Monday, July 7, 2008


The Jat, a Suni Muslim cattle rearing community of Banni grassland in the desert of Kutch is found mostly wandering from one place to another for grazing their goats, sheeps, cows, buffalos and camels.
The Jats have a story of their migration. It states that a few of their ancestors (i.e. descendents of sons of Mohd bin Haroon) of Saudi Arabia, lived at Halap town on the boarder of Saudi Arabia and Iran. The king of Iran wanted to marry a beautiful girl of name Jattu. They had no courage to refuse the offer of the king but instead planned to take revenge by asking him to come in procession with silver and gold along with 1,25,000 soldiers. On their arrival, they killed most of the soldiers and ran away to Arabia, Europe and Hind. The word Jat was a generic term used by the Baluch chiefs and Mughal rulers for the Sindh population of Indus Valley who earned their living as cattle graziers, camel breeders and camel drivers.
According to another group of historians, Jats were thought to have migrated to Banni via Sindh from Iran as far back as the 5th century, continuing to about 16th century AD. It is believed Jats originated in Greece and arrived in Banni through Germany, Italy, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Sindh.
On my recent visit to Banni I met a group of Fakirani Jats who follow a very austere form of religion in which they seek a life of utmost simplicity. Their houses are temporary structures made from a type of Banni grass.
They have a saying that
‘ghagne ke vaknu nahi; pakhe ke chandu nahi; ane kher me nu makhan kadnu nahi’.
These were three no-no’s for the community. It warned never to sell cloths the women wore; never to give up building their house with grass straw; and never to remove butter from the milk before drinking the milk.
Because: the intricate embroidery done by the girls on their cloths is the trousseau that she preparers for her marriage: selling her embroidery for money would commercialize their social relationships; making permanent homes instead of their temporary grass huts will stop them migrating with their animals for better pastures, ultimately over grazing the grasslands around their permanent homes; and removing the butter (ghee) for the market will affect their health as the ‘strength’ from the milk would have been removed.


In the Banni grassland of Kutch a common sight in the village outskirt is a group of thorny branches of Prosopis juliflora enclosing a virda – a traditional water harvesting system, being practiced for centuries. The branches are intended to ward off animals.

When we look at the hole of a virda at the first glance we are disappointed with its small size. Then a woman begins her work – first scooping out the mud and the top layers. Slowly and patiently, she removes the layer of white scum. After about 15 min, clear water begins to appear. She fills water in two tiny metal bowls and then waits until the water from the earth tickle out again. Then she continues filling her water pot. This carries on for about another 10 min. By then the water is crystal clear and tastes good too.

This shows that the local villagers know how to distinguish between sweet and saline spots on the riverbed while digging the hole. Villagers opt for virda water over the tanker or even government dug wells. It is sweet and straight from the earth.

According to Ferrokhi, who has studied virdas in Banni regions write –
Even though these systems look precarious and causal in the eyes of modern technologists, they have been perfectly sustainable for centuries. The reason for this is that they are compatible with local lifestyles, local institutional patterns and local social systems. Traditional rainwater harvesting methods...represent a fund of solid experience gained through generations of observations, trials and errors concerning soils, plants, animals, groundwater movements, run-off flow pattern and climate.