Adaptation and Coexistence of Van Gujjars in the Forests: A Success Story

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"The existence of Gujjar pastoral transhumance is one of the best examples of symbiotic relations of these pastoralists with the forests and sedentary population spread over in the migratory routes. The Muslim Van Gujjars are a pastoral group living in the foothills of the Uttarakhand Himalaya, are also known as buffalo grazers, follow transhumance between high altitude alpine meadows and forest foot hills without much diversification of subsistence strategy. The economy of Van Gujjars is completely based on milk production and supply of milk products along with the providing genetically well bred progenies of indigenous buffaloes to the hill people of Uttrakhand. The creation of new state of Uttarakhand, has led to a number of developmental initiatives taken up by the state government which includes creation of more roads, a number of dams for harnessing hydel power and sprouting up of new urban centers. All these have disturbed and disrupted the migration pattern of Van Gujjars. On the other hand, the initiatives taken up by the state forest department in restricting the entry of Van Gujjars into their forests has further added to the problems of survival of these pastoralists. The Van Gujjars are well known for having evolved a resource management practice by utilizing the alpine grazing resources in summer and migrating to foot hill forests in winter. They also provide their buffalo manure to the small land holding farmers for their agricultural fields. Besides breeding their own livestock, Van Gujjars also take care of the animals of other communities, fulfilling the role of village cowherd. Henceforth, Van Gujjars have proved themselves very resilient; they have an intact social structures and mechanisms for mutual sharing of resources with the sedentary population. They also provide ethno veterinary services to the local farmers, and their livestock also represents an encashable asset. These exchanges are immensely welcomed by the sedentary population. With increasing international emphasis on the conservation of biodiversity, policies need to be devised out for the Van Gujjars so that they are able to benefit from recognition of their role in conserving livestock genetic diversity, promoters of valuable indigenous breeds of buffalo and indigenous knowledge and also about coping mechanisms from environmental stresses."



pastoralism, adaptation