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Balancing the old and the new

Living in harmony with nature is the surest way for living sustainably. Gujjars, a tribe in the northern parts of India, while holding on to the traditional cultures and systems, have also embraced the new, resulting in sustainable ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods.

Standing tall, rigid, composed with Pagh and Tehmad as their costumes, the long flowing beard dyed red, churning words of Gojri as their dialect, the mesmerizing fragrance arising from the baking of Makki and Bajra dipped in Makhan and Sarson as their diet, the picturesque architecture of their Kullas made from mud and special grasses as their homes, their love and compassion for their animals which are their sole source of income, the captivated earth under the feet and traced skies over the head, marks the perfect blend of Gujjars with the Mother Nature.

Gujjar kids dressed in school uniform
Gujjar kids dressed in school uniform

Gujjars are the nomadic tribe which is rich in terms of cultural heritage. They have their own costumes, traditions, living habits, art and craft and also a very distinct food habits which varies from area to area. Gujjars along with Bakarwals is the third largest community in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Gujjars constitute 7.5% of the total population in the state according to the census of India, 2001. Occupationally, 69.2% Gujjars are practicing agriculture and animal husbandry, 2.8% are household workers and 28% are involved in other sectors. Dairying is the major area of economic activity by them. The class of nomads is mainly known for the rearing of livestock and is established with the fact that only 0.85% of the population is urbanized and remaining resides in rural areas and thrives on sustainable livestock production.

Food habits

Since Gujjars live in secluded conditions, their livelihood pattern, food and dietary practices and their attitude to various aspects of life, may often differ from those of the non-tribal population. This is reflected in their dietary habits. Due to changing agricultural system, cropping patterns and food habits, many of the communities have undergone some changes and it was noticed in the Gujjar community too.

Mostly they depend on milk products as their staple food besides cereals, wheat and maize. The favorite dishes of Gujjars are Makki ki Roti, Ganhar / Sarson ka Sag, Lassi, Kalari, Karan, etc. It is surprising that Gujjars are mostly vegetarians.

Dr. Pranav Kumar explaining the farmers on the use of mineral mixtures for enhancing animal health
Dr. Pranav Kumar explaining the farmers on the use of mineral mixtures for enhancing animal health

Although the markets have been flooded with the new products and multinationals, removing small businesses from the competition, the local tribes of Jammu & Kashmir are least worried with this trend. They are still thriving on the conditions they had some decades ago. For example, 98% of the Gujjars have a strong affinity for Noon Cha or salted tea over regular sweetened tea in their diet and do not start or complete their day without it. Noon Cha is a blend of the local herbs available in J&K. Their nomadic life and disinterest to launch themselves on market pads have made them contented and self sufficient in whatever they produce and have. Their secluded lifestyle on mountainous terrains has made them live and dwell in close proximity to nature.

 

Youth are keen to learn better animal husbandry practices
Youth are keen to learn better animal husbandry practices

Protecting ecology

The community has undertaken various efforts for preserving ecology. They thrive in dense forests and highlands for their food and fodder for their animals. These people remain in equilibrium with the forests, use forests as per their needs and in return fertilize the forest soil. Gujjars have helped Forest Department of the State in ascertaining and marking the vital forest area and removal of illegal encroachments. They have signaled the excessive felling of forest trees and helped in conservation efforts. Further, they act as navigators in guiding to habitable spots and valuable forest products as they  trek these paths.

Livelihoods linked to ecology

Maize is grown in the hilly and mountainous areas and it is a tropical crop in this region. Cultivation of  maize is done on the mountainous areas where majority of the community is settled. Maize is the staple food as it also provides warmth and strength which the body needs, especially during winters. Other crops like rice, wheat etc., which need irrigation are not cultivated. So they are left with only option – to cultivate maize.

Gujjars cultivate highly nutritious maize on high terrains and dwell on the local vegetation for their food which did not alter the flora of the area. Further, the leftovers of the maize plant are fed to the animals as feed. The migratory lifestyle has enabled them to take their animals to high terrains during summers for grazing and bring them back to plains during winters in search of food. They develop temporary houses called as kullas from mud and grasses during winters on plains and rear their animals on the fodder. They return excellent manure produced by the animals which increase the fertility of the soil with the minimal use of fertilizers. In plain areas, the settlements of the Gujjars are the primary places sought by public for obtaining manure. On their return to higher terrains, they let their animals loose for grazing on the natural pastures and there the animals deposit their manure stabilizing the nature’s balance of nutrients. They  live in perfect harmony with meadows and pastures in a symbiotic relationship.

The Gujjars are the primary groups responsible for livestock growth as they mostly dwell on livestock rearing and production. Livestock for Gujjar community is a status symbol as more the number of animals a family owns, more dignified they are considered to be. Further, the major trade activity elicited by Gujjars is in sale and purchase of buffaloes and their milk. Gujjars have a certain tendency and favoritism for buffaloes as compared to cattle as these animals are hardy in nature, have the capability to withstand stressful conditions and secrete more fat in their milk. Buffalo milk is used by the Gujjars for value addition and they process it to make Ghee, Butter, Curd, Lassi, Paneer, Kaladi and sell the surplus for profit after being self sufficient.

The main source of income for the Gujjars is sale of livestock products, especially milk and milk products. The cycle of production and economy is stable as they have at least 30-40 animals. The milk is used for self consumption and value addition along with sale. The value added products are then directly sold to the households and most of the times people approach Gujjar settlements for obtaining milk products like ghee, curd, butter, paneer, kaladi, etc. Although the major players of dairy industry like Amul, Mother Dairy, Verka, etc., had launched many of their value added products in the market, still the people of the region rely on Gujjars for purity of the milk and products.

Students interact with Gujjars on better animal health and production
Students interact with Gujjars on better animal health and production

Gujjars while protecting their traditional knowledge are also open to new scientific knowledge. They are trained on clean milk production, animal health, personal and animal hygiene, animal nutrition, etc by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Jammu/Kashmir, Line Departments, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) or Farm Science Centers, Sher-E-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology of Jammu/Kashmir, etc. They have been also rendered with the use of better reproductive and breeding techniques for their animals.

This business of Gujjars is not affected by the major stakeholders – sales not affected with inflow of profit. A family produces 100 litres of milk daily and these 100 litres is always sold with the same profit margins  inspite of so many brands in the local market. The ghee made by Gujjars is the most sought after commodity in Jammu & Kashmir. People pay higher prices than the market price. The taste and aroma of the ghee is very unique and is devoid of preservatives. The slow churning of milk fat on firewood gives a homogenous texture and taste to the ghee. Here one more thing needs to be understood that the value addition of milk is done without any chemicals and preservatives. They use eco-friendly methods serving as a boon for human as well as nature’s health.

The community not only masters the art of animal rearing but also has brilliance in art of healing. They are the doyens of indigenous technical knowledge. They have mastered the use of naturally occurring herbs and shrubs for treating ailments of both humans and animals. This knowledge is imparted to the successive generations by their forefathers. The use of certain naturally growing plants had certainly economized their living and treatment expenses of animals. The animal products are not contaminated with harmful drug residues. Further, the load of antibiotics and chemicals in the environment too, is reduced.

Conclusion

The Gujjar community has strategically evolved by the use of certain practices which are drawn from their forefathers. They have promulgated a great bonding with the common public. They are offered land by the people for establishing their temporary settlement. They are least affected by the happenings around the globe and live their life in the lap of nature, in greener environments and in close proximity with their livestock. Though many of the Gujjars have settled in permanent settlements, still some of them enjoy their nomadic life. Though Gujjars are exposed to modern education and health facilities, still they are true to their roots and follow their ideals maintaining a proper balance of the old and the new. They have created a niche for themselves and their products in the market. They have their own and unique way of doing things. Their food habits are quite different and so is their lifestyle which makes them a special and unique tribe to be classified as food sovereign tribe.

Amandeep Singh

Student

Sher-E-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Jammu,

R.S. Pura, Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir, India – 181102

Email: amandeepsinghvet@gmail.com

 

Pranav Kumar

Assistant Professor, Division of Veterinary & Animal Husbandry Extension Education,

Sher-E-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Jammu,

R.S. Pura, Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir, India – 181102

Email: pranavahe@gmail.com