Forget the beauty pageants. Far away from the glitzy stage of Miss India, 30 women will be battling it out in Uttarakhand’s Tehri district on Wednesday to be crowned queen of a different kind, based on who collects the most cattle fodder in the treacherous Himalayan forests.
As part of the contest called Ghasyari Queen, women will be required to cut maximum quantity of grass in two minutes, earning 10 points for each kilogram of fodder collected.
But they will also be judged on the quality of fodder collected, their knowledge of medicinal herbs for the livestock found in the forests and various uses of its by-products. Participants are disqualified immediately if any green tree leaves or shrubs are found in their collection. The contest will be held in Tehri’s Bhilangana block — around 170 km from Dehradun — to highlight the contribution of hill women to ecology. A total of 30 women from 112 villages have made it to the final, after clearing preliminary hurdles.
“The ghasyaris ensure sustainable removal of weeds from the forests while ensuring no harm to the trees. But with increasing downhill migration and changing mindsets, their ecological services have been going unnoticed,” said Trepan Singh Chauhan, convener of Chetana Aandolan, a peoples’ movement that is organising the event. “We want to recognise their contribution and change the mindset of outsiders and locals towards their work.”
The winner will be given Rs 1 lakh and a silver crown. “For centuries, the women of the mountains have been an essential part of conserving the hill ecology. Finally, we get our long overdue credit,” said Saita Devi, one of the finalists from Khola village.