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Deterring Gender Violence in Ladakh

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The Hindustan Times reported last week that the second year of kung fu self-defense training for Ladakhi girls and young women has just concluded at the Hemis Monastery near Leh. The news story, and the reports on Facebook by the organizer of the event, Live to Love India, provided information about the purposes of kung fu training for Ladakhi females.

Kung Fu nuns of the Drukpa Order

Kung Fu nuns of the Drukpa Order (Photo by Drukpa Publications Pvt. Ltd. in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Not much has changed from the event held a year ago, at least so far as can be determined by comparing the current story with the news report from last year. The training session by the kung fu nuns of the Drukpa Order during the first week of August in 2017 was a five-day program held for about 100 girls; the current session was expanded to seven days, from July 25 – 31, and it was conducted for 40 girls.

The goals and procedures at the training workshops both years seemed, from the different accounts, to be virtually the same. Ms. Rigzin Angmo, the program executive for Live to Love India, told the Hindustan Times last week the same things as were reported last year: that incidents of harassment and violence against women and girls in Ladakh were increasing. The kung fu training program in self-defense is a good way for people to learn how to protect themselves.

“Since many years, we have seen an influx of tourists in Ladakh. Ladakh is not a peaceful and safe area anymore,” said Ms. Angmo. She went on to tell the newspaper that violent crimes and sexual molestations are increasing daily. She argued that when females know how to properly defend themselves, they can do better to confront unpleasant situations. “At least, girls can feel safer in our homeland,” she concluded.

A Ladakhi girl from the Zanskar Valley

A Ladakhi girl from the Zanskar Valley (Photo by sandeepachetan.com travel photography on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

At the opening ceremony, Ms. Avny Layasa, Deputy Commissioner for Leh, spoke to the participants about the importance of Ladakhi girls maintaining their self-respect and self-esteem. On the last day of the workshop, Ms. Sargun Shukla, the Senior Superintendent for Police for Leh, inspired the participants as she interacted with them. She emphasized the importance of good mental health for girls and urged them to curb self-inflicted acts of violence. She said that if anyone acts against them and they allow that to happen, it shows their weakness. She also suggested the importance of being careful of one’s speech and conduct. Both Ms. Layasa and Ms. Shukla are becoming widely known in the Leh District as important young community leaders.

The girls who participated in the self-defense workshop happily admitted they were pleased to participate—the workshop has helped boost their feelings of self-worth. One of the participants, Padma Youron, told the newspaper that since their society is no longer safe for girls, the boost in self-confidence that she has gained from the kung fu training will help her cope if difficult situations arise. “We were taught a lot of techniques to tackle social miscreants,” she said, so her “confidence level has increased.”

The Live to Love India Facebook page features an album that includes scores of photos taken during the workshop.

 

Flowers for the Paliyans

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Peter Gardner describes the ways the Paliyans employ “a tranquilizer,” a flower that angry individuals crush and press to their foreheads to dissipate anger. In a 1966 journal article, the anthropologist, reviewing several approaches they use for social control, mentions that they use the flowers of sirupani pu, or “laughing flower,” for help in preserving the peace. He notes that sirupani pu has not been identified botanically (at least as of 50 years ago). Gardner argues that the use of that flower is one factor that exemplifies their ideal which, “for Paliyans is that overt aggression or gross disrespect of any other kind will not occur (p.396).”

The neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana), a shrub growing in the Western Ghats that blooms once every 12 years

The neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana), a shrub growing in the Western Ghats that blooms once every 12 years (Photo by Aruna Radhakrishnan on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

It is certainly to be expected that flowers would play an important role in the lives of a forest-based society such as the Paliyan. A newspaper article published last week in the Deccan Chronicle describes another traditional use of a flower by the Paliyans. It is a travel piece about the hills around Kodaikanal focusing on the blooming of neelakurinji that is occurring this summer. The spectacle of the hills in bloom attracts tourists.

If the use of a flower for conflict abatement is unusual, neelakurinji is equally strange because it only blooms once every 12 years. The brief travel article in the newspaper states that the hills in the Western Ghats region of India last displayed the blue flowers of the neelakurinji in 2006 and they will next cover the landscape with their patches of color in 2030.

The article indicates that the Paliyan traditionally used the blooming cycles of the plant to calculate their ages. It has been easy for them to figure out how old they are by counting the number of blooming cycles that they have lived through. Each time another cycle would transform the landscape, they would realize they were 12 years older.

In his book Bicultural Versatility as a Frontier Adaptation among Paliyan Foragers of South India, Gardner mentions other uses of flowers by the Paliyans. For example, in the heat of April and May when the bees are collecting nectar from flowers, the people offer to a caami named Raakkaacci some honey and five different species of flowers, part of a ritual they perform (p.135).

He mentions that kurinca puu, the flower of a digging stick (Strobilanthus kunthianus) and tiru kaLLi puu, the flower of a milk hedge cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli), are offered to the caamis during the honey rituals. The caamis are protective gods or spirits for the Paliyans.

The magnolia Michelia champaca is noted on a signboard in Sim’s Park, a nature preserve in Coonoor, the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu

The magnolia Michelia champaca is noted on a signboard in Sim’s Park, a nature preserve in Coonoor, the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu (Photo by Gauri Wur Sem in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The book describes (p. 237) the different flowers and plants that the Paliyans use for adornment. As examples, Gardner cites the magnolia blossoms, cenpaka puu (Michelia champaca), and a flower from an oleander called araLi (Neriium odorum) which the people wear in their hair.

But the obvious question is, how much do flowers really mean to Paliyans today?  A post dated February 20, 2012, by Mr. A. Muthuvezhappan in his blog about the Paliyan society provides some good clues. In one of the paragraphs following the headline “Life Style,” the blogger writes, “Their life style is very simple and sacrosanct.  They love to live with nature.”

He describes some of the Paliyan marriage customs and he concludes the paragraph by writing, “The young couple had to … start the new life in the forest. They used Tharanipoo and perandipoo during the marriage feast and the young woman put the Tharanippu garland as a token of love and affection and a symbol of marriage.” It is clear from these sentences that flowers are not only valuable for dating their lives, they also can have symbolic meanings, particularly for love and affection, to at least some of the Paliyans.

 




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