Colloquium Series: Modern Development and Transformations in the Cultures of Pastoralism in Western Rajasthan: Understanding the experiences of pastoral communities

2019 Mar 08, Friday
Seminar Hall, 10th Floor, Pixel A (Azim Premji University)

About the Lecture

The Indian Thar is a hot desert and ranks among the few deserts of the world that have had a long and populous human history of settlement. Different varieties of pastoralism practiced by semi nomadic communities complemented with subsistence oriented rain-fed farming have been core elements in constituting, settling and sustaining human history of this region. The culture of pastoralism as it developed and sustained itself over long periods of human history in Thar has been adaptive in sharing an interface with subsistence based agriculture and had evolved elaborate customary practices to use and regenerate collective natural endowments of water and fodder. The social organization of this pastoralism consisted of reciprocal ties among communities for utilization of scarce natural resources, adoption of rustic lifestyles that had ability to survive in the long periods of harshness and bloom in the brief spells of abundance. The sway of pastoral way is evident in the dexterous everyday work ethic of rearing animals to aesthetic pursuits of exquisite creations of music and rustic textiles and other crafts. The embedded pastoral landscapes of wide limitless horizons and sprawling sandy plains interspersed with grasslands form a backdrop to growth of musical traditions of sufiyana qalam that celebrate the pluralism of human existence and are marked by a heightened ecological sensibility. These life-sustaining practices that illumined the material and symbolic world weave the complex of cultures of pastoralism. By perfecting frugal lifestyles in a resource scarce region, these cultures have evolved unique notions of abundance and well-being.

The changes over the past few decades beckon us to understand experiences of modern transformation of pastoral Thar especially since the last quarter of the 20th century with the coming of Indira Gandhi Nahar Project  in north-west Thar. Most development strategies and precepts that have informed the making of ‘modern development’ in Thar region argue that it was desirable and inevitable for pastoralism as a resource use system to be done away with, transformed into sedentary husbandry integrated with the dairy industry and remain in a subsidiary position to the meta- narrative on agro industrial farming. Far from assuming that contemporary pastoralism is in an inevitable crisis and should/would give way to agro industrial complexes in the rapid on-going transformation, the role of pastoralism needs to be understood keeping in view the historically evolved human ecology of the region and a realistic assessment of possibilities and limits of ‘modern development’ for a sustainable future of Thar. This is quite in order given the high environmental costs, increased economic disparity, intensification of private resource use that characterize the nature of transformations brought in these regions with ‘modern development’.  The deep lessons inherent in the popular pastoral culture of sufiyana qalam, which are coterminous with wisdom, love, peace, and dignity of all life, holds insights and cues for transiting to a sustainable world.


About the Speaker

Rahul Gahi has been an Associate Professor at School of Development Studies, Indian Institute of Health Management Research University since 2011. He completed his M. Phil in modern history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi in 1992. He joined URMUL Rural Health and Development Trust in Bikaner soon after that and was associated with it for more than a decade to work closely with rural communities in western Rajasthan on issues of food, fodder and water security. He worked to set up the Arid Zone Environmental Research Centre, as an in-house planning and research division to work with agro-pastoral communities on issues of drought, ecological and human settlement transformations associated with the IGNP Canal. Since 2010 Rahul has been working as a member of a voluntary initiative to reinvigorate sufiyana qalam singing tradition of Mir folk musicians of Bikaner. Rahul has been consultant to Oxfam GB, Plan International, Tearfund, SIDA, India Foundation for the Arts, SURE, Deshkal Society and Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (GoI) for strategic planning, impact evaluation of rural development, and livelihood programmes in India. He has contributed to courses on rural development and social management with IGNOU and Gujarat Central University. Since 2015 he has been a visiting faculty at Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Ahmedabad University teaching courses on development theory and practice, rural- urban livelihoods, culture and development. His publications include two long essays on culture and development in Frederique Marglin (eds) Interrogating Development: insights from the margins published by Oxford University Press.