Pastoralists in Modern World

While passing through a highway or on the outskirts of cities, you may have seen herds of sheep or goat along with herders. Such people are nomadic by nature, i.e. they don’t live a settled life. Even today, pastoralists live in India and many countries of the world. Rearing cattle and selling milk, meat, animal hide and wool are their source of livelihood. But when we study history books, we seldom notice them. We often read about the kings and warriors in history classes. Sometimes, we do get to read about farmers, merchants and craftsperson. But very few books would tell you about the nomadic people, as if they don’t exist on this planet. In this lesson, you will read about pastoralists of India and Africa. You will learn about various changes in their life, brought about by colonial rule and modernization.

Pastoralists of the Himalayas

Gujjar Bakarwals: Gujjar Bakarwals live in the mountains of Jammu & Kashmir. They herd goat and sheep. They migrated to this region in the nineteenth century and established in this area. They move between their winter and summer grazing grounds every year. During winter the high mountains are covered with snow, resulting in scarcity of fodder. During this season, they move to the low hills of the Shiwalik in search of greener pasture. By the end of April, they begin their march towards higher mountains.

Gaddi: The Gaddi shepherds live in Himachal Pradesh. They also spend winter in the low hills of the Shiwalik. By April, they move towards north to spend summers in Lahul and Spiti.

Gujjar: The Gujjar cattle herders live in Garhwal and Kumaon. During winter, they come down to the dry forests of the bhabar. During summer, they go up to the high meadows, the bugyals. Many of them migrated from Jammu to the hills of UP in the nineteenth century.

Bhotiyas, Sherpas and Kinnauris are some other pastoral communities of the Himalayas which also follow the cyclical movement between and summer and winter pastures.

Bhabar: The region of dry forest in low hills of Garhwal and Kumaon is called bhabar.

Bugyal: The grasslands in the high mountains are called bugyal.

Pastoralists of Plateau and Desert

Dhangars: Dhangars were important pastoral community of Maharashtra. Their population was estimated to be 467,000 during the early twentieth century. Most of them were shepherds, but some were blanket weavers and some others were buffalo herders. During monsoon, the Dhangars used to stay in the central plateau of Maharashtra. Apart from herding their animals, they also used to grow bajra. By October, they used to harvest their bajra and started their march to west to reach Konkan.

They were welcomed by the Konkani peasants. Dhangar flocks fed on the stubble and manured the fields with their dung. They also took rice from the Konkani farmers and took the rice to the plateau where grain was scarce. This was a perfect symbiotic relationship between peasants and pastoralists.

Gollas: The Gollas lived in the plateaus of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They were cattle herders.

Kurumas and Kurubas: The Kurumas and Kurubas also lived in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They reared sheep and goats and sold blankets. They used to live near the forest and cultivated on small patches of land. They were also engaged in petty trades.

For the pastoralists of the central plateau, it was the alteration of monsoon and dry season which governed their seasonal migration. They used to move to the coastal areas during dry seasons, and go back to the central plateaus during monsoon.

Banjaras: The Banjaras lived in villages of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. They used to move long distances in search of good pastureland. They sold plough cattle and other items in exchange for grain and fodder.

Raikas: The Raikas lived in the deserts of Rajasthan. During the monsoons, the Raikas of Barmer, Jaisalemer, Jodhpur and Bikaner used to stay in their home villages because pasture was available. By October, they used to move in search of other pasture and water. They returned again in the next monsoon. The Maru (a group of Raikas) herded camels and another group reared sheep and goat.

The life of these pastoral groups was affected by various factors. The length of their stay in a particular area depended on the availability of pasture and water. They needed to have good knowledge of geography and meteorology to plan their movement. They also had to establish relationship with farmers on the way for mutual benefit.

Colonial Rule and Pastoral Life

The life of pastoralists changed dramatically under the colonial rule. The colonial rulers wanted to transform all grazing lands into cultivated farms. This was necessary to increase land revenue, which was the main source of revenue for the government. Additionally, increasing the cultivated land was necessary for increasing the production of jute, cotton and wheat which were required in England.

Waste Land Rules: Waste Land Rules were enacted in different parts of the country from the mid-nineteenth century. Under these rules, uncultivated lands were taken over and given to select individuals. These individuals were encouraged to settle on these lands and were granted various concessions. Some of them were made headmen of villages in the newly cleared areas.

The expansion of cultivated land resulted in significant reduction in grazing grounds. This created huge problem for the pastoralists.

Forest Act

New Forest Acts were enacted by the mid-nineteenth century. Under these Acts, many forests were declared ‘Reserved’. Pastoralists were not allowed in the reserved forests. Some other forests were classified as ‘Protected’. The pastoralists got some grazing rights in the protected forests but their movements were highly restricted.

These Forest Acts changed the lives of pastoralists. They could not enter many areas and entry to some other areas was restricted. So instead of following the seasonal cycle, they were forced to follow the new Forest Acts, which disturbed their traditional ways of life.

Criminal Tribes Act: The nomadic people were viewed with suspicion by the colonial rulers. The Criminal Tribes Act was passed in 1871. Many communities of craftsmen, traders and pastoralists were classified as Criminal Tribes under this Act. They were forced to live in notified villages only and the police officials kept a watch on them. You can imagine the ignominy these people were forced to suffer.

The colonial government looked for every possible source of taxation, in order to increase its revenue income. Tax was imposed on land, on canal water, on salt, on trade goods, and even on animals.

Grazing Tax: Grazing tax was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, in most of the pastoral tracts of India. Tax was calculated on the basis of per head of cattle. The tax rate went up rapidly and the tax collection system was made more efficient.

The right to collect the tax was auctioned to contractors between 1850s and 1880s. These contractors tried to extract as high a tax as possible to recover their investment. By 1880s, the government began to directly collect taxes from the pastoralists.

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