A Gujjar, His Buffalo and Ghee – An Excerpt from Lawrence’s "Valley of Kashmir"

Walter R. Lawrence who was the “Settlement Commisioner” of “Kashmir and Jammu State” during the time of Maharaja Pratab Singh wrote a detailed account of the valley of Kashmir in his book “The Valley of Kashmir”. This volume deals with “subjects of general interest”. 

I came across these passages in his book regarding trade in Maharaja’s Kashmir. Of all that was exported from Kashmir to India and other places, the most important item was Ghee. Its value in trade far exceeded that of shawls and timber, something one would easily guess in respect of Kashmir. 

Ghi is by far the most important article of the export trade of Kashmir, and is made chiefly by the pastoral Gujars and the nomad goatherds, who find the mountains of Kashmir a convenient and cheap resort, as the forests of India become more and more closed to the destructive buffalo and goat. The trade in ghi is entirely in the hands of middlemen, chiefly Panjabis, and the producer is at their mercy. There is still room for the expansion of this trade, and forest conservancy need not in Kashmir cause any serious diminution in the area of grazing-land. There can be no doubt that the Gujars with their buffaloes and the Bakkrwals with their goats cause great and wanton injury to the forests, nor that the grazing tax of Rs. 1.40 per milk buffalo and Rs. 5 per hundred head of goats is an inadequate payment for the grazing and the damage caused thereby to trees. But Kashmir is a favourite haunt of the graziers, and even if forest conservancy be made stricter and grazing fees be enhanced, buffaloes and goats will still be brought. (Page 392)

Lawrence further notes the following figures of exports  of Ghi: (page 388)
Year               Amount in Rs.
1886-87          9,19,219
1887-88         11,99,048
1888-89         13,15,862
1889-90         15,49,744
1890-91         14,55,813
1891-92         15,79,640
1892-93         16,58,172

(Note: this was the amount in currency as given in the book which was published in 1895. Adjusted for inflation the figures would be far greater. )

The price of Ghi as noted by Lawrence is found on page 245:

“Ghi used to sell at 4 seers per Rupee. Now sells at 3 or 2.5 seers.”

Kashmir produces a large quantity of ghi (Kashmiri rogan), and though cows and goats furnish a part of this ‘ butter of India,’ the great proportion of ghi is made from the milk of the buffalo. It has been the policy of the rulers of Kashmir to encourage the Gujars to take up their abode in the valley. Exemption from forced labour and an assessment in cash have induced these nomads to settle down, and all around the valley on the
fringe of the forest the flat-topped Gujars’ huts, hidden in maize crops, may be seen. The Gujar cares little for his hut or his fields. He calls himself the lord of the forests, and directly the snows have melted on the high mountains he and his family, putting on their best clothes, hurry off with the buffaloes to the heights. There they live a healthy gipsy life in wigwams, and make butter. This butter is bought up by Panjab traders, who convert the butter into ghi. In the summer months, when the grass is rich, 40 seers of butter will yield 32 seers of ghi. The middleman, of course, makes all the profit, and he increases his ghi by adulteration. Into 8 seers of ghi he will put 2 seers of walnut oil, but as walnut oil is now rising in price this form of adulteration will possibly cease. When the middleman receives the butter from the Gujar he salts it, and sometimes keeps it two months before he makes it into ghi. All Gujars are slaves of the middleman, by virtue of the rekh, or system of advances. I have often urged the Gujars to set themselves free and to participate in the rise in the price of ghi, but the Kashmiri Gujar is as stupid and slow as his friend and companion the buffalo. It is touching to notice how absolutely bound up in his buffalo the Gujar is. He thinks of nothing else and cares for nothing else. (page 360)


Author: Rich Autumns

Blogger from Kashmir. Twitter: @RichAutumns

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