How can you ever ‘resettle’ an ancient way of life? Resettlement not always constructive rehabilitation, forest dwellers face the loss of identity

27, Mar 2021 | Mohammed Meer Hamza

CJP Fellow Mohammed Meer Hamza travels to the resettlement area of Gendikhata, in Uttarakhand, and meets a rehabilitated Van Gujjar, and learns that resettlement does not always mean constructive rehabilitation for forest dwellers, who now face the loss of identity.

The rehabilitation of Uttarakhand’s Van Gujjar families from Rajaji National Park to Gendikhata, is not just a geographical relocation, it has cost them their way of living. The Van Gujjar tribe, settled in Uttrakhand is completely dependent on the forests. The tribe folk have been rearing cattle and have been living in the forests for centuries. They earn their livelihood from the sale of milk and milk products.

However, in the hill state of Uttarakhand, some forest areas in Dehradun, Haridwar, Pauri Garhwal, were merged to form a national park in 1963. This vast tract of land was named the Rajaji National Park. It was home to over  3000 Van Gujjar families. However, once the Rajaji National Park was officially formed in 1963, a policy to relocate and rehabilitate the Gujjar families was formulated by the government. Soon around 1,393 Van Gujjar families were resettled in Pathri and Gendikhata areas of district, Haridwar.

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.

It has been over 25 years since the resettlement of the Van Gujjar community in Gendikhata, however, do they feel ‘settled? At all? I spoke to  Azad Chechi, the chairman of the Eco Development Committee of the Van Gujjar community on the benefits and disadvantages of resettlement.

How did resettlement and rehabilitation impact the Van Gujjar community?

The Gujjar Rehabilitation Plan was made in 1973 and we were settled in Gendikhata and Pathri. However, the benefits that should have been given to us, like the guarantee of our children’s education, were not there. It seems that the main purpose of resettling us was to force us to connect with the mainstream society. But even then, the benefits that were promised to us by the government including providing us with basic living facilities, such as toilets in all houses, cattle sheds for our animals, remain elusive. The promises haven’t been fulfilled, and we have been waiting for nearly 25 years now!

And while our main problems have not been solved yet, we have almost lost the ancient culture of the Van Gujjar community. We have especially lost the unique way we used to once dress up. We had our own vibrant culture, our own unique identity, however all this has changed, as the families’ way of living changed due to the rehabilitation! Our cultural identity is dying out now.

How is that change happening?

When we Van Gujjars lived in the forests, old customs were practiced, animal husbandry was practiced along with our work with plants and herbs. When we were settled here, we became ‘villagers’ from being forest dwellers. Residents and lives of those from the nearby villages influenced us over time, and our own lifestyle and culture changed.

Mohammed Meer Hamza’s interview with Azad Chechi may be viewed here:

This story is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been reported by Mohammed Meer Hamza who hails from the pastoral Van Gujjar hill tribe. Here he showcases how the forest dwelling Van Gujjar community’s culture and identity has been tampered with in the wake of forced 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 masters 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.


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