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The Western Himalayan Jaunsari Tribe and Their Still Existent Traditional Panchayat



jhaunsar western himalayan tribe

By- Dr. Devender Sharma, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Centre of Excellence Government College Sanjauli, Shimla (Himachal Pradesh).  He recently Co-Authored a book with Prof. Vijay Kaushal on the Jaunsari tribe titled “Traditional Power Institutions: Tribes of India

 The focus of the piece is majorly on a traditional power institution prevalent amongst the Western Himalayan Jaunsari tribe of Uttarakhand called Khumbli which are adhoc councils (Panchayats). These panchayats act primarily in cases involving traditional rules of behaviour and have the power of summoning in cases involving sex, property, and status. But with the passage of time these panchayats are losing their credibility and relevance as they are heavily influenced by caste, clique and kin-group loyalties. People belonging to lower caste groups, in general, do not have faith in these panchayats due to their arbitrary functioning which is dominated mostly by upper-caste men. Thus, in this relation, the work tries to highlight upon as to how the economic and social structures constituted under these panchayats are losing their significance.

 The process of globalization has turned the entire world into a global village, the boundaries of the village, province and nation have become blurred. At the same time, this transition has, albeit indirectly, raised questions about the existence and relevance of the very basis of traditional village panchayats. Their structure, procedure and decisions have also evoked a thorough discourse amongst the people, the media as well as numerous courts of law. These panchayats settle disputes in an inexpensive and prompt way ensuring fast, cheap, and inexpensive justice in conformity with local customs, traditions, and culture. Equally, they impart tremendous social stability to the rural culture in many horizontal and vertical ways and are considered as an effective and meaningful alternative to litigation. Furthermore, many types of traditional panchayats are found throughout the Indian subcontinent and this type of local informal justice system has been the basis for administering rural justice in the subcontinent since ancient times. In that connection, the tribal societies also hold this traditional institution quite sacred to them and have allowed it to rule them throughout their known histories.

Traditional Panchayat of the Jaunsari Tribe and Caste Hierarchy 

Many communities in the Western Himalayas which majorly includes the areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side, were originally tribal groups before they came under the influence of religion and were then further divided into different castes if they took up the Hindu religion. But despite that assimilation, they retained their tribal organizations (in varying degrees). The same goes for the Jaunsari Tribe of the Jaunsar-Bawar area of the Dehradun District of Uttarakhand, a hilly tribal tract with dry, rough, and unirrigated agricultural land which is linguistically more similar to the bordering parts of Himachal Pradesh than say Uttarakhand and can be included as a part of the Western Pahari linguistic belt. The tribals of Jaunsar-Bawar maintain their traditions and culture virtually unruffled because they have been able to regulate their life through decisions of traditional institutions since long.

A powerful traditional institution regulating most of the tribe is Khumbli adhoc councils (Panchayats), which primarily act in cases involving traditional rules of behaviour and have the power of summoning in cases involving sex, property, and status. But with the passage of time these panchayats are losing their credibility, and one such reason for this is caste hierarchy and untouchability which affects the working of this tribe. While caste-based discrimination generally does not prevail in the power structures of most panchayats in the Western Himalayas especially in the current times, but in the Kumbli panchayat power structure caste discrimination is still dominant. The informal power structure consists of caste, land ownership and the Syanchari system (Village Headman) which is dominated by the Khash (Rajput), and Bhatt (Brahmin) castes. The Jaildar (Big landowner) and Lumberdar (Village Headman or Syana) are the chief executives of the structure and a class of local money lenders (Businessmen or Baniyas of the plains) also influence the decision making of the panchayat to some extent.

If we look at the caste wise land ownership in the Jaunsari tribe, we find that Rajputs and Brahmins are the dominant landholders. The intermediate caste groups include the artisan classes, such as the Bahri (Carpenter), sonar (Goldsmith), Lohar (Blacksmith), Bajgee (Village Drummer), Jhogra and Nath (temple attendants and musicians). The lower caste group includes Koltas, the traditional agricultural labourers and serf. A few leather workers are also present at some places associated with the Chamar and Mochi caste group classifications. Furthermore, most of the agrarian studies conducted in Jaunsar-Bawar reveal that the Koltas are still indebted under the yoke of tribal landowners despite the enforcement of land reforms and a Land Ceiling act. This system is based upon feudal modes of production due to which debt bondage amongst Koltas in Jaunsar-Bawar is present. Bonded labour has been abolished long ago by the Government of India, but even then, this problem remains unresolved in the area.

Land, Land Revenue and Tenants

In the Kumbli panchayat, an indigenous revenue system has also existed since the 18th century ever since the area was an integral part of the Sirmour state. During that time the village community of Jaunsar-Bawar was a body of cultivating proprietors where each Zamindar cultivated his own land for which the Zamindar was classified as Maurusi (cultivator). The Maurusi had proprietary rights but the Gair Maurusi (non-cultivator) was a mere tenant who could dispose of his land only to the Zamindar whose land they cultivated on. Under this system land revenue was totally collected by the village Sayanas (Headman) and Khat Sayanas, the former being subordinated to the latter and appointed by him. These Sayanas were the virtual rulers of the area under the control of the king and were responsible for the collection and distribution of revenues which were collected from the Sadar Syanas of the Khats, who in turn collected from the village Syanas. The revenues were fixed for the whole area in a lump sum which was distributed by Chauntras and redistributed by Syanas among individuals. The Khat Syanas on the other hand could take an allowance of 5% of the collection known as Bisaunta (Commission received out of land revenue collection). This sort of land revenue is still collected in Jaunsar-Bawar by these Khat Syanas and deposited in the government treasury on a commission basis which showcases the bitter reality in the working of this tribal society relating to how landlordism, money lending and traditional centres of informal power (caste panchayats) are becoming the strongest components that influence the formal structures of power.

Identity Crisis & The Way Beyond

A customary law of a tribe is greatly endangered for good or bad when it meets socially progressive and politically powerful people. According to our findings in the field study conducted, the Jaunsari tribe is no exception to this rule as to when the isolated and self-contained people encounter the modern society, they compare their social, political, and economic life with these people. Here arises the contradiction which leads to some people from the tribal population wanting to transform their society especially concerning problems related to untouchability, illiteracy, bonded labour, social, economic, and psychological slavery etc. Thus, today there is a need for change concerning the self-sufficient nature of the socio-economic aspects of these tribes like the one in Jaunsar-Bawar. The present functioning of the traditional panchayat is clearly violative of the principles of natural justice and social equality and the same is leading to further division of the tribal community on caste-based lines.

Moreover, this is invariably not good for this minority Western Himalayan tribal community of the Eastern Himalayan province of Uttarakhand as it further excludes them in the greater socio-economic power struggle of the province which is majorly dominated by the Eastern Himalayan communities of Garhwal and Kumaon. Thus, in order to create the change, a mighty awakening is required in the Jaunsari tribe where the upper caste groups must let go of their hegemony. Additionally, the youth of the tribe irrespective of caste barriers should actively participate in standing up against the social evils present in the functioning of this tribe. Though some administration-initiated changes are happening in recent years, the larger transformation needs to come from within the tribe. However, passive measures can be taken towards educating the tribal community by especially the government in power, but too many aggressive measures from the outside to create the change may have adverse effects on the entire tribal community (including an identity crisis) as well as the society at large.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.


Intellectual Property Rights and Global Access to the Covid-19 Vaccine



paid vaccination in himachal pradesh

By- Adv. Ankit Thakur, LLM in Intellectual Property Rights, Queen Mary University of London, UK. He is currently serving as a spokesperson of the Himachal Pradesh Youth Congress

Developing as well as developed countries must sought out their ways of getting their hands on the Covid-19 vaccines as it bound to have a direct effect on the health crisis faced by many countries. The piece highlights the relation between Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and the global access to the Covid-19 vaccine around the world. It further highlights points concerning the strength Intellectual Property Rights can provide to every country which is fighting this pandemic.


Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and its direct effect on life saving medicines is a debate that has been going on for decades. Now, we have seen COVID-19 survive for more than a year and still only a small number of vaccines have been given the green light for emergency sanction. It is becoming increasingly likely that the world may soon look quite disproportionate in one distinct way as hundreds of millions of residents in wealthy nations will be vaccinated before billions of people in developing countries get similar access. India and South Africa are leading the fight to get Covid-19 vaccines clear of the IPR protection and it is also being advocated that their contention would help mobilize additional manufactures and help address vaccine disparities around the globe. Meanwhile, some also argue that this approach can lead to discouragement of additional manufacturing investments as well as undermine long-run vaccine development programs, including to initiatives to address the emerging new COVID-19 variants. On the other hand, the current demand is to scale up the existing vaccine production as quickly as possible while maintaining strict safety and quality standards. For this argument to be true, there will be a need of additional manufacturers who could and would stand by Intellectual Property restrictions. I see no such evidence in this scenario, to the contrary, and taking such a stance towards Intellectual Property may slow down or compromise the production of life saving vaccines.

Pharma companies that have developed and produced various vaccines under enormous commercial and geopolitical pressure need to scale up production as quickly as possible to meet enormous immediate demands around the world. As per my understanding, these companies are already cooperating widely with competitors and generic manufacturers, including via voluntary licenses, contracted productions, and proactive technology transfer. Weakening the commercial incentive of the originator companies may reduce their interest in going forward with the intentional collaborations that are already responsible for total output of the vaccine.

Under the existing TRIPS agreement, signatory countries can already issue compulsory licenses to produce vaccines without taking permissions from the patent holder but not a single country has opted for this option. Voluntary licensing and technology transfer from companies who are the originators can help increase long term manufacturing capacity, especially if paired with public investment. Such companies are also involved in administering quality control standards which is particularly significant in the background of extensive vaccine use. Their cooperation is important for both speedy production of the vaccine as well as maintaining its quality.

Now, coming to the global access challenge the world is facing right now, can summed up into three main points. First, while high income countries and their governments are heavily funding R&D and manufacturing. But in their effort to get more vaccines advance purchase agreements have anticipated the supplies. Second, lack of increasing manufacturing capacity undermines national and international immunization programs. In a developing country like India, vaccine is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) which is already manufacturing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. However, the point to be noted here is upfront at- risk investment which requires to fulfil expectation of orders. The third reason is lack of capital in hand to pay for vaccines for countries whose income is low or just above low middle. Manufacturers costs must be met, COVAXIN, developed by Bharat Biotech, is struggling to meet its donation target to high income countries and other donors to enable it to contract for needed vaccines. None of manufacturers today are remotely capable of meeting the demands on a timely basis.

To increase the manufacturing capacity certain issues like risk-tolerant capital and a partnership platform to enable technology transfer to new manufacturing sites around the world need to be addressed. Such a platform can only succeed if both parties in technology transfer equation, the recipient and the originator companies have trust and confidence in the platform. It can be agreed that knowledge-sharing and technology transfer are the crux of the IPR, and patents and legal structures follow. Moderna, for example, has waived Intellectual Property enforcements for COVID-19 vaccines but has not widely shared its know-how, without the latter, the former action has not generated any generic production.

Such a situation gives rise to two broad areas of uncertainty.  One, can Intellectual Property waiver be recognised as a symbolic gesture, even if it will have limited impact without broader knowledge sharing? Some will say yes, as it provides legal clarity to protect generic manufactures and signals shared commitment to human life and health over company profits and interests of wealthy countries. But I feel sceptic about it. I agree with the symbolic value, and I am not opposing it, but how will it affect the vaccine access is still to be answered. Two, if originator companies freely share all the know how would generic companies start manufacturing? I think we all would agree that there are generic manufactures with the capacity to produce at least some of the vaccines for e.g., Oxford- AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax in the medium term, but in the absence of public subsidy and government’s direct help, commercial risk sustains as we cannot assess the total demand and performance of these vaccines against emerging variants.

Considering these risks, I still believe that the companies would invest up front to manufacture vaccines. Given that there is already competition between originators, my instinct is that we should continue to actively engage originators in scaling-up. Creating the right incentives for voluntary licensing and technology transfer because with COVID-19 ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’.

In conclusion, to speed up vaccination rates around the world, especially in low and middle income level countries, we need more global manufacturing capacity for all COVID-19 vaccine platforms, but COVID- 19 vaccines from IPR will not lead to scaling up the production of the vaccine and as a result will not improve parity or access. Policy makers should undertake measures to eliminate or limit monopolies on the production of the COVID-19 vaccine, using a combination of incentives, mandates, and subsidies. Companies that have patents or biologic resources can be remunerated, through royalties or other reward schemes. There are many inefficiencies in the current market structure and many parts of this market are broken and are highly unfair in terms of global access, but the current inefficient structure can still get some things right if all like-minded communities get together on the issue of global access with the right tools, such as technology transfer facilitation, voluntary licensing and overlapping pricing. As the longer the pandemic exists, the greater the harm in terms of our health, economic and social welfare.

Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Ecosystem Restoration and the Current Situation in India (World Environment Day Special)



By- Ankush Charavande and Sanjukta Ghosh.

Ankush is currently pursuing Integrated M.Sc. Environmental Science from the Central University of Rajasthan and Sanjukta is working as a Project Scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

In 1972, the UN General Assembly designated 5 June as World Environment Day (WED) with the first celebration, under the slogan “Only One Earth” taking place in 1974. The theme for World Environment Day 2021 is “Ecosystem Restoration” and with that the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration has also been launched. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration starts from this year till 2030, the same timeline is also the deadline to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, this can be the last chance to act towards the restoration of the different ecosystems across the world and can hence save the planet from environmental degradation and the catastrophe of climate change.

Why Ecosystems must be restored?

Ecosystems are the web of life on this earth. The great environmental activist and leader of the Chipko movement Sunder Lal Bahuguna once said, ‘Ecology is the permanent economy’ and keeping his words in mind we must help in maintaining the ecosystem, as it comprises of all the living organisms and includes forests, rivers, wetlands, grasslands, estuaries, and coral reefs. Cities and farmlands also contain important human-modified ecosystems, they include a stable climate and breathable air; supplies of water, food, and materials of all kinds; and helps us protect ourselves from disaster and disease. In fact, the Corona virus is a result of ecosystem degradation, as it is a type of Zoonotic disease which got transferred from animals to humans. A major reason behind this is unnecessary interaction between the wildlife and human beings, and the reasons for this could be increasing deforestation; pollution in water bodies; draining of wetlands and peatlands; degrading coasts and overfishing in farmlands. Thus, these wrongs need to be undone for the world to move forward and eliminate alien species which are coming up, as well as deal with issues like climate change. Consequently, it is because of this reason ecosystems must be restored.

How Restoration can be done?

Restoring ecosystems means protecting biodiversity and helping them deliver benefits for the nature. The same can be done by protecting and restoring various types of ecosystems like Forests (which is an area of land dominated by trees), they are a source of clean air and water, and they also help absorb vast amounts of climate heating carbon. For restoration of this ecosystem more trees can be planted in areas where deforestation is being done, and conditions can be created in this respect for indigenous trees to germinate naturally. Further, concerning the Oceans and Coastal ecosystem which regulates our climate as well as generates most of the oxygen we breathe, a lot can be done. The ecosystem covers more than 70% of the earth and are a major source of carbon sink that needs to be cleaned up. Restoration for it can be done through the use of new techniques like the Phosphate Elimination and Recovery Lightweight (PEARL) membrane where an adaptable sponge soaks up phosphate from polluted waterways for reuse. The same technique can be used for the restoration of the Rivers and Lakes ecosystem which is the best source of freshwater and helps protect us from droughts and floods. Lastly, Peatlands cover only 3 percent of the world’s land but have a 30% carbon sink, and for their restoration native grasses and mosses can be grown to boost their natural regeneration.

Further, in relation to the Land/Terrestrial ecosystem which concerns human beings a lot can be done, aiming mostly at reduction of the desertification of land. Some important points that need to be taken into consideration in this relation is the conservation of the soil and its nutrients. Also, the method of agriculture practice can play a very important role in this. The use of pesticides and insecticides deteriorates the quality of the soil and hence leads to desertification. Soil conservation is not a new concept rather it has been practiced from many years in many cultures, terrace farming is one such an ancient way of farming practiced mainly in the mountainous regions, this technique helps in boosting the water conservation and helps in reducing the runoff rate in the terrain. FAO has categorized some of these environment friendly systems of agricultural practice as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) which can be used in a lot of such places. This ecosystem deserves more attention as due to increase in the human population, the requirement of food has also increased and if projections are to be believed the world would need to increase the food production by 50 % which could lead to an additional 600 million hectares of farmland by 2050.

Hence, smart, and sustainable techniques of farming need to be developed and one of such sustainable agricultural practice is regenerative farming. Regenerative farming shies away from using synthetic products like fake manure or pesticides, and refrains from using heavy machinery, which can ultimately do more harm than good.  In this technique, rather than disturbing the soil by ploughing, the soil is left alone to naturally create more organic matter and become productive. Another modern and smart way of agriculture is vertical farming.  Vertical farming can also help increase food production with use of minimal land, and as it has been estimated that by 2050, two out of every three people are expected to live in urban areas this method may be helpful in producing fresh and green vegetables indoors by controlling light, temperature, water and often carbon dioxide levels as well. Such techniques could help meet growing global food demands in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way. Thus, through these ways restoration of ecosystems all across the world is possible.

Where does India stand?

In this period of turmoil after the outbreak of the second wave of COVID-19 virus in India all of us are majorly focused on the health care which is the primary matter of importance during this time. But the environment is also something which needs to be discussed in numerous forums. The government of India should focus on having better policies and laws concerning environment protection and restoration. But the reverse is happening as there are so many projects which have been approved by the central and state governments which are not in the best interest of mankind. Be it the Central Vista project or the numerous hydropower projects in especially the tribal areas of the North-East and Far-North (Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and J&K) or for that matter the legalized mining activities being carried out in several tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, all are being given the nod by side-lining the adverse environmental affects they could bring. Further, the major issues concerning the recent draft of the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR 2021) also need to be highlighted in this discourse. The provisions of the LDAR gives unchecked powers to governmental bodies to interfere with a citizen’s right to possess and retain property. This means the government can choose any land — either common or private — for development activities like mining, quarrying, building and all this would invariably threaten the fragile ecosystem of Lakshadweep.

Moving on, India is among the top ten countries of the world by forest area and as per the latest forest cover report released by forest survey of India, the total forest cover is 7,12,249 which is 21.67% of the geographical area of the country. There has been an increase of 3976 of forest cover and 1212 of tree cover in 2019 as compared to the 2017 report. But after the release of that report the current policy of the government has tilted more in connection with restoring animal biodiversity than degrading land area (forest, grassland) and marine region (corals), which is probably not the right move and they could have worked more in that direction till a considerable increase in the figures is not attained. Also, more needs to be done in connection with wetland conservation, though ever since joining the Ramsar Convention successive governments have done great work in promoting the conservation and judicious use of wetlands but still a lot can be done as restoration of 15% of such lands could avoid 60% of highly endangered species from getting extinct.

In conclusion, what can be said is that the ecosystem provides us with priceless benefits. They give us a stable climate and breathable air, fulfill our needs of water, food and material of all kinds, and protection from disaster and disease. It is easy to lose hope when we think of the sheer magnitude of the challenges we face and the avalanche of bad news that we wake up to every morning but just as we caused the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the pollution crisis, we can also be the cause for the restoration of ecosystems and can reverse the damage that we have done. We can thus be the first generation to Reimagine, to Recreate and to Restore nature and kick-start the movement for a better post-covid world.

Feature Image: NASA

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.


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Western Himalayan Gujjar Tribe and their Transformation Overtime



Western Himalayan Gujjar Tribe 2

ByDr. Devender Sharma and Dr. Ved Prakash Sharma.

Both are Assistant Professors. Dr. Devender works at the Centre of Excellence, Government College, Shimla and Dr Ved Prakash works at the National Law University, Shimla.

The piece deals with the Gujjar tribe and their transformation overtime from nomadic to settled life. Though the tribe is found all over North and West India but the work deals with the Gujjar population settled in the Western Himalayan province of Himachal Pradesh. The focus is majorly laid on the origin, composition, and livelihood of the tribe. Their ethnic-religious and socio-linguistic composition has been discussed as well as a detailed analysis on the nomadic Gujjars has been presented.

Origin and Composition

Gujjars are one of the many tribes settled around the outskirts of Himachal Pradesh. The tribe is also present in numerous other areas of the Western Himalayas majorly in parts of Jammu and Kashmir. They also have a considerable population living in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Western Rajasthan. There are various views given by historians about their origin, but the most used argument is that in early 6th Century A.D. a great invasion by Central Asiatic people took place in present day Western Rajasthan and Punjab and many are of the view that these people were the Gujjars who since then have settled in those areas and migrated to other parts of the sub-continent. The word ‘Gujjar’ in any sort of literature was firstly used in the 7th century AD by the famous poet Ban Bhat in his book, Harshacharita. The word ‘Gujjar’ is derived from Gurujar which in Sanskrit means “a valiant out to crush the enemies”. With the constant usage of the word, it got deformed into “Gojjar” and then to Gujjar. In the early times, nomadic life and search for green fodder for their livestock formed their major occupation and even till now this serves as a major source of income for many of them.

Regarding their ethnic affinities Denzil Ibbetson writes that Jats, Gujjars and Ahirs are all of the same ethnic group. In relation to the Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh they are presently divided into two groups, firstly the Gujjar Hindus which are majorly found in Mandi, Kangra, Sirmaur, Solan and Bilaspur districts. Then secondly, the Muslim Gujjars which are dispersed in the districts of Chamba, Mandi, Bilaspur, Shimla, Solan and Sirmaur. Talking about their language, Gujjars have a distinct language of their own, called Gujari or Gojri, which varies from place to place but is closely related to various dialects of Rajasthani. There is no separate script of the language. But in relation to the Western Himalayas and the areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir they live in, the Gujari or Gojri they speak is closely related to the Western Pahari set of languages and many include their version of Gujari or Gojri in Western Pahari.

Livelihood and Family

Most of the Hindu Gujjars according to our findings live a settled life and are economically well-off and very few individuals from that group are nomadic. While on the other hand, the Muslim Gujjars exhibit semi-nomadic, settled and nomadic lifestyles in Himachal Pradesh. The nomadic Gujjars either it be Hindus or Muslims remain isolated from the mainstream, and mostly maintain their own traditional cultural identity. On the other hand, many Gujjars who have settled down are still keen on rearing buffaloes as their main family occupation. Mostly, the Muslim Gujjars are engaged in the traditional occupation of selling milk and milk products to their clients around or in the market. As majority of them are pastoral, they do not have patron-client, landlord-tenant and cultivator-labor relationship. Also, many have inheritance or warisi in the grazing rights of certain pastures and forests.

Amongst the Western Himalayan Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir the joint family system is the norm; however, nuclear family system is also prevalent. In the joint family the eldest male number is considered the head and called Sayana.  All the members of the family of the Sayana have a common kitchen or Chullah.  All the animals and buffaloes are the common property of the family. On the flip side, many nuclear families are also coming up which is indicative of the gradual pace of social change among Gujjars towards modernization. Both Gujjar Hindus and Muslims in the state perform a number of social and religious rituals which are mostly in sink with the mainstream religious practices.

Nomadic Gujjars

Nomadic Gujjars which are mostly Muslims in the state have very well-knit social organizations. The first unit of their social organization is the herding unit. In this functional group usually five to six families make one herding unit and they move together to the high altitudes for grazing their buffaloes. During such a grazing expedition a particular herding unit drives its buffaloes as a common unit and shares the fodder in common. After the herding unit Kafila (the convoy) is another functional group, which is also regarded as a unit of social organization. Nomadic Gujjars make a Kafila during the period of migration from high altitudes to the plains before winter sets in. The number of families varies from Kafila to Kafila. After the formation of the Kafila, Gujjars choose their Kafila leader called Buzurg (the elder). Buzurg is the oldest person having knowledge and experience of routes to be followed. He is selected through consensus and once the leader is selected, every member of the Kafila follows the instructions and orders issued by the Buzurg. During migration all the issues and disputes among the families are settled by him with the help of some other senior members of the Kafila.

Another very important and effective organization among the nomadic Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh is the Dera or a group. The number of families who live together at one place is called the Dera. Every Dera has its own leader called Lambardar. The Lambardar is selected amongst the elders of the Dera through consensus. He not only has to act authoritatively and impartially for the maintenance of social order, betterment and welfare of the group but also as a moral force behind the cohesion of the group for which he is obeyed by all the members of that group. The most important social organization among the nomadic Gujjars is the Biradari Panchayat. Generally, several Deras merge to form a Biradari Panchayat. The leader or the head of the Biradari Panchayat is called Zaildar and again selected on the basis of his age and his efficiency to work for the welfare of the Biradari and his experience as a group head. In case of a dispute firstly the group tries to settle the disputes. In case a person does not feel satisfied with the decision then the dispute or the issue goes to the Biradari Panchayat. It deals with the cases involving sex, property, and status.  The decision of the Biradari Panchayat is considered final.

Nowadays the institution of the Panchayati raj is working in the tribal areas of the Himachal Pradesh and due to this the traditional panchayat of Gujjars has lost its ground in some of the places. However, the nomadic Gujjars who are dispersed over a larger area, still trust their traditional conflict resolution systems as being mostly illiterate, they shy away from paperwork and seldom trust a system steeped in procedural requirements. However, contradictions are arising within these communities with instances of the people overruling the authority of the Sayanas who heads the traditional panchayat system and are moving towards the adoption of modern legal procedures. Some modern trends are discernible and as a result some of the members of the Gujjar tribe have started reposing faith in the efficacy of modern democratic institutions and statutory institutions of justice. They are beginning to submit their disputes to the Courts of Law and are no longer content with the decisions of their traditional institutions and methods for the settlement of disputes. As a result, they are becoming conscious about their rights which is also indicative of their political development.


Thus, this minority Western Himalayan tribe of Himachal Pradesh has come a long way and with time has transformed a lot. But only time will tell whether their recent transformation related more with modernization can help this tribal group attain consideration in the mainstream society. With that being said, though modernization is a progressive step but they should also understand that preserving their history and culture is equally important. Also the one’s in administrative power should avoid too much interference in the internal functioning of the tribe as that could jeopardize the entire process aimed at their development.

Feature Image:  Thomson Reuters Foundation/Athar Parvaiz

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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