A few Years back I went on my first trek in Uttarakhand. During my trek, I get to know about a Van Gujjar. His wife died 4 days ago and he was not even aware of this. This incident has a deep impact on my heart and mind and I was curious to know more about this community. On 10th August 2018, I posted it on Facebook on launching project in which we will be creating self-sustainable business models for these people. I was invited by a Van Gujjar to visit them. When I visited I realised before working on their revenue generation we need to intervene urgently to stop their exploitation and to make them aware of their rights.
The people of northern India's Van Gurjar tribe are nomadic water buffalo herders whose lives revolve around caring and finding food for their animals. Originally from Jammu and Kashmir, the tribe has over time spread out across the ranges of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in search of rich forests and meadows for their cattle. Winters are spent in the lowland wilderness of the Shivalik Hills, where the thick jungle foliage provides plenty of fodder - and plenty of isolation from the rest of the world. There are no roads, no electricity and no fixed addresses on this journey that takes them across high plains, treacherous passes and picturesque Himalayan valleys. The community has been a crucial reason for a thriving forest with sustainable growth and no threat to the environment by their livelihood.
By April, however, temperatures soar above 40 degrees; leaves and grasses wither and die; creeks run dry. With nothing left for their buffaloes to eat or drink, the Van Gujjars must move. Entire families, from infants to the elderly, trek with their herds up into the Himalayas, where melting snows reveal lush alpine meadows laced by gurgling streams. When the cold sets in at the end of September, they head back down to the Shivaliks, where the jungle has sprung back to life following the monsoon rains.However, this particular season, this nomadic tribe returned to the lowland only to have no homes for a life on the street and a threat to their community. They were thrown out of Rajaji National Park without any discreet orders or previous consent. Despite the Supreme Court’s stay order, the forest officials unethically& illegally demolished their temporary homes leaving the poor and elderly out on the streets.Timeline of events:
- On 19th Dec 2016 Hon'ble High court passed a judgement- "Gujjar who has encroach should be removed within a year". Supreme Court provided stay on same.
- After Supreme Court stay, few families were thrown out of the forest. They went to Supreme Court and contempt of court was filed.
- 200+ Families were financially weak and they were not able to move to Supreme Court. They are still living on roads with their children, ladies with no resources. Cattle of maximum have already died.
- Recently on 11th September 2018, in Haridwar, there was a vandalization drive by the forest department. Forest department officials verbally said they are removing encroachment as per orders of the Hon'ble High court. This was totally illegal. There were fake notices provided.
- Few of our volunteer tried to intervene and asked for orders of the High court or any official order and they were not able to provide any. Forest officers abuse and told that they will put these people in Jail.
- These people wrote to Police. Just because Government officers are involved no action was initiated.
- False FIR was filed against these people for raising their voice against forest department illegal vandalization.
- This issue is in various other places of Uttarakhand as well where these tribes are not only getting exploited by taking a bribe from them but also there is a constant fear among them.
Since these forest dwellers have no representation on the constitutional front, they have been deceived by fake orders leaving their future hanging by a thread. The elderly are bruised; children have no education, with dying hopes, no homes, no future, dead cattle, the community is afraid to speak out. For someone who doesn’t understand basic human rights how can they fight for it. The small interactions while visiting the families, cherished hopes of youngsters and immense faith of the elderly has led us to take responsibility to represent the community to the best of our ability. With hundreds of children capable of a lively future, the community that strengthens our forests, we couldn't let their hopes die.
THINKnRISE, NGO has come forward and stood against the corrupt forest officials who vandalized their homes. We plan to rebuild their homes to strengthen them as a community. But we will need your help, help us fight the wrong and help the community gain back its livelihood.