A Look at India’s Pastoralist Communities
The pastoralists of India, known as maldharis, number more than 30 million and are perhaps the largest community that is displaced by design and not accident. Moving from one pasture to another, grazing their herds of sheep, cows, goats and camels, they lead a harsh existence lived at the mercy of unpredictable nature. But they are a hardy lot, inventive and resilient and they live by forging strong relationships with other communities like potters, weavers, leather workers and others to sustain their day to day life.
At the Living Lightly: Journeys with Pastoralists, a recently concluded special exhibition in New Delhi on the life journeys of pastoral communities of India, one of the first things that strike you as you walk in is a large installation of woven or block-printed screens. These depict the changing lives of the pastoralists and that is the essence of the entire exhibition – it evokes these old relationships and their changing face. That is also the essence of the current state of pastoralist communities – a way of life getting lost in the tech-powered modern times, where transience is the norm.
Transience for the pastoralists was a way of life too but the relationships they formed along the way had permanency that lasted centuries and the exhibition explores some of these. Like hatar – the symbiotic relationship the maldharis have with the Meghwals - traditional leather workers, who made shoes, water buckets etc. for them in exchange for the right to skin the herders’ dead livestock. Or the ties that maldharis had with the potters who made clay pots and pans for them in exchange for milk – the fluid of connectivity in the great outdoors.
The exhibit also showcases the rich repertoire of crafts from these communities that emerged in response to the needs of these communities and were the currency of the pastoralists’ micro-economy.
Sushma Iyengar, the curator speaks on what she expects events like these to do for the pastoralists, “I feel there are a lot of invisible people and voices in our society and pastoralists are one of them. My hope with this exhibit is that we begin to appreciate why this community is constantly on the move and are able to understand how their constant movement actually helps to regenerate our ecosystem. And once we begin to value it then finally we could begin working towards preserving it.”
Living Lightly: Journeys with Pastoralists is a special exhibition that tells the story of pastoralism through craft, art, food, poetry, and music. It creates a platform for intersection and interaction for pastoral communities from different parts of India.