The following winter, the park director was again threatening to ban the Van Gujjars from Govind Pashu Vihar in the summer of 2010, and seemed at least as serious as he had in 2009. Dhumman and Jamila felt like he really might mean it this time, and didn’t want to end up going to Kanasar again, so they – along with Yusuf - made a deal with a farmer near Kalsi to purchase fodder in bulk and use his fields from April to October. It proved much easier, they said, than the previous year’s migration, but not nearly as nice as going to Gangar; the heat at Kalsi was intense, and thanks to their expenses, they made even less money than usual. Also, they found that when they moved back into the Shivaliks – after months of staying in one place - that neither they nor their buffaloes were as strong as usual, and they had some trouble getting back into the groove of climbing trees.
As it turned out, the new chief minister of Uttarakhand stepped in and smoothed the way for the Van Gujjars to enter the park, so Dhumman’s preemptive action proved unnecessary. In 2011 and 2012, Dhumman, Yusuf, and Alfa all went back to Gangar, as the Forest Department appeared to accept that India’s Forest Rights Act applied to their state. But the government insisted it was acting only out of humanitarian concern, not because they were compelled by law to let the nomads into the park – they even declined to issue receipts for the grazing taxes that the Van Gujjars paid (which serve as proof that official permission was granted), refusing to acknowledge the herders’ legal right to be there. Despite a couple of seasons of minimal hassles, these families are too guarded to hope that the freedom of the old days had returned. They know that their fate is completely in the hands of people and agencies that they fundamentally can’t trust to implement policies that prioritize the needs of Van Gujjars.
We'll be updating this section with new information very soon!
Huge thanks are owed to a number of people who helped make this project possible. First and foremost, of course, are Dhumman and Jamila and their family, Yusuf and Roshni and their family, Alfa and Sakina and their family, and the other Van Gujjars I encountered during the migration and in the Shivaliks and the Himalayas. They - especially Dhumman and Jamila and their kids - opened their home and their world and welcomed me into it with a warmth and patience and friendship beyond anything I could have hoped for when embarking on this adventure.
Crucial to this project have been the people at the Society for Promotion of Himalayan Indigenous Activities (SOPHIA) - especially its director, Praveen Kaushal, who helped set this entire thing in motion and made it all possible, including connecting me to Dhumman and Jamila. I can not thank him enough for all of the support, in all of the various ways, he so generously provided. Also at SOPHIA, Munesh, Nazim, Joshi and others were a big, big help. More information about SOPHIA is at their website, www.sophiaindia.org.
My translator, who has asked to remain humbly anonymous, was absolutely instrumental in this endeavor - without him, all I'd have are a bunch of photos but not much of a story.
The works of Dr. Pernille Gooch, who spent years reseaching Van Gujjar life and culture, were essential to my background understanding of this nomadic world - particularly her doctoral dissertation, At The Tail of the Buffalo: Van Gujjar Pastoralists Between the Forest and the World Arena (Lund Monographs in Social Anthropology, 1998). In addition to her papers, I thank her for the time we spent talking in person in Dehradun. Along with Praveen Kaushal, she is the true outside expert on the Van Gujjar way of life.
On the home front, I'm incredibly grateful to Lucas Vidgen, who devoted his time, energy and expertise to creating the 3-D and 2-D Google Earth/Map interface that was originally such a huge part of the way this project was experienced - and then adapting it once we needed to change the format.
And of course I want to thank the donors to Traditional Cultures Project, who have helped fund both this web-based project and the presentation of slide shows in schools. In order to continue creating projects like this, TCP needs your help - please go to our Support TCP page and contribute today!