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Maindhrat village, Tons village, Dehra Dun
Talib is a Muslim and a Gujjar, traditionally nomadic people. Although they used to migrate seasonally to the forests with their buffalo, Talib and his family have now joined with some others and settled down near Dehra Dun, where they practise agriculture. He explains that livestock-rearing had become increasingly difficult due to the thinning forest and so “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.”
As well as discussing some of their Muslim customs and festivals, their experience of livestock-rearing and their relationship with the Hindus, which he says is good, Talib describes some of the problems they have encountered in adopting a settled lifestyle. He feels that they have been let down by the government, which has not provided the promised facilities: “Many of us here do not even have a house to live in. There is no water, electricity or provision to educate our children.” He says no institutions work amongst the Gujjars - “many people come during the elections and enquire about the problems the Gujjars are facing. But nowadays nobody comes” – and that they have yet to be granted ownership of their land. “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.” Once or twice he suggests that their identity may be the reason for some neglect, for example wondering whether his son was not immunised against polio (which he later contracted) because he was a Gujjar.
He also feels that government grants are not well used. At the end of the testimony he talks about the irrigation canal that has yet to be completed despite government money being available. He concludes: “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.”
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||They have been settled there for three generations.
They do “agriculture and labour jobs.” Nobody in his family is educated
The Gujjar villages in the area – “there are some places where people have government land” but they settled there on their own.
||Reason for leaving nomadic lifestyle: “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.”
Those with enough animals still move to the forests but they don’t.
Women’s work: “Women cut grass, look after children and animals. They have not had any formal training in spinning, weaving, sewing and other skills.”
Education not possible while they were nomadic. Their previous sources of income: “We sold ghee in the higher region in the forests and sold milk in the plains.”
The Government have not provided the facilities they promised.
||Treatment of the sick when they were travelling.
Given money to build a house but difficulty getting wood: “If anyone is found cutting wood the forest wardens arrest him.” Many still live in tents.
The forests: “all of us protected the forests, since we loved them”.
The different Gujjar castes, difference between them and Hindus. Festivals.
The custom of 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.”
||The naming of children.
Monsoon celebrations in the plains: “We cook rice and other things and offer it to the forest with a prayer that it should always remain green.”
The role of the panchayat in settling forest-related disputes.
Dress: “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.”
The increasing cost of buffaloes.
Food and drink.
||New versus old times: “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.”
Elopement: “If the girl is a maiden then nothing happens...If the girl is married however, and not divorced, then the man is treated as a social outcast.”
They have good relations with Hindus: “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.”
The wild animals that were found earlier.
Language is Urdu.
||They do not drink alcohol: “If anybody does drink in company…he is regarded as an outcast from our tribe.” Rules and regulations, the Quran, special songs.
Expectations of 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.”
No institutions working amongst the Gujjars.
||He has eight family members, they have a ration card for rice and sugar.
The interest rate on loans. If they borrow from each other no interest is paid: “Interest is considered to be haram (forbidden in Islam) because no hard work has been done to earn it.”
Family planning – not popular and not permitted by their religion - “otherwise, we do feel that the fewer the number of children the better it is to bring them up properly.”
He has one child suffering from polio: “Maybe he was not given the polio prevention dose because we are Gujjars.”
Government facilities: “Some places have electricity and water connection in people's houses. Others do not have even these amenities.”
Says they were promised full rights but he is still not the owner of his land.
||The teachers are charging fees for their children’s education.
Government felling of trees to make sleepers: “We do not like it. We hate felling trees. The thicker the forests, the better for us.”
Memories of losses due to floods and earthquakes.
The trees that grow.
Livestock: “We can rear almost every animal - cows, goats, horses, mules. But we do not do so any longer…”
Many animals die of disease.
||Widows: “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.”
They no longer migrate to the forests: “we have settled down once and for all.” If others go to the forests they send their cattle with them.
The irrigation canal: “In this canal nothing is being done properly...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.”
Feels government grants are not being well used.