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Education in Uttarakhand : Field Learnings for marginalised Communities (Van Gujjars & Bhotiyas)

Updated: Sep 28, 2019


The practice of transhumance which is an ancient custom of seasonal migration is a form of pastoralism or nomadism i.e. moving with livestock, domestic animals from one grazing ground to another. The communities practicing transhumance have played an important role from time immemorial. Their seasonal movement in the valleys with herds is part of a natural ecological balancing process. Their association with this movement is a way of nomadism and pastoral life.

With more than 350 tribal communities, India is estimated to have a nomadic population of at least 60 million, between 7-10% of the population (National Convention, 2005 in Krätli& Dyer, 2009).

According to the chairperson of The National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic (NCDNSNT), under the chairmanship of Balkrishna Sidram Renke, mentioned that there are 11 crore (a crore is 10 million) Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic people in India (GOI, 2008).

Transhumance is all about survival and perpetual movement but the communities have been largely ignored in matters of policy in both colonial and post-colonial times. In term of serving the national interest the legal institutional mechanisms have largely favoured urban planning and infrastructural development and de-emphasized forest dwelling and the role of forest dwellers in the preservation of forests. The policies of government with regard to wildlife conservation, directly affected the large number of pastoralists. This contrast is visible among the transhumance community in the state of Uttarakhand in terms of access to basic services and standard of living (as per Human Development Index).

Transhumance Communities of Uttarakhand : Field Experiences and Data

In Uttarakhand the seasonal migration occurs between the lower and upper latitudes in the mountains, major communities practicing transhumance are Bhotiya tribes and Van Gujjars. Both communities have different social, cultural and economic aspects though the practice of transhumance is common to their lifestyle.

Field visits were made to the Uttarkashi district to understand the educational needs and challenges of the community practising transhumance in the Bagori village. The Bhotiya community of Bagori village is a medium size village located in Bhatwari Tehsil of Uttarkashi district. As per census 2011 the Bagori village has a population of 567 of which 280 are males while 287 are females. The majority of population belongs to the Schedule Tribe (ST) category. Schedule Tribe (ST) constitutes 88.01 % while Schedule Caste (SC) was 8.47 % of total population in village. The major tribal communities are from Bhotiya, Tharu, Jaunsari and jadhs tribes. Most of them are converted to Buddhism or either follow the Hindu religious practice.

Dunda Village, Uttarkashi [Picture Courtesy- Niket]

The seasonal migration in village occurs during the onset of winter; because of unavailability of fodder and grass for livestock. The changing of season leads the families to move along with their sheep, goats and cattle (cows, donkeys etc.). All have been involved in this annual domestic migration process. The Bagori villagers move 6 months during winter and settle in the downhills in village Dunda, near Uttarkashi town during winters. Bagori villagers practicing transhumance migrate seasonally and have established their permanent settlement in Dunda village. Dunda has become the center of day to day engagement of these community in term of livelihood, education and access to services.

Bodh Monastery in Dunda Village, Uttarkashi [Picture Courtesy- Niket]

The village has a government school which moves along with the community. Thus the school set up (administration, teachers etc) also moves to Dunda and comes back to Bagori during summer months i.e. the school personnel are on the move with the community.

Van Gujjars Dera [Picture Courtesy- Niket]

The Van Gujjars are another transhumance community in Uttarakhand, Van Gujjars have lived for centuries as per the community in the forests of the Siwalik and the Himalayan ranges in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. However, over the last few decades, Van Gujjars like many other transhumance communities have had to deal with rapid changes both in terms of political as well as economic being; the prolonged systemic inequities and injustices have deprived these communities of their fundamental human rights such as the right to access education. The seasonal movement of the community is inherent to their existence; there are many aspects which have had considerable influence on their educational status. As with the passage of time the tribe has spread out across the various mountain ranges of geographical spaces in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Their movement in the mountain ranges is in search of rich forests and meadows for their cattle and livestock. The community has a history which they share orally along generations; the nomads are known as Gujjars. It was later in 1980s when the word Van means – Forest was added and came to be named as Van Gujjars.

This was to distinguish the community from the other Gujjars in the country, a very different community with whom the Van Gujjar may or may not share distant ancestral roots.

The language spoken by the community is called Gujjari (a dialect), which is combination of Punjabi and Dogri. The transhumance starts with change in the weather twice in a year. During summer, the months of April and May are the scheduled for seasonal migration. With the rise in the temperatures, the availability of fodder and water becomes difficult for both the families and the cattle.

Van Gujjar’s Dangars (buffalo ) [Picture Courtesy- Niket]

Children from Van Gujjar community [Picture Courtesy- Niket]

Educational Provisioning for the Communities

In the process of this seasonal movement there are various issues and challenges faced by these communities.

The educational needs – challenges of access, availability and affordability – of these transhumance communities which are related to aspects of social, cultural and religious practices are to be evaluated.

The school organization, teacher- pupil interaction, academic session and examinations are the major aspects which are to be understood. The educational processes and provisions in such complex situations are difficult to imagine. When we talk about “Education-for-all” – perspectives and approaches vary when it comes to people who are marginalized. In India there are huge regional disparities in terms of access and availability of the resources, especially in the remote, rural areas. There are certain sections and groups, which includes the rural and remote populations, nomads and migrants workers, indigenous peoples, ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities and those living in difficult circumstances. These sections of the society are on the receiving end hence vulnerable and marginalized.

One of the features of marginalization is that the people and groups who are marginalised are subject to multiple layers of discrimination.

The indigenous and tribal group experience discrimination and inequality in many ways depending on their identity and other regional factors as well. The policies and programs either formulated or implemented have always pushed them at the margin both directly and indirectly. Education has an important role in creating new learning opportunities and driving social progress. It does not operate in a vacuum rather it is a social, political and economic phenomenon which happens simultaneously.

As written by Dyer (2006), the transhumance communities are among the most marginalized social groups, and are widely excluded from educational provision, despite pledges of education for all. For centuries these communities have passed on their socio cultural and economic knowledge to their children to pursue their traditional occupation without recourse to formal education. Transhumance is all about survival and perpetual movement, which in itself presents many challenges for both providers, and would-be users, of educational services. The provision of education for pastoralist communities needs to understand their way of life and to integrate their culture around the world. Over the last few decades the transhumance communities have had to deal with rapid changes to their way of life, often a consequence of an increasingly globalizing world in which development measures remains highly unsympathetic to the way of life and culture as well. In the present context their traditional education and skill sets are not adequate enough to survive and this situation is further pushing them to seek external educational inputs to support their process of adaptation (Dyer, 2006). Adusumalli (2015) explores the issues related to educational policies for the transhumance communities and points out that these seem to rely on concepts and values drawn from settled communities constituting mainstream society.

Education and Transhumance : Incoherence with current trends

The current educational policies and programmes tend to miss the needs of communities who practice transhumance and are nomadic. This largely is influenced by the systemic nature  of education as a service to multiple populations across the varying topographies across the country.

There is a need to draw insights from experiences of nomadic communities that lay emphasis on the cultural and natural context.

The communities have traditionally been on the social margins on account of they being preoccupied with a migratory lifestyle along with their cattle and animal wealth in search of greener pastures. They however have relationships with the mainstream communities which are majorly economic in nature. In the light of their livelihoods the educational and other services need to be customized. In this way the policies and programmes could be made inclusive. Thus transhumance populations and their contextual conditions need to be understood to formulate policies (Adusumalli 2015). There is an urgency to the manner in which the indigenous knowledge systems of the Van Gujjars would be lost in the coming times as they are forced to give up their migratory lifestyle. The systems approach across administrative and legal frameworks has portrayed them as a threat to the ecosystem of the region across the Shivalik range. The ideas of poaching, encroachment and others aspects are being attributed that has been living with the ecosystems for time immemorial. In a recent judgement by the Uttarakhand High Court it was pronounced : “We never directed the state government to frame and formulate rehabilitation policy… At the one hand the state says that action shall be taken against the persons who have encroached upon the forest land, and in the same breath it is making the rehabilitation policy to rehabilitate them.”

Education can be the tool that can empower the community to be able to raise its voice in order to safeguard its very existence and practice of living in the coming times.


  1. Adusumalli, M (2015). Creating Access to Early Childhood Development Services for Van Gujjar Communities in Uttarakhand : A reflection on Inclusive Practices in Nimisha Kumar (Ed) Family and Community Participation in Early Childhood Development. Global Books Organisation : Delhi.

  2. Agarwal, R. (2014). No Rights to Live in the Forest: Van Gujjars in Rajaji National Park. EPW Vol – XLIX No. 1, January 04, 2014.

  3. Carr-Hill, R., & Peart, E. (2005). The education of nomadic people in East Africa: Review of Relevant Literature. International Institute of Education Planning and African Development Bank.

  4. Kratil, S. (2001). Education provision for nomadic pastoralists: A literature Review. IDS Working Paper 126 accessed from

  5. Sharma. A.(2011). South Asian nomads- a literature review. Creating Pathways to Access. Research Monograph, 58. University of Sussex

  6. Uttarakhand: Van Gujjars are threat to wildlife, their rehabilitation against public policy, says HC. Indian Express (2018).

The article is written by Niket Sagar (currently a fellow with AIF, he is working on Education in the Nuapada district of Orissa) and Prashant Anand – AIF (2017-18) fellow.

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