The gypsies of Thar

The nomadic Kabootra and Gurgla of Thar are struggling for survival

The gypsies of Thar


ne day, while on a walk, I stumbled upon a nomadic community residing on the roadsides in an open area in Tharparkar and decided to pay them a visit to learn about their culture and way of life. It was a Monday evening, around 4pm when I arrived at their settlement.

The harsh realities of life mark their vulnerable existence in the desert region as nomadic gypsies. Lack of education, debilitating poverty, lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities are a few problems these people face on a daily basis.

The gypsies of Thar

Living in tent-like homes with thatched roofs, their resilience and unity as a community is uncanny. Eager to share their stories, they welcomed me to their settlement.

Scattered across the desert, these people belong to the Kabootra and Gurgla castes. Each of these castes has several sub-castes. The Kabootra sub-castes living in Thar include Harjiyara, Karkar and Kisnawat; the Gurgla have Nereeyo and Marghat, among others. These communities are seen as part of the Jogi subculture.

The people I visited lacked training in any particular craft. They were not skilled workers and relied primarily on beggary to make ends meet. “We don’t have any skills and know nothing about the workings of the modern world,” said a Kabootra man.

The gypsies of Thar

The Gurgla do not rely solely on beggary; their women sell bangles, while men sell balloons to children in the cities.

Each day, in the early morning hours, men, women and children head to the markets, where they begin their day by begging. They wander through the nearby populated areas, hoping to receive meagre sustenance. While some members of the community manage to earn a living by selling various items, the majority rely on the generosity of others to survive.

The nomadic and marginalised communities of Thar are facing a multitude of challenges. Many are struggling to have two full meals a day. The lack of proper healthcare services in the area has made them vulnerable to illness and health complications.

This way of life, characterised by constant financial struggle, highlights the challenges and hardships faced by these communities. The need to secure basic necessities such as food and shelter has driven them to beg.

Their situation is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted social inequalities in our society. Certain communities are marginalised to the point that they have little to no access to essential resources.

The gypsies of Thar

Large families with six to eight children are common. Lack of awareness is a major contributing factor for this. Limited access to education and resources, prevents them from realising the importance of family planning and understanding the implications of having a large number of children to raise and feed. As a result, the cycle of larger families continues, perpetuating the community’s challenges in providing for their children’s needs and securing a better future.

Literacy is nearly non-existent amongst these communities. Despite the provision in Article 25-A, which states that free and compulsory education shall be provided to all children between the ages of five and sixteen, these communities remain unaware of the importance of education.

As they grow up, most children are sent to markets to beg for sustenance. A woman from the community despairingly said, “We can barely afford a single meal a day, and here you are suggesting that we need to educate our children. All of us have to beg to alleviate hunger.”

The people belonging to these castes face significant challenges in maintaining proper hygiene. Their approach to dental care involves using neem tree twigs as toothbrushes.

Their lack of awareness puts them at a higher risk of contracting diseases. Limited access to water for bathing, cooking and washing exacerbates the situation.

With water scarcity being a constant issue, they can only take a bath once a week or two weeks.

Providing education on hygienic practices and addressing their water needs can improve the overall health and well-being of these communities.

Access to safe drinking water is a basic right, but these people are forced to purchase water in gallons from nearby sources, often for Rs 30 per gallon.

The water they rely on for cooking and bathing may not always be of the best quality. Lack of access to clean drinking water further exacerbates their already challenging living conditions. There is a pressing need to address this issue, ensuring that everyone has access to safe and clean drinking water.

The nomadic and marginalised communities of Thar are facing a multitude of challenges. Many are struggling to have two square meals a day. The lack of proper healthcare services in the area has made them vulnerable to illness and health complications.

Within the gypsy community, there is a concerning trend where children are taught the art of begging by their parents and relatives.

In certain gypsy subgroups, such as the Jogi, it is a rite of passage. Young individuals must learn to beg as a life skill before they can be married. Surprisingly, these communities view begging as a cultural practice and do not perceive it as an undesirable activity.

To address this issue and improve their living conditions, those in positions of authority need to consider establishing permanent colonies specifically designed for the gypsy community,” says Khalid Jogee (Kumbhar), a literary-anthropologist specialising in tribes and the landscape of Tharparkar.

It is imperative for the government, concerned authorities and NGOs to step forward and extend a helping hand to uplift these communities. By providing necessary resources, support and opportunities, we can help these communities emerge from the shadows of neglect and deprivation.

The writer is a teacher and climate and human rights activist. X handle @ChandaniDolat

The gypsies of Thar