“I don’t know how many generations have spent their lives in this forest,” says Mastu (uses only this name). From the Van Gujjar community, this herder is staying near the Shakumbhari range in Behat village of Saharanpur district.
The Van Gujjars are part of a nomadic pastoralist community migrating seasonally between the plains and Himalayan mountains in northern India. Mastu and his group are travelling through the Shivalik range bordering Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh to go to the Bugyals of Uttarkashi district. They will be returning to Shivalik as winter approaches.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 protects people who have lived in forests or who depend on them for their livelihood. It recognizes the rights of these communities and other traditional forest dwellers to the resources they have relied on for their livelihood. Despite this, it has become almost impossible for the Van Gujjar community to access the rights that should be given to them by law.
The effects of the climate crisis also aggravates the condition of forests. “The ecology of the mountains is changing, whereby inedible plants are proliferating, and the pastures are becoming more and more scarce,” says Munesh Sharma who is the assistant director of Society for Promotion of Himalayan Indigenous Activities.
“When the forests are gone, how can we continue to raise cattle?” says Sahan Bibi. She, along with her son Ghulam Nabi, are travelling to Uttarakhand with Mastu’s group.
This film follows their group and the challenges they face as they continue on their journey every year.