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Home > News > Columnists > Chandra Bhan Prasad

Can the Adivasi status take Gujjars forward?

June 07, 2007

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Gujjars traditionally belonged to the Kshatriya caste, and ruled over the Gurjara-Pratihara Kingdom -- an area comprising almost 60 per cent of South Asia during the 8th and 9th centuries -- claims this Gujjar community web site.

Gujjars have a glorious past, a truth no doubt. Although fairly unpopular for their violent conduct, Gujjars have lived on their productive labour. In recorded history, Rajasthan's Gujjars are an integral part of the mainstream caste in the region's society.

Making a momentous departure -- in claiming Kshatriya-hood, Rajasthan's Gujjars now clamour for Adivasi status. This in itself is indicative of a new social mood in present day Indian society. Various social classes in the country aspire to re-negotiate their social locations.

The Gujjars have just fought a fierce battle seeking de-location of their present social status. As per the deal, the Rajasthan government has set up a three-member committee to examine the issue, and has recommend the matter to the Union government. Rajasthan's Gujjars have to pass the following test to qualify for Adivasi status:

  • Primitive traits
  • Geographical isolation
  • Distinct culture
  • Shy of contact with community at large
  • Economically backward

Whether they pass the test or not is a different question altogether. We can only wish them good luck. Here we are faced with an exceptional social situation -- a situation of a ruthless fracas between the lived occupational-culture and yet to be lived newer aspirations.

What if Rajasthan's Gujjars were to earn an Adivasi status. Can that take them forward? During the just ended week-long unrest, the Rajasthan Gujjar leadership has been citing the case of the Van Gujjars of the Shivaliks (parts of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir) who enjoy Adivasi status for the purposes of affirmative action as available to the Adivasi masses of India.

The Van Gujjars -- meaning forest Gujjars -- actually live in forests as quasi-nomads. During the winter they come down to the plains along with their cattle, and return to the upper Shivalik hills during summer. They are thus, virtual Adivasis -- though not as poor as the average Adivasi population of India. Their income far exceeds their needs.

However, what the Rajasthan Gujjar leadership did not tell us is the fact that, despite the Adivasi status, the Van Gujjars could not benefit from affirmative action packages as available to the Adivasis.

The Van Gujjars have not been able to produce civil servants, doctors, engineers, or even schoolteachers. Nor have the Rajasthan Gujjars been able to produce civil servants, doctors, engineers, or even schoolteachers. They remain as backward as they had been for ages.

So, if the Adivasi status couldn't help the Van Gujjars get government jobs, how is that going to help the Rajasthan Gujjars even if they were to be accorded Adivasi status?

As a matter fact, the Rajasthan Gujjars are already in the Other Backward Classes list, yet, they have not been able to benefit from the OBC quota. How do we interpret this extraordinary spectacle of backwardness of both -- Van Gujjars and Rajasthan Gujjars!

As we know, the Van Gujjars depend on cattle for their livelihood -- selling milk, sheep and goats to the mainlanders. If there is any similarity between Van Gujjars and the Gujjars of Rajasthan, it is the culture of cattle rearing.

To Van Gujjars, cattle rearing is an absolute necessity as that is the only source of sustenance they know. There is no way Van Gujjars could do farming in the Shivalik hills, neither have they thought of immigrating to the mainland. They have remained with their occupational culture for ages, and arguably, are quite content.

But, as part of mainstream society, to the Rajasthan Gujjars, cattle rearing is not a necessity as they have fairly good land holdings, and other opportunities of enterprise available around them. Rooted in their tradition, cattle rearing is a cult amongst Rajasthan Gujjars.

Even if a Gujjar family had for instance, a hundred acres of land, and additional sources of income, by tradition, the family must have a couple of cows or buffaloes, even few goats. In the Gujjar world, home produced pure milk is as dire a necessity as oxygen to most of us. Cattle rearing thus become an absolute necessity to a Gujjar household.

Not much has been researched or written about the predicament of the cattle rearers. In India, cattle rearing is not recognised as an organised industry. By nature, even those with a single animal require the services of small hands -- of children, at some stage or the other during the day. Understandably, there cannot be a cow or buffalo that will give milk round the year. So, if a family has one cow, the logic of the availability of pure-milk throughout the year demands another cow. In the process, often, all the members including children are involved in taking care of the cows.

So what price does cattle rearing demand from the family?

Children are less likely to enroll in schools. Those who have enrolled, are likely to drop out. The few who still manage to get a degree, tend to under-perform and hence are unfit in the job market.

Rajasthan Gujjars, or the Gujjar community as a whole with few exceptions though, is trapped in the tradition of cattle rearing. Since the mainland Gujjars live in mainstream society, they watch members of other communities getting into government jobs, which brings instant prestige and recognition in society.

The Rajasthan Gujjars now aspire for government positions but without abandoning their tradition of cattle rearing. Can the Adivasi status take Rajasthan Gujjars forward unless they depart from tradition and embrace modernity? Will the Gujjars engage in a new debate for an intensive reform within?

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