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LIFESTYLE AND ECOLOGY
Symbiotic Relationships Between Man, Animal and Nature
A Study of the Gujar of Garhwal
R. S. Negi
Our genus Homo has been on earth for some two million years. Of this time span, almost 99.5 per cent is a history of subsistence on hunting of animals and gathering of plant food. It was total dependence on nature for life support. This kind of subsistence strategy necessitated living in small bands and moving from place to place in pursuit of game, as well as exploring new areas for vegetative food resources. As such, the nomadic hunting-gathering way of life is the primal adaptation of hominids for food procurement, which set the course for human bio-cultural evolution in a harmonious relationship with nature. During the course of this primal adaptation early hominids and their descendants must have, by trial and error, learnt about the characteristic features, specially behaviour pattern and habits, of the animals which constituted their food supply and their food reserve. They also must have learnt about the edible qualities and desirability of almost all available plant resources. As a result of this knowledge base built over hundreds of generations, a major shift was bound to come in the subsistence strategy.
About 10,000 years ago the transition from hunting and foraging for food to the domestication of plants and animals took place. It was a shift from food quest or food procurement to food production. It was by no means a smooth transition and may have been spread over many centuries. At first people may have had to supplement the food they produced with food they procured by hunting and foraging, but gradually the dependence on wild food resources may have lessened as domesticated plants and animals increased in quantity and improved in quality. Spatial mobility, a basic requisite of the nomadic way of life, may also have given way to the process of sedentarisation, which is a necessary condition for the domestication of plants or cultivation. However, the domestication of animals or animal husbandry has different requirements. Spatial mobility, which may have temporarily been given up, became the basic requisite for animal herding.
The shift from food quest to food production occurred with the onset of the Neolithic period, and one of the first regions to undergo this transition was south-west Asia, as is shown by polynological and archaeo-zoological studies of the remains of domesticated plants and animals in Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, all from before 5000 bc.
The first animals to be domesticated, before 6000 bc, were probably sheep and goats from the arid highlands of Persia and Anatolia, to be followed by cattle (Bos) in the lowlands of Mesopotamia. Gradually diverse animals would have come under human control in other regions also. In the Indian subcontinent there is evidence from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa indicating the domestication of sheep, cattle (even buffaloes) from the animal remains that have been found and studied (Clason, 1977).
Historically, pastoralism is considered an offshoot of mixed agricultural and herding subsistence patterns, in adaptation to grasslands and marginal areas not suitable for growing cereal plants. Pastoralism was probably the consequence of new problems in managing domesticated plant and animal resources (Darlington, 1969).
After about 4,000 years of mixed farming and animal husbandry, two different kinds of people emerged: the peasant, who was completely sedentarised on permanent sites suitable for agricultural pursuits, and the herdsman or pastoralist, who was almost entirely dependent on livestock raising. People in remote parts of the world have maintained nomadic pastoralism as a way of life, but as a cultural system it has Old World origins. The livestock on which pastoralism is based include sheep, goats, bovines (cattle, yaks), equines (horses, asses). Buffaloes (Bubalis bubalis domesticus) seem to have come under human control at a later period about 2000 bc in the Indus Valley and 1000 bc in China.
Pastoralism as a cultural system has existed longest in the Middle East, from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley, and also extending to the Himalayas. Over the past fifty years or so a great deal of information has been assembled about the beginning of domestication of animals, but we do not yet have the answer to how and why this happened. It is certain that there will have been different causative factors in different regions as well as for different animals. One observation of general validity needs mention. As a hunter our ancestor must have ensured that the animals whom he considered his food reserve and whom he followed closely would propagate and grow into large herds in order to maintain adequate food supply in the following seasons. It was a kind of unconscious herd management and suggestive the of first step towards domestication. Adult females capable of reproduction may not have been hunted and may have been taken under human care.
Pastoralism is an economic activity involving the care of herds of domesticated livestock. Man and herd live in a symbiotic community, making social and psychological adjustments to each other, together adapting to the natural environment in which the herds have their special ecological niche, the pasture. Since pastoralists and their herds depend upon the bounty of nature (the animals graze the grass and browse the foliage), it follows that nature must be allowed time to regenerate and provide for the following season. As such, mobility from pasture to pasture is a characteristic feature of pastoralism. Pastoral people are traditionally mobile, as they have to follow or lead their herds in a never-ending quest for pasture and water. Their movement is seasonal, often from drier and warmer regions in the summer months to moister and cooler mountains and back again in the winter months. This kind of movement is known as transhumance. Anthropological usage of the term links it with a subsistence pattern combining agriculture and animal husbandry. In this mixed subsistence strategy, generally the herder and the herd move seasonally between a permanent settlement and known pastures (Evans-Pritchard, 1940), or else only livestock moves between mountains and plains without any agriculture (Gulliver, 1955).
By about 3000 bc pastoral communities were firmly established in Central Asia, South West Asia and North-East Africa, later spreading to contiguous areas of the major nuclear regions, and distinct from farming villages. The pastoral people may have relied on horticulture to supplement their subsistence but rarely practised agriculture.
Transhumance is a highly developed form of pastoralism and has varying forms in different parts of the world. In the Himalayas, where transhumance is almost universal, it takes the form of cyclic movement of people and their livestock between previously earmarked sites which become more or less permanent seasonal encampments or bases. These seasonal cyclic movements allow time for the regeneration of resources, which alone can sustain this kind of life-style. The seasonal cyclic movements and utilisation of resources in a rotational manner has placed transhumant people in a situation where they are nomadic on the one hand and transitionally or marginally sedentary on the other. The Garhwal Himalayas, where this pilot study has been undertaken, support a number of transhumant populations, chief among whom are the Bhotia, the highland shepherds and the Gujar. The Bhotia raise sheep and goats and combine trade with cultivation, while the highland shepherds raise sheep and goats and are agropastoral. The Gujar raise mainly buffaloes and till recently were completely pastoral nomads. We shall here view the Gujar life ways in order to have an insight into pastoral nomads’ perception of the relationship between the herder, the herd and the resources, that is, man, animal and nature.
Land and People
Garhwal, one of the administrative divisions of the Uttar Pradesh hills, comprises five districts, Chamoli, Pauri, Tehri, Uttarkashi and Dehradun. It has an area of 29,089 sq km and lies between 770 35' E and 800 6.0' E longitude and 290 32' N and 310 27' N latitude. The Garhwal region has rugged mountainous terrain. It has some of the highest peaks and passes and deep gorges cut by swift-flowing rivers, thus providing great contrast’s between in high ranges and deep valleys. Physiographically there are three well recognised divisions from south to north (Nityanand and Kumar, 1989):
The Garhwal Himalaya’s are drained entirely by the Ganga and its tributaries, and the drainage can be divided into the following systems (ibid.):
However, it is topical to make mention of the Bhilangana which falls into the Bhagirathi at Tehri, and the Tons, which, although more than twice the volume of the Yamuna, loses its name at Kalsi, where it falls in confluence with that river.
There is considerable variability in the climatic conditions of the Garhwal Himalayas. The determinant of this variation is chiefly the immense variation in altitude, but the direction of ridges, wind conditions, degree and aspects of slopes, intensity of forest cover and proximity of water bodies and glaciers also influence the climate from locality to locality. However, according to Nitya Nand and Kumar (ibid.), it is convenient to base the regionalisation of climate on altitude. The following Table, adapted by them from S.D. Kaushic, shows the climate zones of Garhwal.
Climate Zones of Garhwal
|Climate Zone||Altitude in metres||Mean annualmtemperature in degrees centigrade|
|1. Sub-Tropical||Below 300 -900||
18.9 - 21.1
|2. Warm Temperature||900 - 1800||
13.9 - 18.9
|3. Cool Temperature||1800 - 2400||10.3 - 13.9|
|4. Cold Zone||2400 - 3000||04.4 - 10.3|
|5. Alpine Zone||3000 - 4200||03.0 - 04.5|
|6. Glacial Zone||Above 4200||Ten
months below zero
The area is also rich in natural vegetation, which includes meadow, marshes and swamps, with their characteristic plants such as angiosperms, herbs and shrubs, with some gymnospermic plant variety. Most of the area is covered by forest and the remaining is cultivated. The Siwalik area mostly embraces evergreens, semi-evergreens, deciduous forest and grassland. The forests are predominatly of sal (Sorea robusta), khair (Acasia catechu), sisham (Dalbergia sissoo), teak (Tectona grandis), alanthus (Cassia flstula), bans (Dendrocalumus strictus), kanzu (Holoptelea intigrifolia), etc. (Appendix I). The vegetation is influenced by slope aspect, soil, altitude and water availability, and can be broadly classified into alpine, temperate, sub-tropical and tropical.
According to Puri (1960), four distinct types can be recognised in the alpine vegetation of the Himalayas:
Flowering herbs and shrubs are the usual occurrence at altitudes above 3000m. They blossom during summer and autumn.
Above the tree line (3500m and above) are pastures known as bugyals. The main component of these meadows are grass-like Phelum alpinum and Poa alpina, with a multitude of colourful herbs like anemones, gentians, patentiallas and Primulas. Alpine forests are classified into two types, alpine fir-birch forests and birch-rhododendron forests.
This type is characterised by oaks and conifers over extensive areas, oaks on the southern slopes and conifers on the northern slopes.
The temperate forest zone above 1500m provides favourable conditions for human habitation, and consequently forest growth has been greatly disturbed. Felling, lopping, fire and grazing have reduced some of the high-altitude forest areas to open scrub or grassy meadows.
Sub-tropical and Tropical Vegetation
Among the lower altitude deciduous species, Shorea robusta (sal) is most conspicuous. On the slopes of the Siwaliks, sal forests are predominant. In the riverine tracts, acacia catechu-tamoric, with little or no adhatoda vasica, occurs.
Large tracts of forest occur in western Garhwal, west of the Mandakini river and in the Siwaliks in the south Yamuna basin. Three forest divisions — Tons, Yamuna and Chakrata — are in the Yamuna valley. The northern part of the valley is well wooded. Some of the finest forests are in this area. The total area under forest is 2,289 sq km. Sub-tropical vegetation is negligible in the valley (Nitya Nand and Kumar, 1989).
Owing to the diversity of cover and natural food, the Garhwal Himalayas have a wide variety of fauna. Amongst the prominent animals are the Asian elephant (Elphas maximum), tiger (Panthra tigris), leopard cat (Fellis beggalensis) and cheetal or spotted deer (Axis axis) (Appendix I). The westernmost population of the elephant is found in the Siwaliks and the tarai. Apart from these, the area boasts a number of bird species, most of which are the kalij pheasant (Lophura leueomelana), Himalayan yellow-throated martin (Marces flavigula), red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) and pied hornbill (Anthraceros melabaricus) (Appendix II).
The Gujar derive their name from the Sanskrit term "Gurjara". Historically they were once a dominant people in western India and gave the territory occupied by them the name Gujarat or Gujrat. However, for unknown reasons, the Gujar migrated from western India and spread all over the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent and to some extent central India. Cunningham (1871) described their distribution to be ". . . in great numbers in every part of north-west India, from the Peninsular Gujrat. They are specially numerous along the banks of the upper Jamuna near Jagadri and Buriya, and in the Saharanpur district, which during the last century was actually called Gujrat. To the east they occupy the petty state of Sampatpur in Bundelkhand, and one of the northern districts of Gwalior which is still called Gujorgarh". The Gujar were mostly Hindu, but sizeable sections of them were converted to Islam in the Mughal period, especially during the reign of Aurangzeb. At present there are both Hindu and Muslim Gujar populations in northern India: but whereas the Hindu Gujar are mostly in the plains of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the Muslim Gujar inhabit the Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Garhwal and Kumaon divisions of Uttar Pradesh. There is yet another remarkable difference between the Hindu and Muslim Gujar populations: the former are entirely settled agriculturists while the latter are semi-agriculturist pastoralists in some areas and completely pastoralists in others.
There is a great controversy regarding the origin of the Gujar. According to the one view they were pastoral nomads of Central Asia and came into India during the 5th or 6th century ad. But according to another view they are of Indian origin and were inhabitants of the region extending around Mount Abu in western Rajasthan, Malwa and Gujarat. They are said to have migrated around the 16th century ad in a north-westerly direction into Punjab Kandi, in primary and secondary waves. The primary wave of migrants comprised pastoralist nomads who moved into the hilly unproductive marginal area bordering the Siwaliks, where there were pastures for their herds of baffaloes (Manku 1986). It is not very important for us here to resolve the controversy regarding the origin of the Gujar. What is important and interesting is that according to both the views the Gujar were pastoralists. As pastoralists of Central Asian origin they would have entered India with their stock of sheep and goats, later taking to buffalo raising, which they were doing already according to the theory of their being of Indian origin. The contemporary Gujar, especially that section which has embraced Islam, are, however, known to raise sheep and goats as well as buffaloes. The former are known as Bakkarwal and the latter as Gujar or Dudh-Gujar. The Bakkarwal have their nomadic area in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir whereas the buffalo-raising Gujar are in Jammu, and sections of them have also moved in a south-easterly direction from Jammu and western Punjab to Himachal Pradesh and the hills of Uttar Pradesh. This movement has been caused by the depletion of grazing resources in Jammu and Punjab regions and also due to increase in both human and animal populations.
Although it is certain that in the Garhwal Himalayas the Gujar have migrated from the Jammu region through Himachal Pradesh, it is difficult to establish at what point of time they entered this territory. Atkinson and his contemporaries do not make any mention of the Gujar while describing the people of the Garhwal Himalyas in the gazetteer of the Himalayan districts of the north-western province of India. Walton (1910) also is silent about them in the gazeteer of Garhwal. However, it is generally believed that the Gujar migrated to Garhwal some 150 to 100 years ago and till very recently were fully pastoralists, following transhumance between two distinct ecozones without much diversification of subsistence strategy.
At present the Gujar have their winter camps in the lower regions of Garhwal and the Siwaliks, which have gained the status of their semi-permanent habitat over the course of four to five generations. Beyond that, most of them trace their ancestry to Himachal Pradesh, Punjab or the Jammu region. In fact, some elderly Gujar in the age range of 80 — 90 years can remember their grandfathers migrating to the Garhwal region from Himachal Pradesh (then part of Punjab) or Jammu.
(1) The Siwalik Forest Division, west of the Delhi-Dehradun highway and outside the Rajaji National Park, lying between 200 25'N and 300 25'N latitude and 720 35'E to 780 15'E longitude and (2) the Rajaji National Park area, east of the highway and including Rajaji, Motichur and Chila, lying between 290 50'N and 300 15'N latitude and 770 55'E to 780 30'E longitude. Sanctuaries, Division/Rangewise areas of the Siwalik Forest Division and the Rajaji National Park as well as the distribution of Gujar families are given in Tables 2.2 to 2.6.
Siwalik Forest Division Land Area
Area in Hectares
Rangewise Distribution of the Gujar and Their Buffaloes in the Siwalik Forest Division
|Sl. No.||Name of the Range||No. of Families||Population||No. of Buffaloes|
Rajaji National Park Area
|Sl. No.||Forest Division||
|Area in Hectares|
|3||Western Forest Division||Ramgarh||70,703.00|
|4||Lansdowne Forest Division||Chila||14,829.80|
Source: Rajaji National Park Directorate, Dehradun
Distribution of Gujar Families in Rajaji National Park in Various Forest Divisions
|Siwalik Forest Division||
|Eastern Forest Division||57|
|Western Forest Division||8|
|Lansdowne Forest Division||181|
Source: Siwalik Forest Division, Dehradun
Distribution of Gujars and Their Livestock in Five Families Each of Three Different Regions of Study
|Total Herd||Income (approx.) in Rupees|
The primary functional unit in the Gujar social system is the dera (household or homestead). It is synonymous with the family and is the most dominant institution in the pastoral Gujar society. The major subsistence, socio-economic, political, religious and reproductive activities are centred around a dera. It is usually composed of husband, wife, their sons and their wives, unmarried daughters and grandchildren. It is a joint extended family and usually three generations live under the same roof and eat from the same hearth. The joint family, however, tends to break into nuclear families when the sons marry and set up their own units, which may still share the same roof but have separate hearths and herds. Such nuclear units, with the passage of time, become joint families, again to break up. The reason behind this process is the permit system, which allows the Gujar to live in the Siwalik forest and follow their transhumant mode of subsistence. The head of each family holds a permit on the basis of the number of buffaloes owned by him and is known as a numberdar (permit holder with a specified number of buffaloes). The numberdar can set up his dera in an allotted locality within a specified forest range or coup. His sons, after marriage, may have separate hearths and may be given buffaloes from the parental herd, but they cannot set up separate deras unless they are given permits by the Forest Department and become numberdars themselves. Thus an extra-social factor has a determining role in a social phenomenon. It is also responsible for the sprawling nature of the Gujar dera, which is spread over a considerable area within which more than one chappar (hut/living space) may be constructed. The parents may share the hearth with one of their sons, even a married one. The Gujar also have the tradition of taking ghar jawain (a son-in-law who lives with and becomes a member of the family).
The Gujar are polygynous as Islam allows more than one wife (up to four) at one time. But actual cases of polygyny are not frequent, although marrying more than one wife, one after another, due to death or divorce is frequent. Where a man has more than one wife at one time, the wives may set up separate hearths with their children and the husband may join one of them. However, residential arrangements are dependent upon the fact of ownership of the herd. Separate residences are possible only if the units get buffaloes as their share from the family herd. In fact the herd acts as a cohesive factor in a situation where there are multiple marriages and frequent divorces.
The Gujar family is patrilineal and patrilocal. The father, the head of the house, is a strong figure and owns the entire herd as the permit is issued in his name. After the death of the father the property (mainly the herd) and liabilities are equally divided amongst the sons, but the responsibility for running the household devolves upon the eldest son, who inherits and wears the headgear of the father as a mark of authority. He is also given at least one buffalo more than the rest of the brothers but also gets a larger share of the father’s debts. Where there are no sons the property is inherited by the widow, who has authority over the household. A ghar jawain inherits the property of his father-in-law through his wife.
The Gujar are divided into various gotras, (clans) which are the same as among the Hindu Gujar. Some of the clan names of the Gujar inhabiting the Siwaliks and the lower Himalayas are Kasana, Khatana, Chechi, Chauhan, Theckari, Dhinda, Pathan, Poshwal(d), Vania/Bania, Maisi, Lodha and Kaalas. They follow gotra exogamy, although there may be exceptions as in cases of elopement. Parallel cousin marriages may take place. Cross-cousin marriages take place frequently, and the sanction is embodied in the kinship terminology, as husband’s father, wife’s father and mother’s brother are all addressed by same term, mamu (Appendix III).
The different forms of Gujar marriage reflect their mode of subsistence as well as the place of buffaloes in marital alliances.
Marriage by Exchange (Badla)
The most preferred form of marriage among the Gujar is marriage by exchange, in which a son and daughter of one family are married to a daughter and son of another family. In such cases the paying of bride-price and dowry is avoided and the herds remain intact.
Marriage by Purchase (Mamla)
Generally bride-price is quite high among the Gujar. Fifteen years ago, among the Gujar of Kashmir it used to be as high as Rs. 10,000; but among the Gujar of the lower Himalayas and the Siwaliks it may now go up to Rs. 30,000 or Rs. 40,000. The bride-price can also be paid in kind by giving 5 or 6 buffaloes. As most of the Gujar cannot afford to pay such a high bride-price, there is a substantial number of unmarried males beyond the age of 25 years in the population as compared with females, who all get married before they attain that age.
Marriage by Service
A young Gujar man may take to serving in a family in which there is a marriageable daughter. He may enter into a contract to serve the family for one or two years, and at the end of the period, if found suitable, may be married to the daughter. This form of marriage is taken recourse to by poor Gujar males who do not have a sister to be given away in marriage.
A wealthy Gujar with a marriageable daughter may bring in a suitable young man to his household and marry him to the daughter. The couple takes residence in the dera of the girl’s father.
Marriage by Elopement (Udhala)
In the past there were very few cases of marriage by elopement, but their frequency is rising now. This can be attributed to high bride-price.
The remarriage of widows is allowed by the Gujar, but in such cases the intending husband may have to compensate the family of the dead man. Junior levirate is quite common among the Gujar.
As in other pastoral societies the animal plays an important role in the marriage of the Gujar. Buffaloes are transferred between families as bride-price as well as dowry. In cases of marriage by service, if the couple subsequently sets up a separate household the father of the girl generally gives them some of his buffaloes. However, due to recent changes in the economic life of the Gujar, more and more money transactions are taking place instead of the transfer of buffaloes.
Generally the Gujar marry their children at a young age, specially girls. However, the gauna takes place only when a girl attains puberty.
The Gujar have their own language, Gojri. Their vocabulary has an assemblage of Punjabi, Dogri, Lahanda and Himachali words. According to Grierson (1916), the Gujar of the lower Himalayas speak forms of Rajasthani (Mewati or Eastern Rajasthani), which is also the fountainhead of Himachali dialects. After the migration to Garhwal some Garhwali words have also found their way into Gojri. The Gujar can also speak and understand Hindi, a language which they use to communicate with outsiders for business transactions (Appendix III).
Material culture is the tangible aspect of the life-style of a people. It includes the equipment and artefacts by which a people produce goods and services to meet their basic needs of food, water and shelter. In the case of the Gujar, a pastoral people following transhumance between the Siwaliks and high-altitude pastures, the material culture is centred around their subsistence strategy. As they do not practise horticulture or agriculture, there is a complete absence of agricultural technology. They have just simple digging sticks (bashalli). The entire gamut of the material culture of the Gujar can be grouped into:
The Gujar economy is based on the keeping of buffaloes. There has been a shift in orientation from subsistence to commerce. Most of the milk and milk products are sold in the market through a middleman, the bania. Usually each Gujar family has an appointed bania to whom the entire produce is taken. The banias to have now arranged for the collection of the milk from the Gujar deras themselves. The Gujar do not get cash from the sale proceeds and rarely a fair price for the milk. The arrangement over the years has been that the bania offers monetary support for the purchase of provisions, khal-chokar and equipment and provides logistic support for the annual migratory journeys. All these expenses are supposed to be adjusted against the sale proceeds of the milk. Cash requirements for marriages and other social obligations are met by taking loans from the bania. The result of all this is that almost every Gujar family is heavily indebted to a bania and these debts are difficult to redeem as the Gujar are totally dependent on the bania for keeping accounts. On average a Gujar family has 20 to 25 litres of milk for sale per day, which, according to the market price, should fetch Rs. 150.00 to Rs. 200.00. But the Gujar never gets that price. The bania adjusts Rs. 2 — 3 per litre against his account. It has been estimated that the monthly income of the Gujar is about Rs. 4500 per family and Rs. 420 per capita, yet they remain perpetually indebted. This feature of indebtedness is one of the hurdles in the way of their rehabilitation. Unless the Gujar clear their debts they are not in a position to change the mode of subsistence and move from their present environs.
The sole means for the generation of income is the sale of milk and milk products. But expenses are mounting. The grazing fee has been raised by the Forest Department to:
01 — 10 buffaloes Rs. 20
11 — 20 buffaloes Rs. 25
21 — 30 buffaloes Rs. 30
above 30 buffaloes Rs. 40
The expenditure on khal-chokar, pural and salt for the animals is also rising. The cost of transport to move household goods and equipment during migratory journeys is also much more now. However, it has been observed that if the Gujar get a fair price for their milk, they would be able to save after meeting all their expenditure.
At present the average herd size of the Gujar per family is estimated to be 37.33, of which lactating buffaloes number 15.13, which comes to 1.09 per capita (Table 2.7). With such animal wealth the Gujar would be much better off economically than most of the neighbouring population if he were freed from the exploitative clutches of the middleman.
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi