Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoralists Inside-Out: The Contradictory Conceptual Geography of Rajasthan's Raika

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoralists Inside-Out: The Contradictory Conceptual Geography of Rajasthan's Raika

Article excerpt

Pastoralism in Rajasthan, as elsewhere in India, has for many years been declared to be in a state of 'crisis'. Decline of pasturage and capitalisation of agricultural production regimes have long been identified as culprits in 'squeezing' the region's livestock producers out of the economy (Salzman 1986). Reports of the death of Rajasthani pastoralism, however, have been greatly exaggerated; livestock production in the region continues to boom and animal production remains closely tied to the increasingly capitalised agricultural system of the area. Indeed, the expansion of the agricultural economy, which has had a squeezing effect on pastoralism, has itself been enabled by the growth of the livestock economy. This contradiction, whereby pastoralism continues to grow 'inwards' towards the centre of the regional economy, even while it is increasingly pushed 'outwards' to its margins, marks an odd disparity in economic development.

In investigating this economic inversion, it becomes apparent that the contradictory state of affairs is a direct result of government development efforts. While overlooking pastoral development needs and discursively making pastoralists disappear, state officials have simultaneously built an agricultural land use system and export market that actually depends heavily on pastoralists. The eventual success of such an effort, pushing pastoralists 'out' onto the periphery that the state thinks herders already occupy, must lead to crises on the 'inside' of an agricultural economy that depends so much on pastoralism. The complex terrain of the pastoral economy, therefore, suggests the necessity for rethinking the conceptual apparatus with which pastoralism is described and understood.

Pastoralism in Rajasthan

This article draws upon several research projects conducted in the state of Rajasthan, India, between 1993 and 1999, but especially those in the Aravalli region of Godwar in the southern Pali district. The data referred to here are drawn from state-level statistics for Rajasthan, district-level data for the westernmost parts of the state (including Jodhpur, Barmer, Pali and Jaisalmer) and regional data for the Desuri and Bali subdistricts (tehsils) of Pali district, traditionally known as 'Godwar'.

These data were supplemented with two mixed-caste surveys of household production conducted in Godwar in 1998 and 1999. These surveys assessed household assets as well as resource-use patterns and plant species knowledge of 157 individuals, in eight villages bordering the Kumbhalgarh wildlife reserve in southern Pali, stratified to be representative of major local caste groups, including twenty women and eighteen foresters at varying stages of their careers and levels of bureaucracy (Robbins 2000a). The survey was administered in the homes of producers and queried species and species uses important to household production. The questionnaire also queried annual resource use and access, and scheduling of resource collection over the course of the year.

These data were supplemented with analysis of satellite imagery for the region from 1999, using SPOT satellite sensors, georectified at 22-metre resolution. The images were classified into six land use categories, using unsupervised classification of twenty-eight clusters, aggregated based on ground truth analysis of more than one hundred spatially stratified sites (see Robbins 2001).

This discussion focuses specifically on the sheep- and goat-herders of the Raika caste living in the western region of the state, and their relationship to agricultural production and the rural economy more generally. The conclusions of this summary, it can be argued, however, extend beyond this caste community and these geographic boundaries. The robust character of the pastoral economy throughout India has received increasing attention, at the same time as concerns have arisen concerning its sustainability and marginalisation. …

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