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A historical overview of education and social change in Spiti Valley in India

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June 2012
ISSN 1356-3491
From the Editor. Kim Gutschow
From the Secretary. Sonam Wangchok
From the 2013 Conference Organizer. Juliane Dame
A Historical Overview of Education and Social Change in Spiti valley, India
Tashi Tsering and Gaku Ishimura
Legends from Dha-Hanu: Oral Histories of the Buddhist Dards in Ladakh Stephan Kloos

Nutrients (N, P, and K) recycling in traditional soil fertility practices in Leh
district: A case study at small farm level Vladimiro Pelliciardi
The Tak House Maitreya and some corrections of the later history of Ladakh
Neil Howard

Serendipity: Today’s Cartography Meets Archival Images Abram Pointet
Skardu Kargil road: Tear down the Berlin Wall of Asia
Engineer Manzoor Hussain Parwana
John Crook (1930~2011) and Ladakh: the early days James Crowden
Andre Alexander (1965~2012) John Bray
RtF|C|’lEI‘l Wangchuk (1969—2011) Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust
Reflections on Ladakh, Tibet and Central Asia. by Abdul Ghani Sheikh
Sunetro Ghosal
Beyond Bokhara: The Life of William Moorcroft Asian Explorer and Pioneer
Veterinary Surgeon 1767-1825. By Garry Alder Janet Rizvi
Ladakh: Crossroads of High Asia 3″’ edition, by Janet Rizvi. Announcement
Ladakh Bibliography Supplement N04 22 John Bray

A Historical Overview of Education and Social Change in Spiti valley, India
—Tashi’ Tsering (University of British Columbia) and Gaku Ishimura (Hokkaido
In a review of literature on primary education in India, Kumar et al (2001) identified
“apathy towards history and a studied blindness towards the linkages between
education and social change [as its] two prominent characteristics” (p. 560). Such an
analysis, they argue, furthers the benign image of education and discourages critical
study of primary education policies and impact. The investigated the linkages
between education and social change, by probing the history and impact of the World
Bank-funded District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) in India.

This marked a sudden policy change by the Government of India towards World Bank funding, also
portraying the program as a ‘home grown idea’. Kumar et al also highlight the
program’s impact, including a decline in growth rate in primary stage enrolment and
decline in education standards as students move from lower to higher classes.
This paper uses this framework, linking education and social change, to look at the
history and impact of education development efforts in Spiti valley, Himachal
Pradesh, India. The education systems are often analyzed in a compartmentalized
manner, focusing either on modern secular education systems or traditional/religious
ones but rarely both. This paper presents an analysis of the impact of both systems

This analysis provides a comparison and also an understanding of
historical and social trends with relation to education in its broad sense.
We investigate social change linked to education in this paper, through an analysis of
its impact on local caste, class and gender relations; by focusing on the status of
underprivileged groups in the society. Thus, it looks beyond the benign image of
education systems and the community. Historically, the Indian government has used
the term ‘community’ to include different qualities at different times to fulfill diverse
program objectives: ranging from ‘community development’ in the 1950s to
‘community’ as upholder of common good in the literature on DPEP, overlooking its
role as upholder of discriminatory and patriarchal practices (Kumar et al 2001).
Similarly, in the development literature, there is a tendency to label certain societies
as ‘traditional or ‘indigenous,’ such as Tibetan Buddhist societies in the Himalayas,
and assume that they live harmoniously with themselves and with nature (see for
example Norberg~Hodge 1991).

As an extension of this assumption, socio-economic
change in these societies is generally viewed as being imposed from the outside, i.e.
by development policies of modern states and/or the forces of economic globalization
(ibid; Shiva 1991). Such essentialist assumptions can be criticized for not analyzing
‘community’ in its local contexts of unequal power relations and conflicts, and how
these relations negotiate with markets and the state (Agrawal and Sivaramakrishnan
2000). In this paper, we argue that ‘traditional’ and ‘indigenous’ may also have been
introduced by powerful or external forces such as kings or migration.
The term ‘education’ is used to include traditional‘ and modern education‘ Traditional
system of education refers mainly to monastic education, although education of
Amchi (aem rje or am chi, also called sman pa) and Jowa (jo ha) are also included,
whilst modern education refers to formal government schooling systems.
1 By traditional, we mean customary practices that are passed down lrorn generation to

Source Materials
There is little scholarly writing on education in Spiti, although Besch’s (2006)
description of the education of local doctors and Coberly’s (2004) study of the nuns in
Spiti are two exceptions. There are, however, discussions of secular education at the
regional level (Sharma 1997; Meriam 2001: Sood 2003) and on education among
‘tribals’ ll’l India (Sharma 1997; Sujatha 2002; Rath 2006). Rath (2006) which frames
the contemporary debate on tribal development in India around three responses: 1)
Achievements of development processes and predictions of their future development;
2) Critiques of development processes as exploitative, which advocate their
abandonment; and 3) Ones that are critical with possible responses or remedies.
This paper belongs to the third category.

Sources of information for this paper include participant observation, unstructured
inten/iews with farmers, teachers, students, government officials, religious and
secular leaders, monks and retired workers as well as 2010 school enrolment data
from the office of the local Additional Deputy Commissioner. The bulk of the
ethnographic evidence was collected as the first author’s doctoral fieldwork between
2007 and 2011. The paper also uses relevant published and unpublished works in
English, Hindi and Tibetan.

Spiti, the valley of gods: a background

Spiti is a sparsely populated (11,8522 people in a 7,100 sq. km.“ area) arid valley in
the western Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, India nearthe Tibetan-Chinese border.
The inhabitants are Tibetan Buddhists and speak a western Tibetan dialect, which
they call Bhoti—a generic Hindi term for Tibetan—which for locals means Tibetan
language and script, The main source of livelihood is agro-pastoralism (Mishra 2000).
Although income from cash crops, tourism and government-subsidized development
projects has brought significant economic development to the region, the people of
Spiti continue to live a relatively traditional and isolated lifestyle. This is largely due to
its geographical location—a high altitude desert valley surrounded by 6,000 meter
mountains and its geopolitical imperatives as it remained closed to tourists from
1962-1993 due to its proximity to the border, poor transport infrastructure, with the
main road remaining shut for six months of the year due to snow—and so the area
continues to be governed by traditional resource customs and institutions.

Social Hierarchy, Gender and Education

The hierarchical social structure consists of two broad groups: the caste households
at the bottom and the majority Chechang (che cang) households on the top. Caste in
Spiti is different from the Hindu caste system. In Spiti, it refers to two groups of
households (musicians and blacksmiths), while in Hi|1dUlS|’T1 caste stratifies the whole
society into caste types‘. According to the 2001 census, “scheduled caste”
constitutes about 6% of the population? These families traditionally performed the
role of blacksmiths (Bzo pa) and musicians (Bede). The latter hold the lowest position
in the society, even lower than blacksmiths (Mishra et al 2003; Jahoda 2009).
2 This population estimate comes from a local official who coordinated the 2010 census.
3 Census of India, 2001. Series 3: Himachal Pradesh, Primary Census Abstract. p. 25
A Hindu caste types are Brahrnins (priests), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (traders
and merchants) and Shudras (unskilled workers).
5 Actual percentage is 5.61%: In Spiti, scheduled caste number 600 and total population is
10,679 (Census of India, 2001. Series 3: Himachal Pradesh, Primary Census Abstract. p.25.

The Chechang group consists of all the remaining households, about 94% of the
population, Broadly speaking, there are two types of Chechang: the Khangchen
(khang chen) and Dhutul (dud Thu!/dud khral)6. There are other households such as
Khangchung and Yangchung households, which, for the purposes of this paper, can
be understood as being part of or directly related to Khangchen households (Jahoda,
2008). The Dhutul are traditionally landless farmers but today have their own land
through government land redistribution schemes (Nautor). Dhutul households hold
the lowest social strata among the Chechang but higher than the caste households.
Khangchen households are traditional owners of land and irrigation water. The word
Khangchen literally means ‘large household‘ in Tibetan. In Hindi, they are called
Zamindars or land owners. There are several types of Khangchen households,
organized in a hierarchal order. These are, starting from lower to higher strata: the
regular Khangchens; then there are local doctors (Amchi) and ritual practitioners (Jo
wa or Jowa); then there are three smaller Nono households, which have linkages
with aristocratic and ruling families; and finally, at the top, is the Nono of Kyuling, who
is the traditional ruler or king of Spiti. The following table shows the traditional
hierarchal society, although under the Indian Constitution, everyone has the same
rights and powers.

Table 1. Traditional hierarchical society in Spiti.
Ncno ofK ulin Khangchen Chechang
Demul/Pin/Mane Nono Khangchen Chechang
Amchl and Jowa Khangchen Chechang
Khanchen Khanchen Chechang
Dhutul Chechang
l Bzo pa l Caste l
l Beda l Caste l
The status and rights of women are less than those of men within this hierarchical
social structure of household types.’ Women in Spiti do most of the agricultural and
domestic work and are often very assertive and authoritative at home. The lower
status of women is primarily due to the patrilineal structure of society and the system
of primogeniture or inheritance of family property by the eldest son or the husband of
the eldest daughter, if there is no son in the family. As we discuss below, education is
one area where women were traditionally discriminated.
According to local elders, only the sons of Khangchen households were traditionally
allowed to become monks. Since monasteries were the main centers of public
education, this meant that three groups of people—caste, Dhutul and women—were
denied access to formal education. Men/boys from caste and landless Dhutul
households were denied admission to monasteries till recently. Women could not
access formal education in Spiti as there were no nunneries in the past. According to
the census of 1891, only 1.4% of females were literate.” Since independence, the
education system and access to it has changed greatly. By 2010, there were around
a hundred schools in Spiti. Both boys and girls, including those from caste
households, are receiving traditional Buddhist education in monastenes and
nunneries started by Tibetan exiles in different parts of India.
6 Local informants provided two meanings of the word Dhutul: dud ‘lhul as in (once landless)
households that merely make smoke from their hearth (“dud pa Thu! yag ma gtogs yod ma
red”) and dud khral as in ‘smoke-tax’ or paying tax for having a hearth.
7 Women also follow the same social structure. For example, Khangchen women have higher
status and nghts than those of Dhutul and caste households.
5 See 1897 Gazetteer of the Kangra Disctricl – Parts ll to IV: Ku/u, Lahai./I and Spiti, p.97.

This paper attempts to answer three questions related to these changes:
1) What is the status of education for men, women and various castes in Spiti today?
2) What are the main features and important changes taking place in both traditional
and modern education systems?
3) How has education transformed society and how will these trends impact Spiti in
the future?
In section I, we discuss the historical context of the traditional education system and
some of its noteworthy, and changing, characteristics. Section ll discusses the
historical development and impact of modern education system in Spiti.
I. Education under the traditional system
Tibetan Buddhism and its monastic education system came to Spiti more than a
thousand years ago as part of an important development in the history of Tibetan
Buddhism known as bslan pa phyi dar (Later DlffUSlO|’1 of Buddhism) (Tucci 1933;
Klimburg-Salter 1997). Before the advent of Tibetan Buddhism in the region, the
inhabitants of Spiti and nearby regions were said to be ‘Mon’ or Monpa (mon pa),
according to Indian (Handa 2001), Tibetan (rGya| po 2006) and local (Tobdan 1984)
historians. Although locals in Spiti today, use the word ‘Mon’ for Indians, Tobdan
states that Mons were a mixed lndo-Tibetan race, who lived between the Indian
plains and the Tibetan Plateau. Today, there are ‘Mon’ or ‘Monpa’ in Bhutan (Chand
2009) and eastern India (Baker, 2004). Klimburg-Salter (1997) argues that those
people were ethnically and linguistically a part of the ancient kingdom of Zhang
zhung, which covered present day western and northwestern Tibet.
Despite the lack of research on the inhabitants of this region (Dollfus 2007),
petroglyphs and cave paintings throughout Spiti provide evidence of the practice of
Bon religion in the region before the advent of Buddhism. A prominent symbol in the
petroglyphs and paintings is the counter-clockwise swastika symbol of the ‘Eternal
Bon‘ (g.yung drung bori,), e.g., at Tabo, and inside Chichem srin mo kha gdarig cave.
These Eternal Bon signs and other images on rocks and caves appear to be
remnants of the older Zhang zhung kingdom (Petech 1997).
There are no useful historical records of Spiti for the period before the 10’“ Century
(Lahuli, 2002).” In the 10’“ century, a powerful kingdom was formed in western Tibet
known as Guge, covering Guge, Purang, Ladakh, Zangskar and Spiti (Petech 1997).
Guge‘s Buddhist kings sponsored the propagation of Buddhism by constructing
temples and monasteries and sponsorsing scholarly activities. Tabo Monastery in
Spiti, regarded as the oldest continuously operating Buddhist monastery in India and
the Himalayas (Klimburg-Salter 1997), was built during this time. As a result,
‘indigenous’ Bon practitioners were converted to Tibetan Buddhism (ibid). Those who
were not assimilated into the Tibetan society moved out of Spiti to nearby regions
such as Kinnaur and Lahaul. Today, the local population is largely Buddhist.
Whilst the Bon culture declined to extinction in Spiti, scholarship in Buddhist studies
were supported by the Buddhist rulers of Guge (from the 10″‘ century to 1630),
Ladakh (1630-1683/84; 1705/17-1734 and; 1758-1842) and Tibet (1683/84-1687).”
Some of the notable scholars and spiritual adepts produced during these periods
9 Harcourt (1871), Hutchison and \/ogel (1933) and Handa (2001) claim that Spiti was
‘probably’ under the rule of Hindu kings during the 7″‘ century. They allude to the Nirmand
gqpfer P111819 of 630 ‘AD abs eJVk:ie?iCe(2009) F T’b t I s ‘t’
ese a es are given y a o a . or I e an ariguage sources on pi I, see,
Gergan, 1997; Jhampa, 2008; Rigzin 8- Lodoe, 7; Shastri, 2007, Tsering, 2000; Tsetan, 1997.

include a Throne Holder of Gaden Monastery: Dhangkar Palden Gyaltsen, Rangrik
Rechen Kunga Gyatso, Lopon Yeshi Tseten, Khenpo Gyatso and many others who
earned the title of Kachen and Geshe, which is considered to be equivalent to a
Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy (Tsering 2000).
In 1846, the British extended their control over Spiti (Lahuli 2002; Jahoda 2009).
Their efforts to provide modern education in Spiti were largely a failure (discussed in
the next section), and they neither supported nor discouraged the monastic
education system. By the mid 20′” century, the quality of education in the
monasteries had become extremely poor.“ They began to improve only after the
Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetan refugees came into exile in India. Several
senior Iamas’2 came to Spiti and spent extended periods of time to revive its
declining religious culture. These lamas not only revived Spiti’s religious culture but
also brought many reforms like abolishing rituals of animal sacrifice. The Dalai Lama
visited Spiti and gave three Kalachakra initiations (1983, 1996 and 2000), which,
according to local leaders, provided tremendous boost to the religious life of Spiti.
Spiti and Tibetan monastic education
Traditional education in Spiti revolves around the local monasteries as institutions of
higher learning. There are five monasteries“ in Spiti: Tabo, Dhangkar, Kee, Tengyud
and Gungri. Currently, the first three monasteries—Tabo (Klimburg-Salter 1997), Kee
(Tsering 2000) and Dhangkar—belong to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tengyud Monastery (Bhoti 2010) belongs to the Sakya school and Gungri Monastery
(Rigzin and Lodoe, Unpublished) belongs to the Nyingma school,
Although the monasteries in Spiti are relatively small“, local monks were able to
achieve the highest levels of educational training as they were a part of the larger
Tibetan monastic system (Tsering 2000). It was customary for scholarly monks from
Spiti to attend larger monasteries in Tibet like the great Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
near Shigatse (Tsetan 1987).“ Similarly, the three big monasteries of Tibet—Sera,
Gaden and Drepung—accommodated monks from Spiti in their respective residential
homes for natives of Ngari region, of which Spiti was a part (ibid).
With Chinese occupation of Tibet and the subsequent exile of the Dalai Lama, monks
from Spiti joined monasteries established by Tibetan exiles in different parts of India.
In recent years, the number of monks and nuns from Spiti joining Tibetan
monasteries and nunneries in India has been increasing. For example, in 2000, there
were 50 monks from Kee Monasteiy studying in South India (Tsering 2000). By 2010,
a monk from Kee Monastery studying in South India reported that 201 monks from
the monastery were studying in South India: 51 at Drepung Loseling and 150 at
Gaden Monastery in Karnataka, south India. Similarly, monks from Gungri Monastery
are studying in monasteries in different parts of India (rnam grolgling in Karnataka;
smin grolgling in Uttarkhand; rdzong gsar bshad gra in Himachal Pradesh) and in
Kathmandu, Nepal (bshad sgrub ‘dod 1’0 gling). A host of factors and conditions have
led to this trend, including better accessibility and active recruitment by monasteries.
“ Snellgrove (1995) reports that in 1953, monks in Spiti could barely spell their names.
‘Z Triliang Rlnpoche, Ngor Khangsar Khenchen Rinpoche and Serkong Rinpoche
‘S Tabo (Ita po theg chen chos gling), Dhangkar (brag mkhar bkra shis chos gling), Kee (dkyil
dgon nor bu dge ‘pheI), Tengyud (steng rgyud dgon chos ‘khor g/ing) and Gungri (spriri dgon
gsang sngags chos gling).
For example, in 2000, Kee monastery—the largest in Spiti—had 200 monks (Tsering 2000).
‘E Tashi Lhunpo Monastery accommodated monks from Upper Spiti (i.e. villages from Losar
to Rangrik) in its Takmo House and monks from the rest of Spiti to Kinnaur in its Guge House.

Access and discrimination against caste, women and landless farmers
Three groups of people were traditionally denied monastic education: members of
caste and Dhutul households, and women. In contrast, the educated class (dge ‘dun
pa, sman pa andjo ba) commanded a high status in society. Since becoming a part
of independent India, the opportunities for formal religious education have opened for
everyone, although caste households still face several challenges in accessing it.
Earlier only tax-paying Khangchen households were allowed to join the monasteries
as monks, according to local elders. This is plausible as the change in policy, as
claimed by some (elder) informants, was made during their lifetime, with one of them
belonging to the first batch of Dhutul household boys who joined the monastery.
However, none of them were able to mention the exact year. Today, admission to
local monasteries is open to all male members, except caste households.
The discriminatoiy practice of not allowing boys from caste families to become
monks has begun to change in recent years. According to a local bzo pa man, who
led a campaign to admit their children to monasteries, in December 2006 a group of
sixteen bzo pa boys were admitted to the Gaden Shartse Monastew, south India. In
response a public meeting was held in Spiti in February 2007, which decided that the
boys must return to Spiti (Amar Ujala 2007a). In order to punish the families of these
boys, the people imposed the social ostracism rule called me lam chu lam (literally,
no sharing of hearth fire and water). For two years, they remained ostracized. During
this time, leaders of bzo pa families informed the media and sent appeal letters to the
Dalai Lama (Divya Himachal 2007), the Prime Minister (Amar Ujala 2007b), the
President of India (Amar Ujala 20070), and the head lama of the local monastery. In
2009, with letters of support from the head lama of the local monastery and after a
public announcement by the Dalai Lama supporting the caste members, the bzo pa
boys were allowed to remain monks—but only in monasteries outside Spiti—and the
me lam chu lam punishment was lifted. So far, only boys from blacksmith households
have joined monasteries in south India and none from Beda households.
The role of women has traditionally been centered on the home and farming. Most of
their time was spent caring for the family, performing doing work around the house
and weaving clothes. As there were no nunneries in Spiti till recently, the few nuns ([0
mo) that existed in the past stayed home and helped with domestic chores, Today,
an increasing number of girls join nunneries in Spiti and other parts of India.
Nunneries in Spiti include Dechen Choeling in Pin valley, Yangchen Choling in
Pangmo Village and Sherab Choling in Morang Village and a residential nunnery at
Tabo Monastery. At least one more nunnery is scheduled to be built by Tengyud
Monastery. Many young girls from Spiti have also joined nunneries like Dolmaling in
Dl-iaramsala, set up by Tibetan exiles in India. Nunneries now provide an opportunity
for young girls to pursue a life of religious education and self-fulfillment, and escape
worldly pressures to labour in the farm or being forced into marriage (Coberly 2004).
Other systems of formal education in traditional society
Other than the monks and nuns, there are also traditional doctors known as Amchi
(am chi) and tantric ritual practitioners known as Jowa (/o ba, also known as sngags
pa), who are highly respected individuals in the upper strata of the community (Besch
2006; Aziz 1978). Amchis trace their practice to Tibetan medicine (gso ha rig pa) and
are responsible for treating the sick in their village. Jowas perform rituals to ward off
evil spirits or bring favorable conditions for the well»being of people. Amchis and
Jowas also help determine auspicious days for activities related to agriculture,
special events like marriages and commencing public constmction works.

There are two accounts on how the Tibetan medical system came to Spiti. The
commonly accepted oral history is that it was brought to Spiti by Rinchen Zangpo
(Besch 2006; Gyaltsen 2006). A local Amchi gave another account: An Amchi from
Nyarong region of Tibet did not get along with the Tibetan government in Lhasa and
eventually moved to Spiti. This Amchi lived for a year in each of Spiti’s villages to
teach medicine. As a result, the local Amchi argued, the medical practice in Spiti is a
bit different; since it belongs to the Nyarong lineage (rgyud pa) of Tibetan medicine
and uses the ‘Yuthok medical texts‘. As a result of this unique training and practice,
Spitian Amchis are said to be highly specialized in moxibustion and bloodletting.
The Jowa, according to the Lahuli scholar Tsering Dorje, were originally Bon priests
whose practices were successfully incorporated into Buddhism, who are broadly
known as Nyingmapa’s (rnying ma pa). Since esoteric tantric rituals were integral
aspects of the pre-Buddhist local religious culture, it was necessary to include many
local deities, institutions and practices as Buddhist. According to Dorje, the king of
Guge, Lha Lama Yeshe ‘Od (947-1024) gave strict directions to incorporate Bon
priests into the new Tibetan Buddhist society, including how they could continue their
ritual practices for the villages, but not join the monasteries.
The education of Amchis (Besch 2006: 57-104) and Jowas are not open to even/one.
It is believed that certain spiritual qualities of Amchis and Jowas are transmitted by
descent (gdung rgyud) or family lineage (rgyud pa). Usually the eldest son is given
the educational training to assume the fathefs responsibilities. When a son of an
Amchi or Jowa family refuses or fails to fulfill his obligations, the transmission of
spiritual qualities can continue to the next generation provided he gets locally
acceptable training or achieves such qualities. In recent decades, with the
establishment of Tibetan medical schools in India, an increasing number of
individuals from non-descent, including Dhutul households, are acquiring the
necessary training and qualifications to become Amchis. In 2010, there were 31
Amchis, many from non-descent families, and only six Jowas in Spiti (including Pin).
II. Modern Secular Education in Spiti valley
The first effort to introduce modern secular education dates back to 1867, when the
officials of British India introduced Urdu, the official language of the administration, to
Spiti (Harcourt 1871:). The Commissioner of Jalandhar, Mr. Forsyth, ordered that two
boys from each of the five divisions lkothees) of Spiti be sent to Keylong for
education every year (ibid). The scholarships were “not very eagerly taken advantage
of, owing to the dislike of the Spiti people for any climate but their own” (Kangra
District Gazetteer 1897: 91). By 1917, only ‘two or three men’ in Spiti understood
Urdu and three or four boys had enrolled in a school in Naggar (Kangra District
Gazetteer 1917). In 1932, the first school in Spiti was set up in Kaza Village (Bajpai
1987) through a teacher deputed from Lahul (Mamgain 1975).
The modern education system began to have an impact in Spiti only after lndia’s
independence. Spiti was initially incorporated into Punjab and then in 1966 became a
part of Himachal Pradesh (Lahuli 2002). After independence, the medium of
instruction in schools became Hindi but in those early years the locals remained
reluctant to send their children to schools. Government schools were perceived as
part of an alien culture and people did not trust it. At that time there was also little
interest in government jobs. Today, however, things are very different: everybody
wants modern education for their children and government jobs are highly coveted.

According to one of the first local Junior Basic Training (JBT) teachers, people’s
views of modern schools started to change after 1955, when the first batch of high
school students graduated from a school in Rangrik Village.” They were also the first
graduates who studied Hindi. Prior to that, Urdu was the medium of instruction and
students did not continue their education beyond middle school. The four students
were provided teacher training for two years in Kulu and posted in Spiti as JBT
teachers in 1958. As more graduates got government jobs and with government
providing incentives—such introducing Tibetan language classes, mid-day meals and
cash payment for school enrollment—more parents started to send children to
While in 1947, there were only two schools in Spiti, today every village has a
government school. From being a monolingual society (with local variations in
dialect), most people now speak Hindi and English besides their mother tongue.
Modern education has also significantly improved literacy and social status of
underprivileged groups, especially women and caste members.
Hierarchy and influence on gender
While the centuries-old traditional education system was part of a larger social
system that maintained the strict hierarchy of caste, class and gender, modern
education leveled the playing field by making education accessible and allowing
underprivileged groups to rise above their traditional roles. As mentioned earlier, the
literacy rate for women, which was 1.4% ln 1891 (Gazetteer 1897) has increased to
49.6% in the 2001 Census, and male literacy rate increased from 10.1% to 75.1%.
Female literacy is expected to increase even more dramatically as girls constituted
53% of students in primary schools and 59% in middle schools in 2010, The authors
could not get gender data for higher classes but field observations indicate the
number of girls attending senior classes is even greater. Though data on caste
children is not available, we can assume that their number has increased significantly
too, as they did not have access to formal educational till these schools were built,
Although the number of girls and caste children receiving education is increasing, the
progress may be limited as social mores, such boys getting favorable access to
opportunities or discrimination against caste groups, still persists. According to a
local teacher, the best and the brightest students in Spiti valley join the Navodaya
School” (Reddy 2006). The others join the new private schools, whilst only children
from poorer families, mainly caste members and girls from poorer families, go to
government schools. This trend is also observed in other tribal areas such as the
Bhotias of Chamoli District in Uttarakhand (Sahal et al 2006). Many families send
their boys to private, fee-paying schools and daughters to free government schools.
High on quantity but low on quality
Described as a “schooling revolution” by the Public Report on Basic Education in
India, Himachal Pradesh is regarded as an exemplary case of high achievement in
education in India (Sood 2003). The state achieved an astounding growth in the
literacy rate from 31.3% in 1971 to 77.1% in 2006. These achievements are reflected
in the number of schools built ln Spiti. According to data from the local office of the
‘5 The first Your local teachers were Tsering Wangchup (late) from Mane, Dhondup Done
slate) from Khurig, and Tamding Tsering and Padma Dorje from Kyuling.
Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya is a national school system started during the Prime
Ministership oi Rajlv Gandhi to foster talented children in rural India. The school in Kaza has
classes from 8 to 10 grade. it admits students on a competitive basis every year.

Additional District Commissioner, there are 69 government primary schools (with
classes up to 5“ grade), 13 middle schools (to 8”‘ grade), five high schools (to 10“
grade) and eight higher secondary schools (to 12“ grade). In addition, there are five
private schools and one central government school (Jawahar Navodaya School).
Out of the 69 primary government schools in Spiti in 2010, 17 have only five students
or less“, including threelg schools with just one student each. While the government
can be commended for running low enrollment schools, the rationale behind
establishing two primary schools in certain villages” is questionable. Chichem, a
village with about 350 people, for example, has three schools—two primary schools
and one middle school. One of the primary schools has seven students and the other
has four. Similarly, the village of Langza has two primary schools, one with eight
students and the other with four. Locals state that politicians, seeking votes, built the
duplicate schools and were accepted by people as they provide well-paying jobs.
While the government has built a large number of schools, it has not hired the
required number of teachers for senior classes. Most teachers hired by the
government are JBTs and there is a shortage of teachers particularly for science and
mathematics. The new JBT teachers are not getting jobs in Spiti as all the positions
(150) are already occupied and there is only one senior secondary school with all
three streams of specialization: Arts, Science and Commerce. The Parent-Teacher
Association has hired 103 additional teachers to address the shortage but these
teachers are dissatisfied with their significantly lower salary“. Low salary and lack of
job security under this contract fails to attract well-qualified teachers.
Medium of instruction and language education
Earlier, medium of instruction was a key problem as the teachers were from outside
and did not speak the local language. Today, this is no longer a problem as most
teachers are locals. However, the problem is now with language classes. Even when
Bhoti classes were introduced after independence, it was merely an incentive for
people to send children to school. The government still does not provide program
support for Bhoti classes in Spiti.
Local leaders have taken many initiatives to introduce Bhoti education in schools and
to the public. According to a senior Bhoti teacher, the first Bhoti textbooks were
introduced in Spiti schools, when it was part of Punjab. The textbook were hand»
written by a local monk of Kee Monastery. The printed textbooks used now are the
result of support by the local chapter of the Himalayan Buddhist Association (HBA).
Since 2008, HBA has also arranged free Tibetan language and Tibetan computer
classes for the general public at the Tengyud Monastery in Kaza. Another important
initiative is that during the data collection in September 2010 for the 2011 Census,
people in Spiti organized themselves by registering “Bhoti” as their language, instead
of “Spiti” as they had done in past censuses. They hope that if Ladakhis, Bhotias and
others in India who use the Bhoti script register their language as “Bhoti”, the
numbers could be large enough to warrant policy recognition. The local leaders
involved in this initiative said that they could then lobby with the government for full
recognition of Tibetan language education in schools.
‘X These schools are in Kholaksa, Chichem, Gete, Tashi Gang, Kwang. Langza, Kyulirlg,
Lara, Kaley, Siluk, Mikkim, Phukchung, Kaa, Siling, Pomrang, Nadang and Lingli.
19 These are Gele, Kaley and Ka.
2° Lossar, Chichem, Langza, Kaza and Sagnam.
2′ For example, a Trained Graduate Teacher |’llfSd by Parents Teachers Association gets INR
4,100 per month, where as a government hired TGT gets INR 13,900 per month.

In the late 1990s, two private schools—Munseling School in Rangrik (founded in
1996) and Serkong School in Tabo (founded in 1999)—introduced Tibetan language
alongside English medium education. These schools also introduced a boarding
facility, which is a big advantage for students from distant villages. As result, private
schools are very popular, with a decline in enrollment in government schools.” The
number of students in government schools in Spiti has decreased from 2,264 in 2002
to 1,646 in 2010, a decline of 27.3% despite increase in local population and number
of schools.“ The negative impact of private school education in Spiti is that a
generation of children is growing up in boarding schools, removed from traditional
practices related to farming, pastoralism and traditional ecological knowledge.
The history of education in Spiti dates back to the 10″‘ century (CE) when the rulers
of Guge Kingdom led an intensive missionary project in the region. Celebrated in the
history of Tibetan Buddhism as the Later Diffusion of Buddhism, it was defined by the
construction of temples, stupas and monasteries and the translation of Buddhist texts
from Sanskrit to Tibetan. Spiti was one of the important sites of this development.
According to Klimburg-Salter (1997), this period, as indicated in the foundation
inscription of Tabo Monastery (built in 996 CE), marked the beginning of the process
of Tibetanisation of Spiti and nearby regions.
The establishment of religious sites in Spiti“, along with the migration of a significant
number of Tibetans”, eventually led to the disappearance of the Zhang Zhung
culture and language from the valley“ (Tobdan 1984; Klimburg-Salter 1997). Today.
Tibetan Buddhism dominates local culture, with people speaking a dialect of western
Tibetan. The traditional education system of Spiti consists mainly of Tibetan Buddhist
monasteries and the institutions of Amchis and Jowas. These institutions produced
and maintained a social hierarchy, providing privileged access to certain groups
(male Chechang members) and denying admission to others (women, Dhutul and
caste members). In recent decades, even though circumstances are still difficult for
caste members, underprivileged groups have begun to obtain religious education
from monasteries and nunneries established by Tibetan exiles in lndia and Nepal.
Although its history dates back to the time of British rule, modem education made an
impact in Spiti only after Indian independence. The establishment of Hindi medium
primary schools in every village improved literacy considerably, especially among
underprivileged groups. in recent years, however, the government’s investments
made for education through building new schools has reached a point ofdiminishing
returns. There is an urgent need to shift these investments away from establishing
new schools, to improving the quality of education. ln particular, there is a pressing
need for qualified instructors in disciplines like science, mathematics and Bhoti.
22 The drop in enrollment in government schools due to the popularity of private schools has
also been observed at the state or national levels (Sood 2003)
73 Data on the number of students in government schools are from the local administrative
office of the Additional District Commissioner. Local population was 10,679 according to 2001
Census, and the number has increased to 11,852 during the last count for 2010 Census,
2‘ Tabo and Lhalung would be two examples. The dating of Tabo Monastery is widely
accepted as 996 CE. The dating of Lhalung temple is unclear. Tropper (2008) provides the
most detailed study of The Founding Inscription in the gSer Khang of Lalurig, with a tentative
dating of the inscription “somewhere between 1025 and 1250 CE”.
25 The process of Tibetan settlement in the region may have started in the 7″’ century or even
earlier. It can be argued that many important aspects of local religious practices and language
have their origins in Bon religion and zang zung g/skad, as described by Denwood (1995).
2° Many aspects oi local religious practices and language come lrom pre-Buddhist sources,
including the cult of mountain deities, ritual sacrifices, and spoken words like ‘rtf for water.

It is too early to postulate the consequences of modern education on local culture
and language, However, modern secular education has changed Spiti in important
ways, Members of traditionally underprivileged groups are receiving education and
assuming professional employed positions. The new private boarding schools have
led to a generation of children growing up removed from their ancestral way of life.
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