For almost 25 years, Uttara has instilled pride in the women of Kumaon through a most unlikely tool: the written word.
Next year, Uttara will celebrate its silver jubilee. The quarterly local magazine that has been inspiring women in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand for nearly 25 years, is readying for the release of three books of selected poetry, interviews and its editorials featured in the magazine over the years.
Founded in 1990 by the bright and insightful Uma Bhatt, together with Sheela Rajwar, Kamla Pant and Basanti Pathak, Uttara which means ‘of the north’ publishes stories revolving around women’s issues in the hills. What makes it stand apart from run-of-the-mill women’s magazines is its fine editorial content. The team was very clear from the start that they wanted a no-frills magazine; there were to be no recipes, no beauty treatment pieces, no sewing or embroidery talks. The magazine would address the dark underbelly of the beautiful Himalayas. This with the backing of the late pahari poet Girda who first suggested the idea, Uttara was born.
Till date, the magazine has purely run on philanthropy of local fellow publications, volunteer contributors and workers. It has addressed everything from alcoholism that is rampant in the hills to women’s role in the Uttarakhand movement, besides issues of rape and disappearance. It also carries translated extracts from related works of prolific writers all over the world, and profiles dynamic women. Uttara also features ordinary hill women, including those of women who have stood up to tradition and superstition in their own small way. They’ve published stories of village women who have broken taboos and got their widowed daughters-in-law remarried, and memoirs of women from nomadic communities in the higher Himalayas who have traversed treacherous mountains on their own in the course of their lives.
With a little help from the editorial team, women who are not writers have thus been empowered with the power of the pen, and metamorphosed into thinking women. The magazine has an equal number of men and women readers, and writers.
However, the writing itself is women-centric. Nand Kishor Hatwal’s poem ‘Beti’, meaning daughter, shot to fame after first being published by Uttara in 1995, and has since been republished by many, apart from being used for several government campaigns for the girl child’s education. More than anything, says Uma Bhatt who spearheads the project, Uttara has never showcased women as ‘the fairer sex’, or hapless people, but rather an equal gender that needs respect over support. At 62, her only regret is not having had enough time as she was a professor at the Kumaon University in Nainital. Despite not starting young, Bhatt has achieved what many youngsters here have failed to achieve — instilling pride in the women of Kumaon through a most unlikely tool, the written word.