Why Maldharis Matter

In the Indian Express, Mona Mehta, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Sciences, underscores the importance of humane solutions to urbanisation issues as a political storm brews in Ahmedabad over the stray cattle of the pastoral community of Maldharis. 

In the backdrop of the political storm brewing in Gujarat led by the pastoralists Maldharis, Professor Mona Mehta writes that rapid urbanisation-led depletion of pastoral lands is increasingly squeezing the Maldharis out of their traditional occupations. The community had recently protested against the state government over a new piece of legislation to control stray cattle on the streets in Gujarat’s cities. According to the Cattle Control (Keeping and Movement) in Urban Areas Bill passed in April this year, cattle owners must obtain licences for their animals and keep them off urban roads. The Bill has since been withdrawn.

Professor Mehta calls the dominant narrative of rustic Maldharis clashing with the modernist zeal of urbanising Gujarat a rather simplistic one that obscures an untold story of urbanisation in post-liberalisation Gujarat — one that is relevant for India at large. “Influenced by western notions of urbanisation, Indian policymakers have tended to assume two things. First, urbanisation involves a physical break between the city and the village. Second, urbanisation entails the dilution of community identity and the weakening of caste and community networks. Seen from this perspective, cattle on city streets obstruct urbanisation and can only be addressed through stringent laws,” she explains. To begin with, she writes, the Maldhari community is not a helpless victim of urbanisation, but one that honed its skills to pursue new occupations in the city, displaying a sharp grasp of the inner workings of the neoliberal state. Reiterating that the urban is invariably built on what we assume to be rural social relations and that the city is constituted by deep linkages between caste, community, and urban space, Professor Mehta calls for a more humane solution to tackle urbanisation.

This column originally appeared in Indian Express on September 23, 2022. Click here to read the full article.