To modernise or not?

On my trek in Ladakh last September, I joined a group of villagers having a tea-break in the fields where they had been harvesting the wheat. They were debating whether to buy a tractor or not. Some argued that it didn’t make sense because they already had cattle which could be used to do the threshing in the traditional way for no extra cost. The tractor not only costs money to buy, but you also need to buy petrol. One of the older men said that he would love to use a tractor before he died!

Another issue was how to respond to a letter received from a tourist agency inviting the villagers to serve as porters for foreign trekkers. Some of the younger men were keen to go to earn some cash, but others argued that it was harvest time, and the women couldn’t do it on their own. In the end, the decision was to stay and do the harvesting. There was, in fact, no great urgency to leave the village since my guide informed me that the villagers get paid (by an NGO I believe) to stay put and help preserve the environment for the endangered snow leopards.

If you would like to add a comment, please feel free to do so. You may have listened into a similar debate, or have views about the impact of new technolgies on traditional cultures.

Comments

  1. I don’t think there is any choice whether to modernize or not. It’s inevitable, as all change is. What can be done is to try and control what aspects of modernization are introduced…

  2. Of course, change is inevitable, but the villagers decided that they would postpone it, so you could say that they were controlling the pace of change. They had perfectly rational and unsentimental reasons for so deciding. I did come across a village where they were feeding wheat into a threshing machine. They were wearing protective goggles and gloves, and, because of the noise of the machine, they had to do their work in silence. Another household was still using traditional methods, which no doubt took longer, but gave them the tranquillity and time for chatting, and singing. I can’t help feeling that the modernisers had lost a critical way in which their community socialises and preserves its culture. That is not entirely a sentimental tourist’s view. There will be villagers who will see the downside of introducing new technologies, but I have no doubt that, in the end, the economic arguments will win out. Encouragingly, in the case of the village debating whether to get a tractor or not, the economics seemed to favour the continued use of cattle rather than the purchase of a tractor.

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