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The Desert Dwellers of Rajasthan
Bishnoi and Bhil people

continued (page 5 of 5)

Bhil men fervently protect the women in their families. No outside men are allowed in a family’s house unless the women’s male relatives invites them to enter. Men do not talk to women without permission from a man of the family. Women do not attend night celebrations to avoid male dancers who may get drunk and overly zealous. The overt practices of modesty begin at puberty. Most young married women must keep their faces covered all day, especially in the presence of their in-laws. Only women with grown children can be seen without a veil.

Water dominates the lives of all who dwell in Rajasthan. Both Bishnoi and Bhil women often walk long distances through the desert, returning to their mud and dung huts with jugs of water on their heads there is so little water that people wash their dishes using sand and only a cup or two of water suffices to wash their faces and hands in lieu of bathing. Recently, the region has suffered through a three-year drought that has devastated crops and caused widespread deaths of both livestock and wildlife. With wells drying up and people starving, communities have been forced to rely on aid from welfare organizations and the government just to survive.

Today, larger populations and more defined private property boundaries are putting pressure on the Rajasthan desert dwellers. Years of drought have also brought additional hardship. As Bishnoi and Bhil communities are forced to live closer to each other permanently, conflicts are starting to emerge. The future of these people may depend upon NGO support: education may be the best way for them to voice their need for their ancestral land and rights while learning to live in harmony in a shrinking space offering fewer and fewer resources.

Story by Jean-Philippe Soule 02/2003


A young boy learning the Bishnoi religion and principles of life, which are traditionally passed down from fathers to sons.
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Bhil women cooking the chapattis that are their dietary mainstay--dipped into hot chili paste, they are only occasionally supplemented with birds, lizards or rabbits.
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Rajasthan Cultural Eco-tours

Take an extraordinary journey deep into the remote Rajasthan desert to experience its colorful indigenous cultures first-hand.

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