Pastoralist Communities

Pastoralism is a way of life of livestock keeping communities who care, nurture and breed animals, mostly on common gauchars, grasslands, or pasture lands. Pastoralists are people who depend on livestock keeping and trade for their livelihood source and keep them on commonly owned grazing resources.

Banni is a home to 48 such hamlets which are organized into 19 Panchayats, with a population of approximately 17000, out of which 90% are Muslim nomadic pastoralists and 10% are Hindu Meghwals and Vadha Kolis. Maldhari hamlets are organized along caste lines. They speak Kachchhi in Sindhi dialect. Both the Muslim and Hindu communities keep livestock while the Hindu Meghwals, and Vadha Kolis have a rich history of beautiful embroidery, leatherwork, wood-carving and the building of bhungas (the traditional circular mud houses of the Maldharis). These communities have a long tradition of mutual trust, cooperation, interdependence and hospitality. The respect for each other between communities is such that the Muslims do not eat beef to respect their Hindu brothers.

There are different stories of how these communities came to Banni. Banni was bequeathed as a commons by the erstwhile Maharao of Kachchh to these communities who were nomadic pastoralists originating from the Sindh region in Pakistan. It was given to their custody with the condition that they should protect the grassland ecosystem and share it communally for grazing and not use it for agriculture or divide it up into private property. These communities have since used Banni only as a pasture land and discouraged any farming or private land holding within it.

It is believed that in 1736 A.D., an army from Sindh led by Khaloda Mohammed Mir invaded Kachchh. The people of these communities were asked by the Maharaja Radheshua-ji of Kachchh to fight with his armies and defend the land from the invaders. Though many lives were lost and much was suffered in the ensuing battle, the Maharaja was victorious because of the timely help rendered by these communities. To reward their loyalty and valor the Maharaja gave the Maldharis title to Banni. As they were pastoralists the Maharaja also decreed that the grasslands should not be used for agriculture.

List of the different castes of the Maldhari Muslim and Hindu communities in Banni:

1)     Halepotra 2)     Raysipotra 3)     Mutva
4)     Jat 5)     Hingorja 6)     Node
7)     Sumra 8)     Juneja 9)     Jiyenja
10)Theba 11)Saiyyad 12)Korad
13)Khaskeli 14)Bambha 15)Pathan
16)Sameja 17)Baloch 18)Munjavar

HINDUS

1)     Meghwals

2)     Vadha Kolis

There is a popular Jat Maldhari saying that tries to preserve the essence of their lifestyle and its values- “dudh me nu makhan kadnu nahi; gaghe ke vaknu nahi; ne pakhe ke chadnu nahi. Jade he thindo, kayamat aanje najeek aahe!” It says – never remove the butter from your milk- as selling the fat from your milk that is your primary nutrition, will affect your health; never sell the intricately embroidered cloak the women wear- as this is a gift that one family shares with another and is the symbol of your social relationships in the community; and never stop living in temporary homes you build in the grassland, as that ensures that you are always on the move allowing the grassland to recuperate behind you. The day this happens, remember the doomsday is close!