photo of Indian woman Garwhal and Kumaon
India glossary


(INDIA 23)








Dhanras village, Tons valley, Dehra Dun


December 1996



Section 1
What is your name?
My name is Kammo.

How many children do you have?
Eleven children.

How many daughters and sons?
I have five daughters and six sons.

What is the age of your eldest son?
He has three daughters now. He must be around 30-35 years of age.

Do you have any idea about your age?
No one ever told me, nor did I pay any attention. But I am above 50 years. I am elder to her, [gesturing to a woman present] maybe around 60 years, but I am over 55 years.

What do your children do?
They take care of animals, land and cut leaves. That is our work.

How many fields do you have?
Five to six fields.

What do you all plant in your fields?
During summers we plant maize and chilli. And these days - that is in winter - we plant urad (a variety of pulse). Our next harvest will be wheat.

Do you keep the seeds from your own grains?
Yes, we make them from what we grow, but if it is not sufficient for our own selves then we have to buy it from outside.

How do you protect your seeds here?
We get pests in maize seeds so we have to sow it many times. If wheat is consumed by everyone in the family, then we have to buy seeds.

How many animals do you have?
We have two buffaloes and some cows and bulls. The buffaloes are kept tied. Earlier we used to keep only buffaloes, so we had many at that time.
Section 2
For how many years have you been settled here?
We have been settled here for the last 15-16 years. Earlier we used to go up and down (annual migration) and walked a lot. We never had a definite place where we could settle so we used to stay wherever we got enough space. Sometimes we used to go towards Himachal Pradesh and halt at a place called Khada Pathar. It is a mountainous region and we used to go there in summers.

Do you still go up and down?
When it snows and becomes cold we move down towards the plains.

It must be inconvenient to move like this.
If there was just one problem I could tell you about it. We used to face all sorts of difficulties. We had to deal with various problems, being women. Women had a lot of trouble but they had to walk. One could not stop. They had to walk whether they were ill or pregnant. Even if they were about to deliver and labour pains had started they used to walk. Ultimately when they were about to deliver, and we could not put it off any longer, we used to halt somewhere for a little while.

Do women with you (your community) know midwifery?
Yes, some women do have knowledge of it. They learn it on their own and help other women in need. Occasionally, babies deliver themselves while the mother is on her journey. At such times we used to stop for a while, bathe the newborn, and halt at some nice place ahead.

What food do you give to the mother of a newborn baby?
We knead flour in ghee (clarified butter) and make chapatis (thin flat bread) of this dough and give it to the new mother. We also give her milk. This is our food.

What festivals do you observe?
We have two festivals: Id and Ramzan. Ramzan begins in December and continues till January.

What do you cook during this period?
We make kheer (dish of sweetened milk and rice), and if we have ghee then we make halwa (a sweet dish). Two and a half months after this comes Bakrid. On this festival those who have a goat cook meat, and the poor make kheer.

What are your customs during marriage?
We do not beat drums or play bands. The girl wears her jewellery and wedding dress. She is given a few things and then sent off. We do not give dowry. The girl is given mehar (bride price). We give a buffalo or two or three buffaloes in mehar. The girl can take it away any time after the marriage. The special thing about it is that no one else can sell that buffalo, not even the girl's in-laws. Only the girl herself can sell the buffalo. All the calves of the buffalo will also belong to the girl, and regardless of how many progeny down the line, the animals cannot be sold by anyone except the girl. They remain the girl's property.
Section 3
What kind of jewellery do you wear?
Earlier there used to be a lot of jewellery, but now girls do not want to wear it. Old jewellery is not made any more. Things have become very expensive and it is not easy to wear such heavy jewellery any more. Earlier every girl in the house used to wear jewellery. Now they wear modern jewellery.

Can you describe your traditional costume?
Earlier we used to wear churidar pyjama (a tight long pyjama), a short kurta (loose fitting collarless shirt) and a shawl on the head. Now everyone has started wearing modern salwar kurtas (loose trousers and long shirt). This salwar used to be stitched by the women themselves. Men never did this work. But now no one knows how to stitch anything. People have stopped wearing these clothes. For jewellery we wear kangadu (bracelet) on the wrists hansuli (thick, silver necklace) on the neck and a nose pin. Hansuli is also called shiri. It is a necklace of coins. Earlier it used to weigh two and a half kgs but these days it is made much smaller in size.

What do you give as suhag (auspicious gift to a bride)?
We give a nose pin and the hansuli. If the husband should die, the wife discards the ornaments.

If a young girl becomes widowed, can she get remarried?
Yes, a young girl can get remarried.

Within your own caste or outside?
No, within her own family. If she has a devar (husband's younger brother) or jeth (husband's elder brother) she is remarried to one of them. Only if the girl is very young, could she be married to some other family the second time. If the girl has children, then she must be married to her devar or jeth within the family. She cannot marry outside. I have told you that we do not give cash as mehar. Instead we give a buffalo.

Can a girl marry of her own choice? For instance could she elope with someone and get married?
Yes, sometimes a girl runs away and gets married. But she too is entitled to get mehar. If she divorces, she gets money, but even then we cannot take the mehar back from her.

Have you ever studied in school?
No, I am not literate.

If someone wanted to teach you, would you study?
What will I study now? I have grown old. But if someone comes home to teach me, may be I'll learn a bit.
Section 4
Do any of your daughters study?
No, none of my daughters study.

Don't you think that daughters should be taught to read and write?
I think so, but we do not have enough money to teach our daughters. It involves too much expenditure ... clothes, books, copies, pencil, pen, etc. Where do we get so much money from? We have put two children into school and we feel that their expenses come to quite a lot.

What is the approximate expenditure on them?
Their expenditure includes their fee, copies, ink, pen, clothes, shoes, etc. There is no scope left to teach the girls.

In your times, did the school also move up and down (seasonal migration) along with the Gujjars (pastoralist tribe)?
No, not in our times but we have heard that it shifts now. There is some vocational organisation whose school accompanies the Gujjars when they move.

Do they teach you here also?
Yes, they teach us here too.

Is what ways do you think today's world is different to the old times?
In earlier days everything was cheap. Nowadays everything has become very expensive. Earlier children used to be able to eat good food, but what do they get now?

Among the Gujjars are women also consulted about household decisions?
Yes, they are.

Do you have a panchayat (village council)?
Yes, we have.

Are women also included in it?
No, women are not included. Such decisions are taken by the men.

Do you feel that women should also be included in it?
Yes, many women feel that they should also be a part of the panchayat. I feel too shy to sit with the men.

When you fall sick, what home remedies do you take?
We drink kadha (a medicinal extract) or tea with cloves. If we have a stomach ache we take ajwain (thyme). But usually we go to the doctor when we fall sick. Our hospital is in Tyuni which is 11 km away from the main road and the main road is around four to five km away from here. So it takes us one complete day to reach Tyuni.
Section 5
Are there any Ayurvedic doctors amongst you, who know about the medicinal use of roots and herbs?
I do not know but he [points to her husband] knows the names of some medicinal plants. He gives something.

Do you still sell milk?
Those who have milk sell it. We do not have milk at present. We generally do agricultural work. Our children who belong to the new generation do not want to do much work. Therefore, it is not possible to keep many buffaloes. We would need more grass, which means more hard work, which they cannot do. They can handle only two buffaloes. One pair of bulls and a few cows are enough for us.

Do you have a joint family?
Our family consists of 19 members but my husband's younger brother's wife and her family lives separately. My eldest son who has got married also lives separately. My daughters have also got married, one lives in Saharanpur and another in Natwad.

Among which caste groups do you form relationships?
We keep the relationships within the Gujjar community itself. We have many sub-castes such as Kasane, Khatane, Dode, Shane. Similarly we have Kusvan, Patisha which are also pariah (low caste). We are Hindu Gujjars who belong to Dedad caste.

What is your husband's name?
His name is Mir Ali. Listen, only if we have to tell someone, then we say the [man's] name, not otherwise.

Then how do you call him?
In our language we address a person directly in accordance with the Gujjar style. He calls me by my name.

Where do you purchase your household requirements from?
We make most of them ourselves. We make the vessel for preparing buttermilk, pounding stone, threshing implements, and few other things ourselves. Sometimes we have to purchase a few things.

What type of trees are there in the forest?
Here we have mostly chir pine everywhere, but as you climb higher there are oak trees and in fact 15 types of trees such as kail (blue pine), cedar, tun (mahogany), saru (spruce), etc.

What is the condition of the forest? How was it before and how is it now?
We do not go towards the forest anymore. Our sons and daughters go and only they do the forest work. We have seen people from nurseries planting trees so we feel that the forests must be denser now.

Do you have joint families?
In our Gujjar community we do not have joint families at all. After marriage the family separates. But, actually, there should be joint families, I feel. You get help in your work and if you fall sick, you are not alone.
Section 6
You do not have electricity here. How do you arrange for light?
We use bark from trees for light. [The bark that is stripped from the chir pine contains resin, which burns brightly and steadily for a long time].

Don't you get kerosene?
Kerosene is not available. Sometimes when it is available we get it but use it sparingly for lighting stoves or to kindle wood for light.

Do you use a pressure cooker?
No, only we use only the usual vessels for cooking. Where will cookers, etc come from?

When you complete your agricultural work, what do you do then?
We do household work like giving water to animals for drinking, fodder for eating or we get wood. Boys go for heavy daily labour. They work hard.

Do you use chemical manure in your fields?
No, we use cow dung manure only. So do the other villagers.

How many sackfuls of produce do you get ... approximately?
We get around six to seven sacks of maize and four to five sacks of wheat.

This poshak (traditional attire) that you wear - is it suitable for your tribe's migratory ways?
Oh no, they have all left their old attire. You can find our traditional dress only with very old women.

How far is your water source?
It is quite far. There is only one source and a small stream flows near it. There is severe water shortage.

Do you have any women's organisation here?

What fruits do you have?
Chulu (apricot), peach, pear and almonds. We have planted three or four almond trees. We also have walnuts.

Does anyone have plantations of fruit here?
No one plants fruits here. If we had more land then we would have done so.

Are there any wild animals in the forest?
Yes, there is a tiger, which comes here sometimes. There are other wild animals also.
Section 7
Did you like your earlier lifestyle or do you prefer the present one in which you are well settled?
I like this lifestyle. This life is good.

Do you have nostalgic feelings about your old life?
Yes, we remember it often. How can one forget a life full of hardships? Now we work during the day and rest at night. Earlier when the caravan used to move we had to walk right through the night. We had to withstand every kind of weather, be it rainy season or summer. Now the nights are ours, we can sleep, the children are also safe. Earlier the children also used to bear hardships with us.

Your house is of a different type. Who has made it?
We ... that is, our men, have made it.
[It is a very neat house. The walls and the floor are smooth. Inside there is a 12 inch high floor on which children were sitting and where they study at night. On the floor near the door is a deep basin-like depression, which is used for lighting a fire at night. Everyone sits around it for warmth; the smoke goes out from the door. The roof is covered with grass but it seems as though it is made of concrete.]
This is the only house with a flat roof. The rest are all pointed roof huts. This is also a hut but it has been made in such a way that it looks like a proper house. It looks like a hut when during rains the water sometimes drips inside! This is the brainchild of my husband as only he knows how to make this type of roof. Other people do not know how to do it. Other Gujjars have huts with conical roofs.

Which leaves do you use for making manure?
We make it of pine leaves.

Oak leaves make it very good manure. Why don't you use that?
Oak trees are too far away from here - that is why we do not get the leaves. The zamindars (land owners) get oak leaves for their goats and sheep.

Have you bought the woollen clothes you have or have you made them yourself?
I bought some, and some I wove after spinning and carding the wool myself

Don't you keep goats and sheep?
No, lots of people are needed to keep goats and sheep. I have one or two goats and sheep. All the children live separately after they are married. The children who stay with me are small. They can only do farming and bring fodder for the animals. They have to bring fodder for ten animals.

There is a fire in the forest. Don't you people go to put it out?
We do. So do other villagers if the fire is in the forest nearby. This time the fire is at quite a height, that is why no one has gone. It must have spread from the back of the hill.

What was the weather like before, and how is it now?
Earlier it used to rain at the right time the year through. There was no chance of drought. But now the time of rainfall has changed. In fact it has become uncertain. There is drought many times. It also used to snow at the right time, but not any more. It used to rain in the month of Kartik (October/November) and again in the month of Magh (January/Feburary). This year it has not rained as yet [it is Nov 10th].
Section 8
How are your relations with the local people here, that is, the zamindars?
They are good. We go to their house when we are invited. They also come over to meet us. Their men folk keep coming over to our houses.