Saluting Volunteering

Munsyari.  " Whenever I come to this beautiful vale of Munsyari, look up to the snow-capped majestic Panchachuli and Hasling peaks and meet its hard-working and hospitable people, " said Chief Minister Harish Rawat, presiding over the Diamond Jubilee Football Tournament organized by Johar Club, " I get re-charged, re-freshed and hugely motivated to work even harder." Accompanied with INC President Kishore Upadhyaya and many local leaders, earlier he attended the Kshetra Samiti meeting arguably the first such meeting attended by any Chief Minister since Uttarakhand has been formed, fifteen years ago. As his programme was announced before hand the small town-ship that Munsyari is, not even a Nagar Panchayat as yet, the entire area around the Block headquarters and the Johar Club Football Field was chocked with private vehicles as it ferried visitors from neighbouring area, officials from the district headquarters, not to mention the crowds in thousands who in any case attend the Finals of the Johar Club Football Tournament, every year. The Johar Club Football Tournament, usually held during the first week of June, the curtain raiser of the incoming Monsoons, was extended this year into a two-weeks affair, as not only as many as 28 teams entered this special event but it also heralded the beginning of Women's Football Tournament, perhaps the first ever in any district or Tehsil headquarters, if not the state itself. The Munsyarians believe that what they do today, the rest of the mountains do in subsequent years. May be they were again reiterating the same self-belief ! 


Diamond Jubilee Foot-ball Tournament

The accompanying visuals that has just reached this writer, as newspapers reach only in the evening, tells the story of what transpired at the BDC, as it is called. What the visuals have not covered is the inspiration behind what inspires, re-charges not only Chief Minister Harish Rawat, but also every one else, who has had an opportunity of closely knowing the history of this region and has had the good fortune of knowing the grit and determination of the local people, mostly the Johari Saukas, who notionally and de facto – represent the region. Chief Minister Harish Rawat, this writer has good reasons to believe, knows the region and its people like they say, as the back of his palm. So, it is no wonder that he won the election from his Dharchula seat, without once visiting his electoral Constituency, as he was hospitalized due to a serious neck-injury, but winning it by a thumping majority ! When Chief Minister Harish Rawat was applauding the organizers of this historic Diamond Jubilee Football Tournament, the past office-bearers, friends Johari diapora, all listed for the last 60 years ! This Dimond Jubilee was indeed more than the Diamond Jubilee of just a Football Tournament, organized in a place farthest from the state -capital, where the Czar of various Sports Associations sit and mull-over their sports- politics, unmindful of the sporting conditions, which lovers of foot-ball and several other sports, miss so acutely. Harish Rawat was indeed paying his obeisance to the hundreds of volunteers, sports-lovers, and volunteers who work self-lessly in so many domains of public -service. Munsyari is a region which has learned and mastered the art of what this writer calls 'Doing and Living Without Governments'. In doing so Harish Rawat, himself a son of the soil, who has risen against all odds, coming from a rural setting, as personally experienced what it means to survive in remote mountain regions, where people live and survive in conditions called 'Living without Governments'. When the District Magistrate and other senior officials introduced themselves to the local, if they at all did so, did like strangers, as officials spend their time cooling themselves at district headquarters, barely moving and staying in remote regions like, say the villages of Malla Johar. 

Volunteerism Par Excellence

This writer has been one of the greatest supporter and protagonist of Volunteerism and when he was in his active service ( 1971- 2010 ) went out of way to see that various genuine Non Government Organizations are enabled and facilitated in whatever they had set out to do. It would really need a full-scale book for him to narrate what calumny he had to put up with, at times, in his bid to support these genuine NGOs. His greatest satisfaction also gets derived from what good work has come out because of the great self-less work some of the finest NGOs have been able to accomplish, in Uttarakhand. To name a few HARC, CHIRAG, INHERE, CHEA, RULEK, WDO, PSI, ATI, Waste Warriors and now RTI Club are some of the names of which any state would be proud of. However, this writer leaves that narration to some later period as here he would like to dwell on those with who he spends his quality time in Munsyari. This writer is sure that take any remote and difficult region, in a mountain state, and one can find not one but several such people-centric voluntary organisations. If Harish Rawat and all those who are friends of a place like Munsyari, they know that it is the HARD WORKING and GENUINELY VOLUNTEERING PEOPLE of Munsyari that makes this region, irresistible, making one just to Salute their Voluntary spirit and their contributions, in kind, in time, in fact in so many ways..

Education, Migration, Medical & Health, Sports, Financial Self-Help, Disaster Mitigation

One would be greatly surprized, only when one gets to know the local people, especially the dominant Johari Sauka tribal people closely enough, that volunteerism is in their DNA, as has been explained that their generations have learned to exist and survive 'Without Governments, even Without the State', as anywhere in remote mountain regions.

Over the years some of their pioneering ancestors self-taught themselves, when their were no formal schools ( 1850s, during the colonial times ), impressed the then educationists and became instrumental in the spread of education in the region and personally, overcoming all possible odds, acquired highest distinctions available to the so-called 'Natives', like the Companion of the Indian Empire ( CIE ), for their academic and exploratory contributions. This writer joined all admirers of such pioneers by delivering the 150th Anniversary of their most distinguished explorations of Tibet ( 1865-76) in a public-meeting organized at the Jyoti-Devindra Milan Kendra, as a part of Munsyari Greeshm Mahotsava, the later yet again a civil society event, request for which was officially REJECTED by our tourism promoting Tourism Development Department, which does not think twice in extending crores of rupees assistance to celebrations like the celebrated VIRASAT, already sponsored by yet another official behemoth, ONGC, one of the Nav-Ratnas. Not only this any RTI application would reveal that even a MoU had been struck between the organizers of VIRASAT and our liberal Tourism department to help them on a permanent scale. Our Survey of India, the organization that they served, also remained busy in not acknowleding the significance of the year. However, the local people are not that ungrateful, and this had to be done, and was done 'Without Government, yet again!..

Full marks to Chief Minister Harish Rawat, who has not only named the forthcoming Adventure Institute after this great son of the soil but also reminded this writer, over lunch which we all took together in a small room of the Johar Club, cooked by the Women's Self Help Group, of Boonga village, to remind the constructing agency and the department to ensure that a gallery of the proposed Institute contains details of Nain Singh's bio-details and achievements !  It is these small gestures, these small reminders, that has sustained voluntary work, especially in remote and difficult mountain regions, and not various announcements that get made in public meetings, such as the BDC held just before the event at the Johar Club.

As this writer and Dr Bhagat Singh Burfal, former PCCF and Chairman of the Bio-Diversity Board, were also present at the formal Closing ceremony of the Diamond Jubilee Tournament, he also did not fail in embarrassing the two of us thoroughly by praising both of us for our modest services to the building of this state and the departments that we both served. We also shared with him, and Kishore Upadhyaya, the details of proposed Munsyari Library & Mountain Research Centre, which we wish to help set up in the region, for promoting serious research in various branches of mountain themes, of course, in a voluntary mode, following the long customs that our ancestors have advocated and followed themselves.

Fortnight of Volunteerism

The full fortnight, from 1st to 15th June, for want of any other description could be called dedicated to Volunteerism of the highest kind, indulged in by the diaspora of Munsyari and Johar. If Johar Club was organized by the lovers of all kinds of games and adventure sports, who came not only from all corners of India, but also the whole world; the volunteers involved with the Malla Johar Vikas Samiti ( MJVS ), a society constituted to look after the welfare of the migrants who visit our 14 High Himalayan villages, also met and discussed, what all has been done to improve the transport, fooding, education, health and other security related issues that would dog the migrants who will be spending the next six months or so, from May to late September, in villages located at height of 10,000 feet plus above the mean sea level !  

Thanks to MJVS not only te road making but various human existence related issues get seriously followed up, very systematically. The 15th June also brought the memories of all those who lost their lives in June 2013, not in Kedarnath valley, but in the Milam and surrounding villages, and thousands of sheep and goat and mules that lost their lives or got injured, was brought back to memory. While the entire Uttarakhand Government of Vijay Bahuguna was caught napping, the entire week, and which resulted in a shameful loss of life and property of more than 10,000 plus human lives, the uncared Kumaon region, was woken up by the noises and outcries that went from Munsyari, via Garhwal Post ( a series Disastrous Management of Uttarakhand was penned by this writer, out of sheer frustration over the shameful conduct and insensitivity of the local administration ). Later, mostly highlighted via these serialised article in the Garhwal Post and through other Hindi newspapers the devastation caused in Madkot, Dharchula and Gori and Kali valleys got highlighted and relief was mounted.  

While the serial Disastrous Management of Uttarakhand kept unfolding through the pages of Garhwal Post, volunteers of MJVS toured the affected parts of Malla Johar, greatly risking their lives and brought out the horrendous situation that prevailed in those remote High Himalayan regions. They also reached out to the Grass-roots another NGO, who with the help of Bajaj Electricals, extended most timely help to the affected families. MJVS also appealed to all Johari Saukas and they mobiles more than ten lakh rupees for distribution among those who lost their lives, cattle and property.A Heli-service has already been completed because of MJVS vigilance and request to Milam, height 11,200 feet asl, with three sorties.

The fortnight also remembered and saluted the great voluntary contribution of late Ms Bhagirathi Pangtey, who contributed last 15 years of her retired life in raising the Munsyari Public School run by a voluntary organisation, Johar Shiksha Samiti ( JSS ). Commenced in 1989 it today educates more than 300 students, majority belonging to the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste families.Te entire management, of course, is voluntary, with various retired teachers, Principals etc coming together and managing the School. It is now located in a three storied building with far better educational facilities than one finds in any government school. Social Welfare department's help, which only recently has become a bit regular, keeps the society on its toes and full of constant anxiety. It has offered itself to be inspected once in a quarter, through any surprize inspection by the funding department, to save the year-end anxiety, that has bedevilled its existence, even after the state became autonomous. 

Spirit of Volunteerism

Johar Club, Johar Shiksha Samiti, Munsyari Public School, Malla Johar Vikas Samiti are but a few voluntary set ups which have carried on the great tradition of this remote border region, which has mastered the art and craft of 'Living and Doing Without Government' for centuries now, they have also encouraged several smaller outfits that silently and spontaneously come forward with various voluntary offers and assistance in cash and kind to some or all of the above-mentioned voluntary set ups. To name a few Johar Welfare and Development Society, Jee Raya, Digari and scores of Johar Sanskritik Sangathans, where ever the Johari Saukas happen to live, take their time of and converge on Munsyari during these Summer Weeks to Salute the Great  Volunteers who work without expecting any recognition or any awards.

One of the major centre of attraction, lately supported by the state government, is what every visitor to Munsyari is commended to visit, the Tribal Heritage Museum; yet another tribute of a great cultural volunteer, Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey, to the local people. The Tribal Museum reflects the history and culture of the great Johari Shuaka community, their travails of the ancient Tibetan trade, their rich cultural heritage and above all their great contributions, over the centuries, to the various domains of public service, in so many walks of life, that it is quite comparable to any ethnic community in the entire world !

The region's latest move forward is to get Munsyari converted into Nagar Panchayat, about which the local people have certain reservations, several of them needing clarification. Two rounds of discussions have been held and the local people have taken stands that need resolution, to the satisfaction of those who have raised them. At the same time there are several research scholars who come with their own lenses, looking at the region, from a view-point that makes the local feel as if they are Museum-pieces, little realizing that this very region today boats of one of the highest literacy rates and a few DScs, that this state boasts of !      


As the Johari people look askance to all incoming Union Governments, as their ancient 14 villages in 10,000 plus feet high remain unconnected, unconnected by 57 km long most difficult terrain, costing several human lives every year, costing huge pecuniary losses to herders and migrants, even after 67 years of India becoming politically independent, they keep wondering if all the major political parties will continue to be shameful enough to visit this God-forsaken region, seeking their votes, and PROMISE them connectivity by year 3017. Yes, 3017, as 2017 is a bit too ambitious by their recknoning, as they know 'How to Live Without Governments ?


R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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