Situated in northern Kutch in Gujarat, the Banni grasslands lie on the border dividing India and Pakistan. It is home to diverse communities; while Muslim pastoralists form the majority, one also finds Dalit Hindus, and a community that is neither Hindu nor Muslim. Banni’s people, have for centuries, moved freely between Sindh (Pakistan) and Kutch (India)—a reason why, perhaps, the Indo-Pak border has not been able to produce a sense of bounded citizenship in them. While still referring to ‘Sindh’ as their homeland, they recognise Gujarat as their governing regime. These two experiences of belonging give rise to the cultural imaginary of Banni.
Memories and Movements is an ethnographic account of present-day Banni society, where the rhetoric of ‘change and development’ have made inroads quietly but surely. Poised on the brink of socio-economic transformation, it hosts huge tourist populations for a few months every year. The result is an immense demand for its distinct products and services such as its handicrafts and music.
The labour of its women feeds the embroidery industry in Banni. Kothari raises poignant questions, among others, about the position of Banni’s women: Do the handicraft industries give women more freedom and self-determination? Or do they entrench gender-inequality further?
The author also tells the story of the entrepreneurial success and resultant social mobility of a hitherto ‘untouchable’ community. In presenting a picture of Banni’s complex, tiered society, she shows how its people navigate social borders on an everyday basis and transcend territorial borders through memory, song and story. In her insightful foreword to this volume, Urvashi Butalia highlights how Kothari’s ‘questioning of the very notions of region and nation’ is ‘remarkably free of jargon, and yet deeply informed by theory’.
Rita Kothari is Associate Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences Department, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar.
List of Maps, Tables and Figures
Foreword by Urvashi Butalia
Chapter 1 The state of Banni, the State in Banni
Chapter 2 Experiencing the Border in Banni:
Chapter 3 Asli Shafaqat: The ‘Essence’ of Being Sindhi and Muslim
Chapter 4 Kami Log: The Meghwal Story of Untouchability, Aspiration and
Chapter 5 Beyond the Otaak: The Women of Banni
Chapter 6 ‘Miskin Jee Ker Sunando?’ (Who Will Listen to the Poor?): The Story of the Wadhas
References and Select Bibliography
‘Once there was a land with no borders, where people were free to come and go. Also there were communities without a bounded identity. All this was lost when the state imposed rules of territoriality and the drive towards social profiling insisted on clear-cut demarcations. Rita Kothari’s tale is how elasticity became fixity. She is an imaginative narrator as well as a very gifted translator of life and culture at the margins of Gujarat.’
Jan Breman, Emeritus Professor, University of Amsterdam
‘[This] book is a fascinating biography of Banni. Located in Kutch (Gujarat), this territory offers a multifaceted introduction to what is India, in its diversity, at the local level.… this area bordering Pakistan has been affected by the making of the modern state and the delimitation of frontiers forcing the pastoral tribes to sedentarise. But the homogenisation effect of state-building stopped there, as evident from the atypical identity of Banni, a Muslim majority area in a Hindu (militantly) dominated state and a Sindhi speaking pocket. Yet, Banni is [like] the rest of India in terms of social change … the local Untouchables are emancipating themselves from their (unusual) Muslim masters and globalising themselves the consumerist way. We need … studies like this … to understand the mosaic that is India, a country inventing alternative modernities, even in liminal places like Banni…
Christophe Jaffrelot, Senior Research Fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris