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Usman Musa

Interview Summary

Usman, one of the nomadic tribal herdsmen known as maldhari, originally worked as a camel raiser. Dissatisfied with his nomadic life, Usman joined Abdul Jabbar Khatri and for the last five years Usman has been doing uparlanu, or miscellaneous work, such as washing, spinning, drying and dyeing. He completed his apprentice training in one year. Being a Jat, he is strong enough to sustain the physical difficulties involved in making ajrakh. He works from 8 am to 5 pm. His parents are at Ajrakhpur and he with his wife, two daughters and three sons live in a wadi in Dhamadka. He washes around 30 pieces daily and thereafter does kase; spins and dries the textiles. After collecting the fabric he keeps it tidy for printing. He likes printing work and intends to have his own business in the future.

His father and grandfather were both maldhari and also worked as herdsmen. His family is originally from Mowadi in Abdasa taluka in Kachchh.

Abdul Jabbar Khatri provided us with some intriguing information on the Jat community, who raise camel and wander with them to differentpastures across Gujarat for around eight months of the years. They mostly graze the Rabari’s camels. If a female camel is born then it belongs to the Rabari, but if the male camel is born then the Rabari share it with the Jat and pay around 1,000 rupees for grazing work. The Jats rarely eat chapatti and survive mainly on camel milk and kheer cooked from that milk, rice and sugar.

There is much uncertainty over where the Jat originated. For centuries, they have been key customers of the ajrakh makers and maintained regular contact with them. Camel grazing has now drastically reduced to only twenty per cent of its previous level however, and it is no longer a profitable profession for the maldharis. As a result, many are taking up jobs such as truck drivers, factory labourers, watchmen in the fields and many others. One of the main reasons for the decline in camel herding and grazing is that the primary meadows and grazing areas are disappearing as a result of urban expansion. In addition, camels could once be procured relatively cheaply, for about the cost of two goats. Now, the cost of camels has increased up to 30,000 rupees, too high for the maldharis to buy and raise. It takes around three or four years before a new camel is born too.

As well as this, in previous years, the camel raisers often worked under a system known as jokh, where theywere invited to the fields by farmers in order to collect camel manure in addition to their other herding and grazing activities. In exchange, they were given necessaries and basic foodstuffs such as tea and sugar. Now, that trend has also changed, and such a type of grazing is uncommon. All these reasons prompted Usman, like many others, to leave his traditional profession and join the ajrakh business.