Wedding in the Forest

Sorry for the absence from here on my part, Johan and I have been busy working and also as you might have read from the other interns, we went to Kotagiri  for Swallows Regional meeting. It was great to meet all the partners from India and Bangladesh. But best of all was to meet the other interns, it is such a nice group of people!

On monday we went with SOPHIA staff Munesh, Nazim and Manto into the Sesshera forest to go to a Van Gujjar wedding! I was very excited beforehand as Manto told us that there would be 800 Van Gujjars gathering together in the forest. And he was right. The night before the ceremony, the family of the groom served food for 700 hungry Van Gujjars and us. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Van Gujjar’s culture and their traditional wedding. The day after we also attended the ceremony of the groom as the bride is still in the state of Himachal Pradesh. After the ceremony the groom left with his close family to Himachal Pradesh to meet his bride for the first time…

700 Van Gujjars waiting for food
The ceremony of the groom


Contrary to a traditional presentation where males are the heads of households, it is to a large extent actually the women who are active in creating marriage alliance for their children. The intentions behind a woman’s matrimonial considerations for her children are consistently to strengthen the ties to her own close kin.  The result of this is that a girl is often given through matrilineal links back to the patri-line of her mother or preferably to the very dera from which her mother stems.  Among Van Gujjars such practices of cross-cousin marriage alliances based on direct exchange, creates structural relationships by a repetitive pattern of intermarriage between paired groups.

The marriage of Van Gujjars are interesting but very complex, if you wish to learn more I suggest you read Pernille Gooch thesis ”At the Tail of the Buffalo”.

Cooking in the forest for 700 Van Gujjars


Now we only have a little bit over a month left of our internship, time flies and I have so much more to do and see. On the 24th of december I am going to Goa for a little holiday, can’t wait!




A little update

So a little update from us here in the north of India.

Since we got back to Dehradun two weeks ago, time has passed very fast. The first thing Johan and I did when we got back to the ”BIG” city” was to a) take a hot shower b) eat something else than Daal (lentils) c) join the gym. This might seem weird to you but after spending a month in a little village, these were the things we were longing for.

My experience in the little village of Narayanbagar was great, I learned a lot of being in the field close to the people that UYRDC are working with. But it is really different from my life in Dehradun. I realized after being back in Dehradun that Johan and I get the best of two world by working for both SOPHIA and UYRDC.

Since we got back to Dehradun our Midterm review with the focus of empowerment is slowly starting to come together. We have also spent 3 days in the forest in Uttar Pradesh with the Van Gujjars. It was so interesting to see their everyday life and and their struggle for forest rights. Not only are the forests degrading over the last couple of years, but also are they vulnerable to poor health condition due to poor access to basic facilities such as clean water and health care. But to see the efforts of SOPHIA field staff Munesh and Nazim in helping claiming their rights and so much more are really impressive and creates hope for the future. Looking forward to our next field visit already.

One of the 15 ”Dera” temporary settlement we visited


Nazim, Munesh and Mumhad Ali eating dinner in the forest the first night


Next week we are off to Kotagiri and keystone for a Swallows partner meeting, we are really looking forward to this!


The Bigger Picture

After 3 weeks with UYRDC and its work on forest rights for the remote communities in the nearby area, I thought I understood the Forest Rights Act. But hey, after 3 weeks in Narayanbagar I am actually more confused. I think this is because as you gain more knowledge the more question arises.

I have started to realize that the right to forest is so much more complex than I first thought. This is clear when you visit communities and you start to notice that there are big issues within the issue.

When a woman we meet in a village said ” one tree is like a child” you start to understand what the forest means to them and how much they are dependent on it. Even though, I might be more confused now than when I got to UYRDC, I am starting to see the bigger picture as well as the importance of the Forest Rights Act.

On Thursday it is the Diwali festival in India, therefore Johan and I will be leaving for Joshimath and Auli for a couple of days to see more of the Himalayas!

UYRDC workers :)
UYRDC workers 🙂




So long!



15 Villages in 21 Days

After an 8 hour jeep ride through the Himalayas, we have arrived to the little and beautiful village of Narayanbagar, where UYRDC is based. Johan and I will be staying here for about a month, learning as much as possible about UYRDCs work in the Chamoli District.

Crazy landslides on the way to Narayanbagar

Compared to SOPHIA who work with the Van Gujjars, UYRDC work with the hill communities to facilitate the community forests rights and better management of Van Panchayats (Forest Council) under the Forest Rights Act. The programme is covering 25 villages (905 households) in Narayanbagar Development Block, Uttarakhand,

During our stay here, Johan and I will visit 15 of these 25 villages. First out was Maltura village comprising of 30 households. When we arrived yesterday to the village we were immediately welcomed by a group of women with smiles and tea (the best tea I had in India so far). Around 20 women had come to join the meeting with UYRDC. The meeting started with Gnaishi Devi chairperson of the Van Panchayats holding a speech about the village need to use the forest. It then turned to a general discussion as well as showing their social mapping. The village use this social mapping as evidence to show that they used the forest for 75 years as required by the Forest Rights Act.


Gnaishi Devi speaking about the village need to use the forest
Social mapping, showing evidence that Maltura village used the forest for 75 years

Today awaits a new village namely Acer. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to meet these people fighting for their forest rights.

Framme i vackra Dehradun!

Nu är Johan och jag äntligen framme i Dehradun. Efter en lärorik vecka i Banglore hos Svalornas indienkontor, tog vi tåget från Bangalore till Dehradun. Det tog oss totalt 40 timmar. Jag kan minst sagt säga att det var väldigt skönt att komma fram till vårt guesthouse och ta en dusch…

Vi har redan varit i Dehradun en vecka men det känns som om vi har varit här mycket längre. Under veckan som gått har vi lyckats flytta in och packa upp, bekantat oss med närområdet, lärt känna våra roliga grannar och medarbetare på kontoret. Med Manto som är director på SOPHIA är det aldrig en lugn stund, det händer saker precis hela tiden. Han är verkligen en storyteller, han berättar allt ifrån SOPHIAs arbete med Van Gujjarerna till dramatiska kärlekshistorier. Manto och hans söner tar verkligen hand om oss, de bjuder oss ofta på långa middagar hemma hos dem.

I lördags gjorde vi vårt första fältbesök hos SOPHIAs Milk Programme, Johan kommer berätta mer om detta i nästa blogginlägg. Denna vecka väntas mer läsning och diskussion om SOPHIAs verksamhet samt ett fältbesök i skogen hos Van Gujjarerna, längtar! Den 30 september åker vi till byn Narayanbagar där Svalornas partnerorganisation UYRDC har sitt kontor, där stannar vi i en månad.

Vi hörs snart igen!