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Fluid Categories and Boundaries

Meena Bhargava

By Rudolf C. Heredia and Shereen Ratnagar
Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 236, Rs. 500.00


Mobile and Marginalized Peoples is based on the proceedings of a workshop held in December 1998 at the Ishvani Kendra, Pune, organized by the Sontheimer Cultural Association and the Social Science Centre, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Reading this book, one wonders whether it would be appropriate to call it a sequel to the theme issue of Studies in History (vol. 7 no.2, 1991). If we do, it is necessary to establish the distinction between the two. ‘Pastoralism I’ (as Shereen Ratnagar prefers to call the volume of SIH) discussed the role of pastoralism in the prehistory and history of South Asia, focusing on the environmental parameters of the semi-arid zone. It distinguished pastoralism from agricultural production although there was some dis- cussion on agro-pastoralism and the spectrum between sedentary agriculture and fully nomadic animal herding. Moving away from the trend of ‘Pastoralism I’, ‘Pastoralism II’ venture (as Ratnagar calls the book under review), though adhering to archaeological and historical perspectives on pastoralism, warns against the dangers of “quick-fix labels” (p. 13).   The essays contained in the book follow varied themes but the central core revolves around rural settlements and depopulation, the dimension and structural disadvantages of mobility, ecosystem change and craft production, trading practices of mobile people, including the pastoralists, and their integration into the larger society and economy by several linkages.   Rudolf Heredia in “reconstructing” the identity of the nomadic pastoralists does not engage in discussing the historical dimensions of pastoralism or other non-agrarian livelihoods. Instead, he argues the ways in which processes of modernization in the disguise of national development, threaten the cultural identity and dignity of tribal peoples, in particular the nomadic tribes in India. This is ironical, he says, especially since countries such as India follow an official policy of protection and promotion of tribal welfare. He argues “our project must be one of empowerment, of enabling all people to grow as the subjects of their own history and not as mere objects in an alienating process of national development” (p. 22).   In his lucid and interesting study of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh, Chetan Singh concedes that nomadism, as a way of life is commonly associated with pastoralism, responding to the grazing requirements of the animals. Conversely, he argues that the pastoralists are not necessarily members of tribes and that their seasonal movements with flocks can be classified as “transhumane and semi-nomadism” (p. 35), which differ from full-fledged nomadism. Singh observes ...

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