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Economy of Raji Tribe

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Karl Marx once rightly quoted, “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” Initial launch of a commodity in market might seem luxurious but there is an immense impact of producing such commodities without keeping in mind the commodification of natural resources. There has been a direct or indirect co-relation between tribes and their nearest natural resources. The literature selected for my topic deals with transformation among Indian tribes, Van Rajis in particular with reference to the socioeconomic profile and the multiple factors associated with their livelihood. Tribal population has been undergoing some changes in social strata since the British era. The social change also raises the question about the assimilation of tribes with Hindus. The tribes in lower and upper Himalayan region are primarily the Tharus, the Buxas, the Jaunsaries, the Bhotias and the Rajis.

Articles deals with the historical context of the Raji and the peasants in Uttar Pradesh (Now Uttarakhand). Literature has been critical of forest acts implemented by British in the land. It also reflects on certain government schemes and their failure in implementing at ground level. There is also an angle which deals with the cultural paradigm of Himalayan people in general. Literature reviewThe term tribe is a colonial construct. In 1881 census the tribes were called forest tribes under a broad heading of agricultural and pastoral castes. There has been a lot of effort done to describe tribes- People who follow animism to the ones who are backward Hindus (devoid of caste society). “Roy-Burman [1972] classifies tribes into (1) those incorporated in Hindu Society, (2) those positively oriented to Hindu Society, (3) those negatively oriented and (4) those indifferent to Hindu society” (Virginius, 1999, p. 1520).

The question rises- Is it that easy to absorb into a caste society like Hindu? It is more or less to what I would like to call is as pseudo Hinduisation because even if a tribal community tries to mobilize towards Hindu society, the occupancy of the tribal group to a particular caste group may raise controversy. Therefore, a concept of following rituals and beliefs of upper caste group is easier than sole mobilization into the group. Although practicing Hindu religion in order to uplift their identity is a different matter altogether. Globalization has hardly left any community in solitude.

The effects of globalization among Rajis who are the PVTG’s of Uttarakhand have a scarce population throughout the state. Although their population has been increasing but their lifestyle is going into an abyss. There has been an adaptation of Hindu rituals in cultural terms. No literature is available regarding their traditional dress. With the advancement of technology their immersion within the modern world has increased. They are being more exposed to technological developments like TV, mobile phones etc. They have Hinduised and no longer follow their tradition. They are in a state of transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural economy. Language also plays an important role in describing the tribal conversion. “A caste as a social organization is operative only within a linguistic community. Hence it is possible for a tribe to become a caste only after it has assimilated into the regional linguistic community such Bengali or the Oriya or the Assamese community” (Virginius, 1999, p. 1522).

Tribes have also been regarded as peasant community by witnessing their ways of sustaining livelihood, example the Buxas as agriculturists. There has been a significant shift in economic way of tribal lives from nomadic culture to agriculturalists, landless laborers, miners in industries etc. Sociologists claim that the Raji tribes are descendants of Kiratas. They used to be hunters and gatherers and led a nomadic life but now their way of sustenance has shifted towards settlement. They claim themselves to be the original settlers of Central Himalaya and are distributed in Champawat, Pithoragarh and Udham Singh Nagar. Most of the Raji families are below poverty line and a little proportion of them still practice nomadic lifestyle. “50.46% of total income of the tribe is from wage labor, 27.78% from forests and 12.55% from agriculture” (Pushpesh, 2008, p. 386).

Deforestation has led to enormous damage to peasants and tribes in Himalayan region. Pre- independence, the local communities had an easy access to all the forest resources needed. So, there was no scarcity of fodder, firewood and timber. Before invasion of British, Gurkhas dominated the land and they used forest woods to make defensive weapons for wars but this act did not dominate the basic livelihood of local residents to a great extent. British came with an idea of commercialization of resources. Therefore, Himalayan lowlands and uplands were used for agriculture. With the expansion of agriculture, access to forest was also restricted to ensure commercial timber production. Then, there was introduction of some forest policies which denied burning of pastures but this policy witnessed outrage and as a manifestation of protest people burned forests which affected 840,000 hectares of land. As a result, Kumaon Grievance Committee’s report was formed which excluded a defined area of pasture for the locals. There was overexploitation of Sal followed up by Deodar trees for their good timber.

In 1870’s British introduced apples in Himalayan region which led to ‘Apple Revolution’ in Himalayan economy. Apple cultivation replaced Oak forests and also led to indirect deforestation because transportation of apples required wooden boxes and these boxes were made available through wood from forests. Apple cultivation has also been an important benchmark to understand the use of pesticide and insecticides in Himalayan agriculture. The use of these chemicals altered the Himalayan ecosystem. Voelcker and Robert Wallace criticized the forest policies implemented by the British. Voelcker called the policy largely based on revenue collection and profit making. Wallace said that large hectares of Indian forests have been denuded and this is not to serve the national interest but are largely based on fulfilling the extraneous economical demands. The economy of tribes came under question when these policies were passed. Post-independence came an extension of colonial policies by the government. Government made sure that the interests of local communities should not override the importance of national interests.

Although, in 1960 the president of India appointed a commission for Schedule areas, Schedule tribes commission which embarked on a mission to understand the harmful effects of forest policies on tribal lives. But, this commission still could not provide effective solution to the problem because it was still considered that most of the destruction to forests is done by the tribal communities. In 1976, National Commission on Agriculture (NCA) proposed three classification of forests: protective forests, productive forests and social forests. NCA was followed up by the proposal of a draft bill which dictated minimal rights of people over forests and severe punishments were incorporated within the bill. In 1980, Committee on Forests and Tribes in India issued statements considering interests of individual tribal, community tribal and interests of national interests within the forest policy. There were provisions which were strictly against the idea of using forest lands for non-forest use but this was not propagated by state in its fullest extent. “According to a news report, 144 hectares of forest land in the Banaskantha district of Gujarat was given for the construction of a cement plant in spite of opposition from forest officials without obtaining prior approval of the central government” (Kulkarni, 1987, p. 2147).

Post-independence, the economic development of the country was given prime importance and over exploitation of Oak was a major concern. When the supply of Oak reduced Chir trees were planted to meet the market demand. This affected the livelihood of locals who were dependent on the leaf of Oak for manure and fodder for their livestock. In 1960’s and 1970’s military roads were constructed for defense and a huge part of mountain was cut off. According to Public Works Department (PWD) the total length of roads in Kumaon increased from 360 Km in 1947 to 6,421 Km in 1991. Construction of roads increased the plights of inhabitants because it made an easy access for timber mafia. In 1977, limestone, magnetite and Phosphorite mining became very significant in this region contributing 25% of all mines in India. Himalayan ecology and economy was greatly affected by the international trade policies. Many political alliances were established with different states. These alliances served as an important channel for diffusion of culture between communities. The diffusion although was not random and was a more one way diffusion. We can say that people from so called lesser traditions tried to get diffused into so called upper traditions. There were other factors like dominance of upper castes in Himalayan villages which also shaped the economy of the tribes.

In Sirkanda village in Gharwal in Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand). The village had castes- Brahmins, Rajputs, Blacksmiths, Drummers and the barber family. The economic aspect has been focusing on the occupational role of different castes in the village. There was no Shudra caste there. Brahmins and Rajputs were ritually the higher castes. There was unity seen among Brahmins and Rajputs. Therefore, they were seen as allied castes. The lower castes did see both of them same. The caste hierarchy among them had no direct manifestations. They were the controlling castes who made all the decisions within the village. They even made decisions for other castes. Lower castes were expected to obey higher castes. If they refused to do so, the effects could be seen in of physical and economic sanctions. There were different Jajamani system methods through which economy flowed within the village system: the exchange of religious services for gifts, exchange of labor for grains and mutual exchange of labor.

The first method is the service which was given by Brahmin to his Jajman (client) and in return receives gifts or payments from his client. In second method the artisan or service caste is paid a fixed portion of grain per harvest. In third system of mutual relation is primarily on providing material goods from both the sides, for example, the blacksmith would see to iron needs of the drummers and drummers in return would play the drum whenever the blacksmith needed. There is also a fourth category which falls out of the Jajmani system and is the daily wage service. There was also some occupational mobility in these villages, only a minority proportion of Brahmins actually did priestly work and many of them engaged in agricultural practices, there were also some lower castes who also left their caste based professions and started agriculture. This occupational mobility therefore, did not allow much exploitation in the village. There was a good exchange of services and because of this the exploitation was not seen as a significant attribute in caste society. There is a very unique term called cultural poverty.

Cultural poverty in Uttarakhand has been a very significant factor to assess the cultural manifestations of the region. There is no or very less pride left in cultural solidarity. There has been immense commodification of Gharwali or Kumaoni music by the capitalists from southern Uttarakhand. This is done in the name of cultural preservation but most of the studio and editing work is done in plains. There has been an immense shortage of local bands which were once the eye-catching elements in the culture of Paharis. These days most of the ceremonies witness western bands. Therefore, these local bands have stopped playing all together. This has led to their income crisis in the region. All the developmental projects have contributed to the less access of villagers to the natural resources. This make them feel deprived of their own land. The once rich folk music can no longer be heard in the echo of mountains. “Vernacular popular music has been responsive to and is to some extent reliant upon the aesthetic presentation and studio technologies of the plains” (Fiol, 2013, p. 94). State has been very unresponsive to provide funds for the cultural events.

There are growing concerns on the extinguishing culture among raji tribes but they in this 21st century are facing poverty. Most of them work on lands of Kumaoni landholders. Their primitive economy has vanished and hence they are forced to come into contact with people of other dominant communities. As a result, they have learned their language I, e; Hindi and Kumaoni which made them not to speak Raji language. Also, there has been immense shame which has been linked to their identity that they themselves refuse to take stand on their identity and instead call themselves Hindus. The Van Rajis relied on forests for their survival. They had an economy based on barter system where they made wooden utensils and exchanged them with other villagers but this shift in economy compelled them to adopt primitive agriculture but due to degraded quality of land their labor often went in vain and they were not able to produce sufficient crop. The lack of education affected them in the sense of not knowing the new and better agricultural practices.

While going through different literature I realized that the economic aspect of Raji tribes has not been documented well. Articles which I sorted out were somehow related to the living conditions of these tribes in Himalayan region and the concepts mentioned merely touched the tip of the iceberg. Although, the literature in insightful in a sense that it talked about the historical context of the Tribe dealing with pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial changes in different dimensions. The literature mentioned the declining culture of the entire Uttarakhand. In the midst of the acculturation of the privileged communities, Rajis cannot even begin to think about the revival of their culture. I felt that the concept of cultural poverty needs to be dealt in a better way through state intervention.

The major concern which I felt was important in understanding the issue is also considering the education among them. Also, what are the outcomes of social mobilization is also something to be dealt with. The literature offered me the conceptual understanding to proceed with my selected topic by giving a framework due to which there has been the economic shift among the tribe. The conclusion of the article talks about the assimilation of tribe with the mainstream ideology. But, the question remains behind in defining what is mainstreaming and what is not.

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