Magazine article New Internationalist

Hard-Won Harmony: Van Gujar People Protect Lifestyle in India

Magazine article New Internationalist

Hard-Won Harmony: Van Gujar People Protect Lifestyle in India

Article excerpt

Hard - won harmony

Van Gujar people protect lifestyle in India

DESPITE the setbacks suffered by many pastoral nomads in India in recent years, one nomadic community has achieved some significant gains. The Van Gujars are a nomadic and semi - nomadic pastoral people who spend the winter months in forests near the cities of Dehradun and Hardwar. In the summer they move to the Himalayas in search of green pastures for their buffaloes, returning to the plains only with the onset of winter.

Forest officials have frequently complained that the Van Gujar lifestyle is injurious to forests and wildlife. The Van Gujars disagree, arguing that their lopping and grazing practices take adequate care of forests.

When the government decided to turn their winter forest home into the Rajaji National Park, they were told to leave the park area and move to a specified resettlement place. Predictably this failed to provide for any of their needs. In fact the aim seemed to be to make the Van Gujars give up their nomadic habits.

The situation came to a head four years ago when the Van Gujars, returning from their summer migration to the hills, were prevented from entering the forests by police. Their buffaloes, unable to forage for food in the forests, perished in large numbers.

At this stage Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) stepped in to help the Van Gujars. There were several protest demonstrations, which were supported by the media, and the Van Gujars managed to hang on precariously to their forest abodes.

Then RLEK launched an ambitious literacy programme - in the past the Van Gujars had been almost entirely left out of adult - literacy initiatives. …

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