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Banni is an arid grassland found in the Rann of Kachchh, Gujarat, India. Known for its rich wildlife & biodiversity and is home to the amazing Banni buffalo, Kankrej cattle, Sindhi horse, Kachchhi goat and Kachchhi camel it consists of 48 hamlets which are organized into 19 Panchayats. The total population of approximately 17,000 consists of 90% are Muslim nomadic pastoralists and 10% Hindu Meghwals & Vadha Kolis. Muslim Maldharis (livestock keepers) are organized in about 20 clans; prominent ones being Raysipotra, Halepotra, Hingorja, Node, Sumra, Sameja, Mutwa, Jat, Bhamba. They speak Kachchhi in Sindhi dialect.
Both the Muslim and Hindu communities keep livestock while the Hindu Meghwals, and Vadha Kolis have a rich history of beautiful embroidery, leatherwork, wood-carving and the building of bhungas (the traditional circular mud houses of the Maldharis). Animal husbandry is the primary occupation in Banni followed by handicraft making, charcoal making, small businesses (pan-bidi, chai shops, vegetable and fruit vending) and services (driving, cell phone recharge).
First Day in Banni:
I moved to Banni and began my research & design work. I armed myself with a notebook, camera, cell phone, voice recorder and a detailed question bank- keeping in mind my long term (research on women’s role in animal husbandry) and short term (label design for Banni dairy products) goals.
On the first day I hitched a ride with my colleagues from the host organization to visit Bhitara - a Jat village in western Banni. I emerged from the vehicle, and the sight of me with my papers annoyed the men in the village. Even before I could introduce myself, they began telling me that many survey-people like me come to them every day, but their living situation (water scarcity, absence of a clinic in vicinity, lack of fodder for their animals, lack of roads, schools and poor cell phone coverage) does not improve even a bit. They said, I would get my salary but what benefits would they get if they answer my questions. They had assumed I was getting paid - to interview them. Somehow in Banni scheme of things, forms + notebook were a signifier of a government or an NGO employee who conducted surveys for a living. This situation continued more or less for the first week. Wherever I went, it seemed difficult to break ice and get a real conversation started. It occurred to me that I may have to devise a new strategy to get people to talk to me, allow me into their homes and lives. I stepped back for a moment just to observe and take note of whatever was happening around me.
5. Shlachter, Z. & Kulkarni, A. Pastoralist communities of Banni, www.banni.in /?page_id=5224