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DH: Will the Van Gujjars survive?

Radhakrishna Rao finds the Van Gujjar community in danger of losing its identity to the cause of conservation.

Deccan Herald, Sunday, July 24, 2005

The culturally vibrant and socially dynamic community of Van Gujjars, a nomadic, pastoral Muslim tribal group inhabiting the rapidly balding stretches of the Shivaliks in north-west India are the latest victims of the ‘developmental and conservation’ policies being pursued by the government. The Supreme Court order directing park authorities to evict human settlements within the forest stretches has become yet another tool in the hands of the forest bureaucracy to browbeat the ‘politically powerless’ indigenous forest dwelling communities.

For the Van Gujjars inhabiting the Rajaji National Park — an important component of the Shivalik eco system — spread over an area of 825 sq km across the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, the future appears both dim and uncertain. But the Dehra Dun based Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) led by Avadesh Kaushal has managed to get a directive from the National Human Rights Commission for preventing the summary eviction of the community from their forest homes of centuries. On his part Kaushal has made it clear that only those Van Gujjars who want to leave the forests on their own volition would do so and the rest will continue to stay put in their dwellings.