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(INDIA 27)






former pastoralist


Dhanras village, Tons valley, Dehra Dun


December 1996


Mir is the husband of Kammo (India 23). During this short testimony Mir, a Gujjar, discusses how they used to migrate seasonally up to the forests with their buffaloes. He recalls some of the hardships they encountered: “The buffaloes would become ill and die. If a few survived they were not sufficient to provide us with a living. I could not educate my children so they remained illiterate”. He explains they also had problems with local people in the plains who would pick fights with them or exact payment for crops which they said the Gujjars’ animals had eaten. Their lack of education also made them vulnerable to merchants who would cheat them when purchasing ghee, thus forcing them into debt.

They no longer have any animals and cannot afford to buy them. All these different factors have forced them to abandon their old lifestyle and take up a settled existence. Mir explains that they bought their own land as nothing was given to them by the government and they have exchanged livestock-rearing for farming, learning by copying the locals. He explains, “Earlier, farming was very difficult but after some years we started enjoying it. If we grew our own food grains, we just had to grind salt and have our meals with it. Now we have started growing vegetables as well as a variety of pulses.” The world of the Gujjars is clearly changing and while Mir regrets some loss of tradition, he feels there are positive elements too: “…society is changing, Gujjars are watching others, listening to others, and they are getting wiser.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  How they settled there: “From Jammu we settled down in Himachal. From there we kept going to the plains and mountains, with buffaloes and other animals. But we were exposed to great hardship...On account of all these difficulties, in between I had to sell some buffaloes to buy land. Our people bought small plots of land to survive.” They got nothing form the government and there is no school there. The Samata institution. He bought the land from some pandits (priests). Says “people do labour, or service to bring up their children.”
Section 2  Their sources of livelihood when they were nomadic: “I had 10 or 12 animals. 10 of them were buffaloes.” They were dependent on the forests. Marriage: “Earlier the customs were wrong and even now some are bad. But society is changing, Gujjars are watching others, listening to others, and they are getting wiser. Now they understand that one should get married at a later age.” Children used to be married at five or six. 40-50 years ago none of the Gujjars were literate. Women: “now we feel that it is good to educate them” but says the expense prevents him educating his granddaughters. Income: “We Gujjars rear cattle and we do have some land for agriculture” They used to (and still do) help each other out with problems.
Section 3  The present and the past are both good – but life used to be tough. They have been given no help by the government. Problems when they migrated with animals: “There were highway robberies. If an animal entered someone's field and Rs1000 was demanded in place of 10, we had to pay it.” Hope for his sons: “I want a small piece of land, a pair of oxen, a buffalo, that is enough” – they no longer have animals and can’t afford to buy buffalo. The Gujjar economy was dependant on cattle-rearing: “Everyone did it. We knew nothing else.” Explains they had problems as they were cheated by merchants and got into debt.
Section 4  Disputes were sorted out between themselves. Alcohol: “We believe that consuming alcohol is bad. God has kept us away from drinking, dacoity (banditry), robbery, gambling...Whoever indulges in these is declared an outcast.” They learnt agriculture by copying the local people. Says “If irrigation facilities are made available we could get really good crops” Drinking water comes from springs. The expense of marriages is increasing; the festivals celebrated.
Section 5  When travelling they used to fight with other villagers: “When we went down to the plains, the mainland locals used to pick fights with us. They used to uproot and carry away trees from our forests...and the Gujjars were blamed for that.” The animals they kept.