Qalandar - Orientation

Identification. Qalandar (pronounced like the English word "colander") are a widely dispersed, endogamous population of nomadic entertainers found throughout South Asia. Practicing a variety of entertainment strategies, their name and ethnic identity are based on their skill in handling, training, and entertaining with bears and monkeys.

Location. Qalandar are scattered throughout Pakistan and North India, most heavily concentrated in the Punjab. The word "Punjab" is derived from Indo-Persian panch (five) and āb (water). The five rivers of the Punjab are, from north to south, the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. The International boundary established in 1947 separating Pakistan from India cuts across four of these rivers and divided the Punjab politically between the two nations. Disputes over distribution of water and religious conflict among Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs keep tensions high along the frontier, thus prohibiting free movement of Qalandar along their traditional travel routes from Peshawar to Lahore in Pakistan to Amritsar and Delhi in India.

Demography. There is no accurate demographic or census information on Qalandar in either Pakistan or India. Today, there are about 4,000 Qalandar in Pakistan and many times more in north India. Sufficient and predictable sources of water have sustained the development of dense networks of small agriculture-based villages, towns, and trade and metropolitan centers. The high population density of the area (about 192 persons per square kilometer) forms an ideal economic niche for the Qalandar. The dense and perdurable membership of these sedentary communities forms a Peripatetics' niche, where there is a constant demand for specialized goods and/or services that sedentary communities cannot, or will not, support on a full-time basis. Combining entertainment skills with spatial mobility, Qalandar have survived by exploiting these resources since earliest times.

Linguistic Affiliation. In both their language and cultural habits, contemporary Qalandar share common ancestry with Rom (Gypsies) and the Romany language of Gypsies and other traveler populations throughout the world. In addition to their own language, Qalandri (part unique, with some argot, and secret to the extent that it is only spoken among themselves), Qalandar are adept linguists, speaking as many as five languages and being familiar with many regional dialects. No Qalandar are literate. Their perpetually nomadic life-style precludes attending schools, and a strong sense of ethnic unity and strict adherence to traditional values outweigh for them the benefits of prolonged cultural contact necessary for formal education.

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