Subject: Nomadic Shepherd
Place: Hampi, Karnataka
Camera: Yashica Mat 124 G
Film: Ilford HP5 Plus
Small herder communities inhabit just about every state in India, particularly those of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. These communities are small and nomadic in nature, being led quite literally by their sheep and cattle as they go in search of water and new grazing grounds with changing seasons. The Kurubas, Gollas and Lambanis are the most well-known of these herder groups who keep both cattle and sheep that they trade for a living.
In many ways these are groups for whom the age-old customs and ways of their community have not altered much despite the forces of change that they frequently encounter during their travels and migrations across states. They seem adept at maneuvering their way around various social obstacles and keeping their ethos pure. However, Illiteracy and isolation make them vulnerable to the predatory forces of the market. Many states have rolled out special campaigns for the education and upliftment of these groups.
The man featured here is a shepherd from the Golla herder community who move across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and, sometimes, even Maharashtra. The men herd, graze and take the sheep to market. The women folk take care of camp duties that include looking out for and treating various diseases that the sheep fall prey to. Today they increasingly turn to professional veterinary assistance as the diseases get more frequent and complex. The pressures of development, unexpected droughts and floods also lay waste to many of their migratory plans and routes that had followed a predictable path over centuries.
Surely, these times are not the most congenial for a nomadic shepherd, his flock, family and community. Despite these challenges they push on, loath to give up their ways and the freedom it gives them as a group with a proud purpose and a distinct identity.