photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 26)






former pastoralist


Maindhrat village, Tons village, Dehra Dun


December 1996



Section 1
What's your good name, Sir?
Talib Hussain.

How old are you?
23 years. [We came to know later that he was 55 years old].

How long have you been living here?
For a long time, ever since my childhood, in fact actually I was born here.

How many generations have been settled here?
Almost three generations. My grandfather settled here.

What is the strength of your family?
The entire family consists of 30 people. [All the brothers live separately. There are nine members, including six children, in his family].

What profession do you follow?
I do farming and I also have a few animals. Basically, we do agriculture and labour jobs.

How many of your family members are educated?
Nobody among us is educated. Nor were they so earlier. But now we are sending very small children to school.

How many Gujjar villages are there in this area?
In the Dehra Dun region we have about four to five hundred families. Gujjars are settled in Hanol, Tyuni and below them in Daragarh, Palasu, Hadung, Chanani, Majok, Fatad and other villages.

Did the government settle you here or did you come on your own?
We settled here on our own. There are some places where people have government land. But mostly people have bought their own land, or land is shared on the agreement that half of the produce is given to the owner.

You were nomads once. Then why have you settled down here?
We had to wander about in the forests. It was very difficult for the children and for us. The forests were getting thinner day by day. So we decided to settle down, exchange the old life in favour of farming our own land. We thought we would have a comfortable and happier life and that there would be no shortage of grass or green fodder for our livestock. Now the old forests are not there. The evergreen trees are drying up and they are not enough to feed our animals. People often fall from the trees and die. Even the animals are not as healthy as they were earlier, nor do they give as much milk as they did before. Neither is the quality of milk the same, nor are the buffaloes. When the forests themselves have disappeared, how can we rear the animals? We have always had such a special relationship with the forests and animals that we cannot think of doing anything else. When cattle rearing started getting tough we thought of cultivating the land so that our children could be educated and our lives could be happy and profitable. We felt that it was high time we made our homes and started living in one place.
Section 2
How many animals did you have earlier? How many do you have now?
Earlier people had lots of animals, sometimes 40 or 50. Everybody had at least 10 buffaloes. Now the number has come down to two, or at most, five. The numbers are decreasing day by day.

Do you still move to the forests with your animals or live here only?
Only those who are still nomads keep going up and down. We do not. We can't make a living if we go up to the forests, since we have only one or two animals. Here we can do some farming or even some labour jobs and make both ends meet. That's why we have settled down in the hills.

How do you divide work in the family? What does the man do, and what do women do?
Women cut grass, look after children and animals. They have not had any formal training in spinning, weaving, sewing and other skills. Some women are educated and know a little sewing and knitting. But they have no resources. Some of them have studied up to class five.

Are there any old women who have had education in your community?
No, there is nobody now. There was one woman long ago, who was educated. You see, we were nomads, living in the forests with animals. So there was no question of education. It is only now that we are permanently settled.

What was the source of income for your family?
By selling milk and ghee (clarified butter). We sold ghee in the higher region in the forests and sold milk in the plains. We had buffaloes earlier and so we had milk to sell and looked after the family in the plains of Dehra Dun and Saharanpur. Now the government is making efforts to settle us and offering many facilities. But all those, who have settled in the hills have not been given any facilities by the government. Many of us here do not even have a house to live in. There is no water, electricity or provision to educate our children.
Section 3
How were the sick treated, while you travelled up and down?
The sick had to be either carried by four to five men, or on horseback to a far away hospital. There was no hakim or vaid (practitioners of indigenous medicine). Only some old people had knowledge of herbs and roots but their number was one in a hundred.

How much money was given to you to build these houses?
We were given Rs 8000. We had to bring stone and buy wood. The people here do not give wood free of cost. The forest department also does not give wood. If anyone is found cutting wood the forest wardens arrest him. So we are scared of getting wood from the forest. We do not know masonry so we get it done by others. Most people of our community are living in tents. Even those who are settled here have no land. The government had promised to provide water, electricity but nothing has been provided.

What were the forests like, earlier?
They were very good. The leaves and trees were good. There was a lot of greenery. All of us protected the forests, since we loved them. Forests are very precious to us because we get fodder for our animals from forests. Now if anybody goes there to cut trees, he does so because they are falling down.

How many castes are there among the Gujjars?
We have many like - Kasan, Dhide, Vaniye, Chechi, Kadas, Bhadad, and Khatand etc. Only difference between Hindus and us is that we read Namaz (prayers) but they do not. We are not non-vegetarians. Some are. We do not slaughter goats even on Bakrid (Muslim festival of sacrifice) because we are poor and can't spare 2500/- or 3000/- for buying a goat. So we make less expensive delicacies like halwa, and kheer (sweet dishes). So we celebrate Bakrid also like Meethi Id (Muslim festival to mark the end of Ramadan).

What effect did India's Independence in 1947 have upon your community?
Nothing at all. I do not even remember it.

What are your main festivals?
One is Shaberat. Many different things are cooked. Our sisters are given clothes, money and pulses. The second one is Roza (religious fast). We fast for the whole day, eat early in the morning at 3am and then again in the evening by 6 or 7pm. We have to do the Namaz five times a day. We are not to tell any lies during this time. This is followed by the festival of Id. We buy new clothes for our children. All sorts of delicacies are cooked and those who can afford it also bring a goat otherwise not.

What are your customs?
We give our daughters in satt batta (exchange marriage). This means that if I have a daughter and she gets married into a particular family, that family will marry its daughter into my family. If there is no girl in that family then they give compensation money of about ten to twenty thousand. When a child is born the aunts, either the father's sister or father's younger brother's wife, give money or buffaloes. These cannot be sold, ever. The buffalo becomes the child's property. Girls are also given buffaloes when they get married. All its calves also become the girl's property. Only the girl, if she so desires, can sell those.
Section 4
When do you name the children?
Either seven or eight days after the birth of the child or on Juma (Friday). The dead are buried and the condolence meeting is held on the seventh day. People come from far to attend this. Everybody eats food. Again on the fortieth day a similar congregation is held and every day everybody prays for the dead. If any blind or lame person comes he is given some money. Many mosques are under construction and we contribute money for them in the name of the dead person. When people go to study there, they will be grateful to all those who have contributed towards its construction.

Do you have any animal and forest related festivals also?
During monsoon we celebrate in the plains. We cook rice and other things and offer it to the forest with a prayer that it should always remain green.

Did you have a panchayat (village council) to solve disputes?
If a panchayat had to be summoned, then all the village elders were called to listen to the versions of the witnesses and give a verdict. The person in the wrong also asked for pardon. The panchayat was usually called to settle forest-related disputes. We had divided the forest among our own people. The government was accordingly informed and permits were given. These forests were distributed by the panchayat.

How much do you pay to the government per buffalo?
Rs 8, and 1kg of ghee (clarified butter) in the hills, and Rs120 and 3kg of ghee [here]. This ghee is given to the Rangers and DFO (District Forest Officer).

Who used to stitch clothes here?
The girls of the family stitched the clothes. This cap is knitted by girls, with thread and needles. It is called a fooman wali cap. It is an old custom, among us, to wear this cap. Now nobody wears it. It is made of cotton cloth or soosi (?).

How did people dress earlier?
Women wore a belonwada kurta (shirt) and churidar pyjamas (long tight trousers) of soosi or sutan. The men wore shirts and chadars (long piece of cloth tied around the body). Woollen clothes were bought.

How much have the prices risen in recent times?
Earlier a good quality/breed of buffalo cost only Rs 3000. Now it sells for Rs 10 000, and the milk yield per buffalo is only 4 to 5 kg. Earlier, without any special feed, the yield used to be 10 to 12 kg and we also got good lots of ghee.

What is your food and drink like?
We used to eat roti (bread) of wheat or maize. If we had money we bought rice and ate with kadi (dish made with curd.) We used to make kaladi (?) of lassi (buttermilk) and ate roti with that.
Section 5
While roaming in the forests if a woman came into labour or children fell ill, what did you do?
In case the children fell ill we did jhad - foonk (magic rites or some occult practices) or jantar-mantar (tantric rites). If the hospital was close by we also took them there. We also gave local herbs like cardamom, ajwain (thyme), clove, black pepper, etc. When cattle were sick they were given pounded bana (?) or timakh (?) leaves or nasajjar (?). To treat sick animals we used to go to a riverbank, close our eyes and pick up a stone. We kept it in the house and prayed to God that if the animals got cured we would make an offering to him and distribute sarain (dish prepared as divine offering) in his name. 2.5kg of rice was cooked and distributed to the poor.

How much land do you have here?
We have 10 bighas (one bigha = 0.676 hectares) of land for four brothers and we grow wheat and maize.

Do you feel that the modern times are better or were the olden days better?
Both are all right. The old people always think that their times were better. Now we want access to good education and every possible thing available.

Who is the chief in your community?
The community head is called the numberdar. He settles disputes and fixes marriages.

What happens if someone elopes with a girl?
If the girl is a maiden then nothing happens. In exchange that family gives a girl. If the girl is married however, and not divorced, then the man is treated as a social outcast. No one will go to his house to smoke a hukkah (type of pipe), and he will really be harassed.

How are women treated?
Our women are very simple. They keep busy working and do not talk with anybody. Those who can, do talk, but never in front of the older generation.

How are your relations with the Hindus?
Good. We do attend their weddings and they attend ours. They invite us for Diwali and other religious festivals. We eat food cooked by them, but they take raw rations from us and cook it themselves [lest they lose caste]. We do not eat mutton there since they eat jhatka mutton and we take halal meat [different ways of slaughtering followed by the two religious groups].
Section 6
What were the wild animals that were found earlier?
Peacock, elephant, jungle fowl, chital (deer), maiya (?) and other wild animals. Earlier we could shoot wild animals but it is banned now. For instance, while we are cutting leaves from the top of the tree, the wild animals could be eating the leaves from below, but we cannot harm them. They drink water from the same pond as our animals drink.

What language is spoken here?
Urdu is our language. Any Gujjar who is educated teaches Urdu to the younger lot. And we do have our own, older Gujaru language.

Does nobody drink alcohol here?
No. We neither brew it nor drink it. If a drop of liquor falls on somebody's clothes, it has to be washed first and then worn. The Gujjars do not have addictions of any type. If anybody does drink in company by mistake, he is regarded as an outcast from our tribe. He is not even allowed to live with his family.

What are the rules and regulations, which, if not observed by a person, are punishable?
If somebody is observing Roza, for instance, and smokes a cigarette or beedie (local cigarette), he is punished. He is dealt with sternly. Or, if someone teases a girl, he too is punished, and banished from the family.

Do you have any deity?
Only the Quran (Muslim holy text). A person who does something wrong will not be able to lift the Quran, no matter what he does. Only a truthful person can lift the Quran.

Do you have any special songs in your community?
Girls sing during weddings and Id festival. These songs are about the routes that we take through the forests [probably referring to their migratory routes].

What are your expectations from the government?
We expect good facilities for children's education, suitable living accommodation for ourselves, land for planting trees, employment for the unemployed, some jobs for our women - perhaps they can do knitting and embroidery. We would like some jobs for people like us where education is not required - and money to plant fruit bearing trees.

Where do you sell the milk?
Very little milk goes to the hills. Out of 50-60 households only one person goes to sell milk at the rate of Rs7 to Rs8 per kg. Most of the people are labourers.

Do you like an unsettled life where you can move up and down or a well-settled life?
We like to live here. We can plant trees and do farming if we are settled in one place. It's very tough to travel up and down. Either it is raining or snowing or there is a hailstorm. The animals die. It is very hard on our children. Even the forest officials trouble us because we keep moving.
Section 7
Are there any institutions working amidst Gujjars?
No. There is no such institution working here, neither for education nor for social work. Many people come during the elections and enquire about the problems the Gujjars are facing. But nowadays nobody comes.

What food grains are grown here?
We have paddy, maize, chaulai (amaranthus), koda (finger millet) and maash (variety of lentil). Our land is stony. When my father first saw it, it was full of thorny bushes. Later on we cut them down and made it cultivable. Now we do get some crops. Most of our food grains have to be bought from outside.

How many members are there in your family?
I have three sons, three daughters - a total of eight members. I have two buffaloes and the milk we get is just sufficient to make tea. The market close by is Tyuni. We have a ration card and we get rice and sugar from the ration shop. We do casual labour to earn money.

What is the rate of interest on loans?
It's Rs10 per 100. But if we borrow or lend from our own people then no interest is to be paid. We do deposit money in the bank but accept no interest on it. Interest is considered to be haram (forbidden in Islam) because no hard work has been done to earn it. If we are forced to accept the interest then we distribute it among lepers or blind people. Our religion prohibits us from taking this money.

Who is the most educated in your society?
One Haji Ismail in District Uttarkashi.

Do you follow family planning measures?
They are not very popular with us. We feel that it can cause problems to the women since they do all types of hard jobs like carrying heavy loads, and cow dung. They may suffer on account of that (use of family planning devices). Our religion does not permit it. But otherwise, we do feel that the fewer the number of children the better it is to bring them up properly. We cannot even afford to treat the sick or pay for an operation. In Tyuni government hospital there are no such facilities. Women do not get the right treatment. They do all the household chores, which kills them gradually. They have to travel to distant areas to fetch grass and water. In Tyuni there is no provision for operations. Occasionally some Madam (a lady doctor) comes and gives medicines on the roadside.

Yesterday, (6.12.96) was the pulse polio day. Did you give the medicine to the children?
Yes. I have one polio-affected child, he has not been given the dose, the other three have. I have spent a lot of money on his treatment. He was born very healthy and as a child also he was very healthy but gradually he has been losing weight. He is six years and still walks on all fours. Maybe he was not given the polio prevention dose because we are Gujjars.
Section 8
What facilities have been provided by the government?
Some places have electricity and water connection in people's houses. Others do not have even these amenities. Perhaps they are available in ten houses out of a hundred. Nothing else has so far been done by the government. Whereas the government had promised to give us free land and full facilities if we led a settled life, they also promised that we would also have full rights as others have. Imagine - this land has been cultivated by my forefathers and I have been doing so for such a long time but still it is not my own. I am not the owner of this land. It is only varkchar (on lease). So the government is not charging any revenue from us. On the other hand we want the ownership to be handed over to us so that we can pay revenue to the government and we too get the same rights over the forest as others have. We would like to get rights to cut the trees, take wood, exemptions and so on.
In the plains, teachers are sent from door to door to teach children. As a result, even old people of 80 or 90 years of age have learnt to sign their names. They have learnt to recognise the letters of the alphabet. But the teachers here demand fees. We have heard that the government has exempted our children from paying fees, but despite this teachers here are charging Rs20 per child. We also have to buy our own text books. One electric supply line has been defective for a long time and the other one is a junta (public) connection. Five families including mine have been given solar light free of cost by the government. In Hanaul area all the landowners have been given all this free. Here only two or three houses have electricity, that is all.

Do you consider electricity useful?
Yes, why not? Electricity will give us illumination.

When the government has the forests cut to get sleepers made, how do you react?
We do not like it. We hate felling trees. The thicker the forests, the better for us. We have many trees on our land too. We try to preserve and protect each plant and tree. We are benefited by forests. As for the sleepers which are being made we do not get even a single one for house construction. We have planted our own sheesham (deciduous hard wood) and used it. We want to grow juicy fruit bearing trees.

Have you had floods and earthquakes?
Yes. Long ago we had floods, which caused landslides. The floods came very close to our stream. The name of the stream is Nagada. We suffered great loss. Many of our trees and plants got washed away, so did the land. Due to the earthquake many houses collapsed, one was on the other side of the stream. This was long ago. All the others were given blankets, corrugated iron sheets, money and cement by the government, but we got nothing.

What are the trees that grow here?
Bhimal, khadik, kakadayi (?), sheesham, kurad (?), kaine (?), karambadu (?), chir (pine), gayal (?), jhijhoda (?), etc.
Section 9
And the fruits?
Apricot, plums, apple, almond, pear, guava, orange, lime, walnut, grapes, etc. are the juicy fruits. People do not plant trees here but ever since we have come we have planted many trees. The others have also started planting trees after seeing us do it. We plant fruit trees along with farming. We have also planted fodder trees such as bibad, khadik, and kurad.

Do you also rear animals other than buffaloes?
We can rear almost every animal - cows, goats, horses, mules. But we do not do so any longer as all those who had these animals have died. They used to go up and down and whichever animal was found less expensive in the plains was bought. We do not have cows of that breed here. The short hill cows hardly give any milk. If the local cows and buffaloes do not yield good milk it is pointless buying them. Even if we do, the goats die of ordinary diseases. I took a bank loan and bought buffaloes many a time. They died either because of a fall, or disease or because they broke a leg. I have got the insurance money for one of them. If the buffalo break a leg we have to go up to Tyuni to consult a doctor. We have no knowledge of herbs as our ancestors had, nor did we learn from them.

What happens if a woman loses her husband?
On becoming a widow she looks after her children and can't remarry or go anywhere else. Remarriage is very rare. Some do get a widowhood pension. For instance, my mother is getting Rs 100 per month. There is a woman who has lost both hands and can't do anything. We contribute 5 or 10 rupees and give it to her. Her husband [referred to as her master] also earns sometimes doing odd labour jobs. I approached some people so that she could be given some help by the government by way of getting land or a job so that the children can be brought up.

Do you still go into the forests (follow the migratory practice)?
No. We have settled down once and for all. If anybody else goes [into the forests] we send our cattle with him. Very few families follow the practice of going up and down. Everyone else is permanently settled. People do go for short distances, then they take our animals also. If the person has too many animals already, he employs another person to look after them. That person is given one bag of flour and a few hundred rupees, or we send a child of ours with him.

What is this place called?

Where does this canal come from?
From Dadmigad. In this canal nothing is being done properly. If the work goes on for a year or two, it gets undone. Had the work been given to knowledgeable people the whole thing would have been done properly and water would have reached us for irrigating our fields. This canal has been lying dry for many years. There is no water in it. There is no one in charge, no chowkidar (watchman). It is damaged at many points and no repairs have been done. We have spent some three or four thousand rupees and made a small canal up to our house. But it was too narrow and our animals used to fall into it. Yet, the government gave us no assistance. Now we have, on our own, made it so broad that a tractor can easily go through it. If ever the government gives us a small grant, people do small repairs and use the rest of the money for personal use. We would like any government money to be properly utilised so that everyone is satisfied. From whatever funds that were sanctioned under the jawahar rojgar yojna (government employment scheme) only two or three were made with it. We got no irrigation facility, nor any roads. They are making these in other villages but in our village no construction is done. In Chatra, a Gujjar village, there is not even any drinking water. There are about eight to 10 families there without drinking water. There is no proper approach road. We sincerely wish that the government grants should be utilised in the right manner, but it never happens like that.