He could be somewhat of a superhero. Maybe not the kind with superhuman powers but certainly one with exceptional skillfulness. The 60-year-old, Bhikhabhai Rabari, doesn’t care much for being either. All he wants is his pastoral land back that he’s been losing to the exploding human population, uninhibited land use, economic development and climate change.
At Living Lightly-Journeys with Pastoralists, an exhibition taking place at Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts, he stands as a strong voice for his community.
Organised by Sahjeevan and Foundation for Ecological Security, it brings a rare glimpses of the lives of India’s pastoralists and how this branch of agriculture is tied to the ecology. With India comprising 34 million pastoralists managing a livestock population of more than 50 million, it’s high time we pay attention to their needs.
In Kutch, Gujarat, for instance, livestock outnumbers the human population. “20% of the population still survives on pastoralism and with the reduction of land, our livelihoods are under threat,” he says, almost teary-eyed. For over 300 years, his family has been engaged in the occupation but the massive salt plants from Surajbari to Kandla in Gujarat have destroyed the mangroves his camels grazed on. The kharai camel breed that he keeps has gone from 12,000 to 2,000 in 15 years.
The exhibition, therefore, comes at a good time. It re-enforces virtues of sustainability and becoming judicious consumers. It throws light on pastoral way of life and why it’s good for our ecology and economy as they contribute in a number of significant ways. For instance, they maintain open areas as a result of which, more bird-nesting can take place.
They contribute productively to food cycles, manage dry-land sustainability, help control fires, flooding and droughts by taking care of vegetation of the area and several other ways, but safeguarding their interests have always been put on the back-burner. “Documenting their lives has never been our priority,” says independent photo journalist, Sankar Sridhar, who has been photographing them for years.
“They are instrumental in keeping the land alive. They know exactly where to go in which seasons for pastures to avoid overgrazing in a particular area. They share a symbiotic relationship with their land so it’s crucial we respect their way of life and learn from it.” Pastoralists were always an empowered community but our ruthless needs and wants have been disempowering them by taking their land away.
The exhibition brings together panel discussions on the subject, dastangoi, live music, a 360-degree film experience, art, poetry, photography, live performances, games, walking trails and handcrafted artefacts on pastoral livelihoods. There is a food corner that brings pastoral foods to city dwellers. Workshops and conferences are also on the cards.