Volunteer speak : first impressions
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Samanta is doing extraordinary work in the uplands of Shivalik Range located in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The small unit of Samanta is showing courage to work for Education and Livelihood of the relatively unknown indigenous community living in the wild lands for decades - The Van Gujjars and Taungyas. I have had personal experiences of Van Gujjars in December, 2017 when I visited Dehradun. During my trip I got a chance to engage with the community and share common spaces.
Dec 2017 - FlashBack!
It was a windy morning that day when I packed some food (courtesy the love of Samanta Team) with me and left for another pilot visit in the community. This time I had planned to visit some hamlets in the Asa-Rodi Sub-Range of Shivalik Forest Range which falls under Uttarakhand Van Vibhaag. I met some people from the community who earn their livelihood by selling milk to dairies and people in nearby areas. They were the initial interface with the community. While visiting hamlets in the range, I met Mohd. Gami (name changed) who gave me an opportunity to have a close look of the community by spending a night with them. It was a quick decision which proved to be worthy. The community has an enriching and righteous relation with its surroundings and blends neatly with the ecosystem. I found it much easier to immerse with the community as I could evade the linguistic barrier because the herders speak Gujjari (a fusion of Dogri and Punjabi) which could be easily understood by me as my mother-tongue is Punjabi.
Early Rise - The day starts at 5 am in the morning with kids leaving with the herds in the jungle. The men proceed with their work and females take care of calf and make arrangements for the meals. The females work on multiple fronts during the course of the day. They fetch leaves for cows, prepare meals, deal with the milkmen and collect firewood. It was quite unusual to what I have witnessed in my life.
Pride - The proud Van Gujjars accepted my presence amongst them and shared a common space without any prior consent. An organic look of Van Gujjar may seem strange to some of us but they have a courageous and thankful heart. I witnessed the strong bond of Van Gujjars with their herds. The herds are a major source of income for the community. They are given much preference and care. Elders and children spend much time of day with their herds. The bond is so strong that the children even rest on the back of cows. Cows are like beloveds and members of the larger family clan.
Out in the Wild
Living in the wild has alienated the community from many resources and opportunities. The literacy rate in the community is critically low and issues like health and livelihood seem mounting in the near future. I met Mohd. Imran (name changed) who lost his wife in an accident recently because she couldn’t be rushed to the nearest hospital (20 kms away). The archives of the community depicts their struggle for voting rights. The endurance and composure of the community has been phenomenal. They have lived in harmony with the forest for time immemorial practicing sustainable living.
The day spent inside the community has given me a new lens to see life and be thankful to the Lord for everything. Above all the atrocities in the life of van gujjars, Mohd. Gami made a courageous statement which left an eternal mark on me. He started by thanking ‘Allah’ for everything he has and tossed away all the challenges in his life by saying
“Gujjar Samaj sab ne kuch ladkar hi paya hai aur mehnat se kamayi roti ka swaad hi nirala hai” (Van Gujjar have earned everything in their past by fighting the odds and earning one time meal after hard work gives everlasting satisfaction).
Guneet worked with Samanta during his Masters dissertation.