CJP impact: A fellowship, that encouraged communities to cross communication barriers It has helped open up a window for Van Gujjars, whose stories are now being shared widely

06, Sep 2021 | Mohammed Meer Hamza

It has been an interesting year to say the least for me, as an activist who works closely on the rights of the Van Gujjar community to which I belong, and on environmental issues. After I was awarded the CJP Grassroots Fellowship and began chronicling the Van Gujjar community’s lifestyle, tradition, migration patterns, and their socio-political concerns and status, we began to notice things changing, slowly but surely. And people who read the articles I wrote, came to know about us.

We Van Gujjar’s may not have enough money, but we do have a deep understanding of ancient traditions of the forests we live in and around. While researching and meeting people as a part of my fellowship, I realised that as a community that wants to protect our forests, we need to make those outside of our groups aware of the issues. So, be it the forest department, students studying forestry or scientists engaged in working on the same, I as a CJP Grassroot fellow engaged with them and they helped us spread the information of forest protection and conservation to the world which was earlier just limited to us.

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program aims at empowering young men and women, from the communities we work closely with, including migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis, forest workers among other disadvantaged people, to report on issues closest to their hearts and home. Please Donate Now to empower our grassroots fellows.

Written words are a window to the world

As part of the Grassroots Fellowship, while travelling with the Van Gujjar community that was migrating to Uttarakhand, I had written in one of my reports about how the nature and biodiversity of the forest were being changed by the forest department through planting of non-native trees. My report explained how planting these trees was not good for the future of the forest, and the people who lived there. That report was widely read, once it was published on the CJP website. Soon I was invited to speak at two public programmes on the conservation of forests, and how the Van Gujjar community protects and promotes the forests we live in.

Then, the Wildlife Warden of Rajaji Tiger Reserve organised a bird watching expedition, along with forest protection and conservation workshops at Chaurasi Kutiya near Lakshman Jhula Paudi in Uttarakhand. I was invited to speak there and conduct the bird watching event too. I have to admit I was rather nervous, and a bit shy, as the workshop was to be attended by many including media persons. However, thanks to the interactions I have had while researching for my CJP articles, I soon found my groove and shed my inhibitions, once I took centrestage.

I explained how the various birds have been a part of the ancient folk tales and even the faith of the Van Gujjar community, and how we have always practised a lifestyle that protects the forests. I told them how the community still plants trees indigenous to the forest while migrating, and did not shy away from exposing how some elements in the forest department are destroying the grasslands where our cattle graze by planting trees that are not good for the environment or the cattle. Those gathered listened in rapt attention.

It was perhaps for the first time that a Van Gujjar had been invited to such an official function, that too as a speaker. I was excited and a bit afraid as well. I was wondering what to say and how I would sound. However as soon as I went to the programme, where I was to speak on birdwatching, I realised that I had all the information needed from my research and memories of our folklore. I was happy to share all bird related information to visitors, illustrating the lecture with anecdotes that my community elders had shared to explain how forest dwellers are also conservationists, who through their folk songs and folk tales also record the history of the evolution of the birds, animals and the forests the call home.

I realised that I had the experience and the information that my elders had always shared, and the added confidence that the CJP Fellowship gave me and spoke without hesitation. I was not sure if I would be an effective speaker, but I was confident that people would understand what I had to share.

When the officials introduced me as a Van Gujjar, I could sense an unusual reaction in some of the people there. I realised they were probably a part of those sections who look down upon tribals, and forest dwellers. They must be wondering why a Van Gujjar was called. It did make me a little nervous to be honest. But when I was invited to take the stage and began my presentation things flowed smoothly.

I learnt a lot too

I am being invited to a lot of programmes lately, as word continues to spread about the CJP fellowship, and as my reports on CJP website are shared in various groups. I realised that many people do think highly of the forest dwellers. There is little information about the current status of the Van Gujjars in the general public, and the reports published on CJP have helped change that.

Many officials of the forest department are also realising that the forest dwellers are now aware of what is going on around them, and that the continuity is aware of their rights and responsibilities. Many officials now see me as a ‘link’ between them and the community, and the community too sees me as someone who will help as needed. I realised that there is a lot that still needs to be done, but a good beginning has been made. The CJP fellowship has helped empower not just me as an activist, it has helped open up a window for my people, whose stories are now being shared widely.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Mohamed Meer Hamza who hails from the pastoral Van Gujjar hill tribe. He is working on another deep dive into documenting how the forest dwelling Van Gujjar community’s culture and identity has been tampered with in the wake of this rehabilitation.

 Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Meer Hamza


Mohammed Meer Hamza (26) was born in a jungle. Literally! He hails from Uttarakhand and was born on the outskirts of the Rajaji National Park. Hamza is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work. For over three years now, Hamza has been working actively as a social worker for the Van Gujjar community, helping them access education, retain their culture and know their rights. He has created a youth group and is educating them about the rights of forest dwelling communities, citizenship laws, conservation and security issues. He is also researching traditional forest produce and how to enable his community to market it effectively while retaining the balance of nature. Hamza has begun his research and documentation work. He writes to share his life, and work as a Van Gujjar youth leader.



“CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship gave me a leadership identity”

HC order empowers Van Gujjars during Covid-19

A dairy diary from Uttarakhand

Our life is linked to the forests we call home: Van Gujjars

Who sprayed chemicals in an eco-sensitive forest area in Haldwani?

Revealed! An ancient migration route that may vanish soon


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Go to Top
Nafrat Ka Naqsha 2023