life in the Lahaul valley. Ajey’s poems are unique for its thought and feelings, comments Dr Rati Saxena, a renowned translator and editor, Kritya, a website on Hindi poets. It has all the colours and feelings of the culture.

His poems also paint a picture of drudgery of women’s life in Lahaul valley. Valley’s women are like local Biunsh Ki Tehnia (branches of a willow tree). Like willow trees their life revolves around daily work, in home and in field, they adore the little homes, almost languish like branches of the willow trees and die.

Ajey has been brought up at his maternal grandfather home in Lahaul. His poem bear stamp of the tales of Tibetan Saint Poet Mila Repa, which he heard from his nanaji, Lama Yontan of Sumnam, a well-known Buddhist ascetic physician and a painter. I always tried to be like him only when I was a kid,” he says.

But he was exposed to western music and he liked lyrics of Bob Marley and Dire Straits, which colored his thoughts when graduated from DAV Chandigarh. I like Agyeya’s poetry and scanned the Siddh and Bhakti poetry of Middle ages and the Saptak poets of present age, he comments.

The leftist thought more particularly by the Mukti Bodh’s poems and the modern Panjabi poets Batalvi, Paatar and Paash influences Ajey. “I first heard Kumar Vikal’s recitation of Ek chhoti Si Ladai and Nirupma Dutt main bahut udas hun, in English auditorium of P.U. Campus and then on poetry has been soul of my life.”

Ajey says that if poetry has to survive in the present changing scenario, it has to be adapted to the innovative mediums. 



A graveyard of books
Vidya Rattan Sharma

Mahima Public Library has an intresting collection of rare manuscripts
WISDOM OF WORDS:The Mahima Public Library has an intresting collection of rare manuscripts

It is one of the oldest libraries in the region. It was set up at Nahan to perpetuate the memory of Princess Mahima, who had a passion for books and wanted to inculcate the reading habit in the people.

The Mahima Public Library, as it is known, proudly displays an inscription, which says that it has been set up so that it helps in the spread of education in the area.

But the state of affairs of the library is such that Maharani Mandalsa who set it up in fond memory of Mahima must be turning in her grave over the apathy of those responsible for its running.

It is a misnomer to call it a library as it does not perform any of the functions associated with a library. It is at best a bookstore. The building is in a state of complete disrepair. The floors are broken and the roof is crumbling.

The PWD was assigned the responsibility of repairing the building but it abandoned the work midway for reasons best known to the local administration.

However, Mr U.R. Saini, executive engineer, PWD, shrugs off the responsibility when he says, “the work could not be completed because of a dispute between another department. The work was to the tune of Rs 4 lakh but the contractor abandoned it after executing work worth Rs 1.34 lakh”.

The unfinished repair work has disrupted the library’s functioning. Lending of books has come to a standstill.

The library has altogether 42,000 books, besides a large number of manuscripts, which have great archaic value. Because of lack of resources, it has not been able to buy any new books for the last five years.

As the ventilation points in the library remain permanently open, monkeys enjoy a field day in the library, posing a threat to the rare collection of books. The Librarian, Mrs Saweta Rana, can only bemoan the plight of the library, which is under the charge of Mr R.N. Chouhan, principal of the nearby Government College.

The principal is so busy that he does not have the time to attend to the day-to-day needs of the library. Mr Chouhan is candid when he says, “I remain preoccupied with my college work. It is the PWD which should complete its work”. The blame game has been going on for quite sometime.

When contacted, the Deputy Commissioner, Mr Rajinder Singh Negi, would like the principal to find time to visit the library and check the quality of work done by the PWD. He has asked the PWD engineer to complete the work as early as possible.

The people here have high hopes about the library. The local municipal councilor, Mr Avnash Gupta, wants the library to be revamped with new books, state-of-the-art furniture, computers and Internet facility so that it attracts academics from far and near. Given the situation here, Mr Gupta’s hope seems to be out of sync with reality.



Freedom fighter honoured
Ashok Raina

Bagh Singh is being honoured for his contribution to the freedom struggle
BRAVE HEART: Bagh Singh is being honoured for his contribution to the freedom struggle

Every hand clapped and all eyes were wet with emotion as 86-year-old freedom fighter Bagh Singh made his way up to the dais to be honoured by former Union Minister, Shanta Kumar, during a function organised by Vivekananda Kendra, a spiritually oriented service Mission, in connection with his144th birthday of celebration in the auditorium of the local Govt. Polytechnic college on January 12, this year.

Bagh Singh, an associate of Neta ji Subhash Chander Bose, is one among those who spend the precious days of youth in struggling for the freedom of India and have been forgotten by all those who breath in the free India at the cost of their great sacrifices.

“I am not at all pained as I am one among the forgotten lot of the freedom fighters because I had never thought of a life but only of fight and death during the freedom struggle. I never thought of ‘receiving’ but of ‘ giving’ only so I was least pained by the present situations as my expectations were very low,” Bagh Singh told The Tribune.

Bagh Singh was born on June 16, 1921 at Tripal Dharghata village in Dhera subdivision of this district and lost his father and brother when he had just passed class IX examination and to feed his family he joined the Indian Signal Core of the British Government at Jabalpur in 1940 as a wireless operator. He said that British Government did not believe the Indian youths serving the British Army so the Indians could not use the wireless sets independently.

In August 1941 Bagh Singh went to Iraq, Iran and Africa. “During time of war in Africa while setting the frequencies of his wireless set I tuned in to Azad Hind Radio (AHR) - voicing from Berlin running by Indian Freedom Fighters Mohd. Iqbal Shardai and Sardar Ajeet Singh, uncle of Martyr Baghat Singh,” he remembers clearly.

He said every word pierced the heart and this kindled the inspiration in him for joining the freedom struggle and to see India as a free and Independent country. He called other three Indian collogues, Sardar Jaswant Singh of Rawalpindi, Sardar Sooraj Singh of Taran Taran and Sardar Balwant Singh of Ferozepur and starting listening AHR but were caught by British Army commandant while listening AHR and were arrested and Court Marshaled.

“Indian German forces attacked the camp where all three Indians were being court marshaled,” says Bhag Singh. He managed to escape during the attack. He traveled by a ship, which was attacked by the German forces in the sea and two ships sank before his eyes and 246 people from his ship jumped into the sea to swim across the sea to the shore, which was 500 kms away.

Bagh Singh remembers the moment when he for the first confronted death in the ship when Captain of the ship told remaining 30 persons including him that he would not allow them to jump out of the ship as the water tank of the ship was damaged and ship would sink if they jump out. He threatened them that he would shoot them dead to maintain the balance of the ship with the wait of their dead bodies.

The Ship reached Greece coast and as POW he was taken to Italy where he had his first meeting with Neta Ji Subhash Chander Bose on January 27 and 28 in 1942. He remembers Neta ji coming to the dining table in civil and enjoying the dinner with INA personals.

He joined Indian National Army (INA) as wireless operator and visited Denmark, Poland, Ukraine, Holland, Belgium and France. At Narmandi in France following a parachute attack by the enemies he managed to reach Switzerland after crossing Niples Volcano after walking continuously for 90 hours.

In August 1945 Bagh Singh was arrested by the enemies and imprisoned in different jails of Europe, Dresden, Alsip jail before he was shifted to Multan and Bhadurghar jail. He said in the Terpoli  jail the Indian prisoners were given 250 gms of bread and one cup of water during 48 hours and in Bhadurgarh jail sand bags were kept on their back and were asked to run and from behind British forces were showering the bullets on them resulting in death of 250 prisoners in three days.

“I managed to save myself by lying down with the sand bag just on my back after hearing the first gun shot fired by the British forces from behind.” His trial was conducted for three cases in Red Fort and in February 1946 Bagh Singh was released. He is now living a life of a forgotten freedom fighter in his native village of Tripal Dharghata. During his conversation with The Tribune Mr. Bagh Singh broke down number of times. He said, “ The present India was not the India of Neta Ji Subhash Chander Bose’s and Swami Vivekananda’s dreams that pains me the most”.



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