We are happy to announce that the journal HIMALAYA has published a Special Issue fully dedicated to newest scholarship on the Gaddi tribe. It is called “Gaddi Politics and Identity in the Western Himalaya”. The journal is free and open access. It can be read online at: http://journals.ed.ac.uk/himalaya/issue/view/563
In it are eleven articles pertaining to Gaddi history, folk music, spirituality, pilgrimage, politics and pastoralism. Reeta Purhaan is the model for the cover. She is a Kangra-based Gaddi folk singer, dressed in traditional attire and taking an informal selfie as part of a social media challenge to promote women. Ms. Purhaan, a recent PhD candidate at the University of Central Punjab in Bathinda, was both my research collaborator and was interviewed for the research article about Gaddi music. Her performances of Gaddi folk songs have received popular acclaim on YouTube and racked up millions of views.
The journal was published on September 5, 2023, and is freely available. It is the endpoint of a workshop took place at SOAS University of London in July 2022. It was the first time that scholars from around the world met to discuss their long-standing research with the Gaddi community in Himachal Pradesh.
The Introduction, written by myself and Peter Phillimore (an emeritus professor at the University of Newcastle), provides the first complete overview of the range of ethnographic and historical research on Gaddis. We show how Gaddis were described and classified during the colonial and later postcolonial period—extending over 70 years to the present. We focus on key areas where scholars have developed research themes, including politics, religion, gender and economy. We ask a deceptively simple question: ‘Who counts as a Gaddi?’ and consider the role of pastoralism, mobility and state categories of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe in shaping Gaddi tribal identity. My work has long argued for the recognition of ‘tribal Dalits’ among Gaddis and other tribes that are caste heterogeneous and include partially integrated Scheduled Caste groups. This is a critical issue for both cultural recognition and reservation politics. In the Introduction, we further elaborate on how Gaddis are not simply a Scheduled Tribe but a diverse community of castes with shifting relationships to their neighbors and the state.
Other articles in the Special Issue cover a wide array of issues. They include how Gaddis vote in lower Chamba, how Gaddis in high-altitude settlements in Chamba are impacted by climate change, how Sippis have unique ritual roles during Manimahesh pilgrimage, how caste and class impact spirituality, how Gaddi folk music is being consumed through digital mediums and adaptations of traditional Gaddi pastoralism. The journal also considers historical questions about how Gaddis were impacted by Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and how Gaddis remember through oral histories their interactions with Muslims during Partition.
Our broader hope for this publication is to be a key research text for future researchers to understand deep historical and anthropological questions about the Gaddis. Based on our own fieldwork experiences, we feel that some stereotypes about Gaddis as a small-scale tribe of shepherds are outdated. Instead, we propose the idea of ‘Gaddi pluralities’—diverse caste groups living in three districts across two states (Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir) with diverse caste assemblances that include Schedule Tribe and Scheduled Caste designations. Pastoralism continues but it has largely become a heritage marker and identity trope to distinguish Gaddi belonging from neighboring mountain groups. Gaddis do diverse work, have complex and changing relationships to the state and political parties, live among Muslims, Tibetans and dozens of other communities across the Dhaula Dhars. They may live in small villages with scratch farming or in Dharamsala, a Smart City and super cosmopolitan former British hill station. Migrant Gaddis are increasingly working in places like the beaches of Goa or even in Gulf states like Dubai.
We wanted to bring together scholars to reflect the diversities of Gaddi lifeways and identities at this moment in time. In the coming years, several Gaddis will complete PhDs and provide their own vital perspective on Gaddi pasts and exciting futures.
The launch event Special Issue will happen on Zoom on October 4th at 10pm in India. For online registration: https://www.soas.ac.uk/about/event/gaddi-politics-and-identity-western-himalaya-0
Stephen Christopher, an anthropologist, is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow with the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Besides working with Centre for Contemporary Buddhist Studies (CCBS) and Asian Dynamics Initiative (ADI), his work includes studying the dynamics of politics and ecology in sustaining the Gaddi Tribe in Himachal Pradesh. He can be reached at [email protected]