Who we are
We are a team (Sangathan) of van Gujjars who working hard for the rights of nomadic communities and van Gujjars to create a better future for them.
Van Gujjars: A Rich Cultural Legacy
The Van Gujjars are a semi-nomadic, Islamic community found in Northern India (primarily in Uttarakhand), parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s a sub-community within the larger Gujjar community that traces its origins to the Gurjara kingdom in West India from where they migrated to different parts of the sub-continent in 570 CE. The Muslim Gujjars, which included the Van Gujjars went further north, settling in the Himalayan states.
Etymologically, the name ‘Van Gujjar’ is a combination of Van that means forest and Gujjar, which is a sub-caste in India. The name loosely translates to ‘Forest Pastoral Community’. Speaking a language called Gojri—which is a dialect of the Dogri language, mixed with Punjabi; the community has a rich culture and unique traditional knowledge systems that need to be preserved and encouraged.
About the Sangathan
The Van Gujjar Tribal Yuva Sanghatan (hereinafter ‘the Sangathan) was registered as a trust on 28th December 2020. The primary reason to establish this trust is to reinvigorate the Van gujjar community towards political assertion of their identity as forest dwelling pastoralists and to empower the community to assert their customary access to forest land as defined in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA).
The Sanghatan is keen to facilitate Van Gujjars by legitimately setting up Forest Rights Committees, enable documentation and verification for filing land claims as well as assert their forest rights through Gram Sabha resolutions. The Sanghatan is striving for recognition of individuals as well as community forest rights passed by their respective Gram sabhas as well as follow up with appellate authorities to ensure claims are approved. Apart from encouraging youth and future generations to safeguard their sustainable and traditional livelihood practices, the Sanghatan is motivated to play the role of a mediator with the forest department and judiciary by representing them and striving for their legitimate rights through legal aid and literacy workshops.
The Sanghatan is also keen to encourage access to modern education as well as encourage members to cultivate ecoliteracy that align with their traditional knowledge. The emphasis is also to focus on gender based education with special focus on menstrual health and medical care for women and adolescents.
Furthermore, the Sanghatan aspires to undertake recording of traditional and cultural knowledge from within the community in their local Gojiri language. It is keen to realise the value of their indigenous Gojiri buffaloes by filing for breed recognition and enhancing their ability to negotiate for better prices for milk and milk products with dairy owners.
The Sanghatan’s also keen to carry forward traditional cultural practices such as handicrafts, traditional attires, food preparations, kitchenware, songs, folklore, sports, knowledge of herbs and natural flora as medicines for both the community and their buffaloes. It intends to carry forward sustainable practices of coexistence by undertaking conservation activities, ecodevelopment initiatives, outdoor education, birdwatching and nature guide training. Such initiatives will encourage members to take up community centric ecotourism initiatives that will enhance their livelihood and economic status.
It is hopeful that the Sanghatan can carry forward these endeavours in the future to cultivate agency amongst members of the community to safeguard their cultural identity, customs and natural heritage as forest dwelling pastoralists. It is also hopeful that these efforts will enhance the community to carry forward their tribal identity as nomadic pastoralists and seek developmental gains as legitimate citizens of India. The Sanghatan thus intends to build upon the traditional practices of Van Gujjars coupled with its unique history and geographical use of grasslands to build alternative developmental paradigms for a sustainable future within the forests where they reside.