Qalandar - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. A collection of tents in temporary alliance in order to work and travel together forms a dēra. Typical dēra contain three to seven tents with a balanced distribution of skilled performers and animal acts. Dēra membership involves complex social and economic considerations, including marriage-planning strategies and proximity to skilled individuals, especially bear leaders. Other considerations include common interests, friendship, kin loyalties, and efforts to maintain sibling solidarity. These motivations must be moderated by practical concerns related to the overall distribution of human skills and animal resources. Dēra organization is based on mutual agreements among tents to work and travel together in a spirit of biradarana, which prescribes mutual support, understanding, tolerance, and cooperation. Families unwilling to share biradarana are simply encouraged or forced to move on.

Political Organization. Dēra are acephalous and decisions affecting the group, such as travel routes and tenure in an area, are achieved through consensus among tents. Deference is usually paid to opinions of older and/or more experienced individuals.

Social Control. Group pressure and consensus among dēra members serve to regulate everyday activities. Tents unwilling to go along with group opinions break away, travel alone, or most commonly join other dēra or make new alliances to form new dēra. Freedom ( azadi ) to move is the most effective form of social control; however, Qalandar have an elaborate jural system comprised of their own lawyers, judges, and a complex trial process for resolving serious conflicts.

Conflict. Qalandar recognize that internal conflict and disputes among tents can seriously affect their survival. Major sources of conflict involve fights between spouses and among entertainers working together about the distribution of earnings, adultery, disagreements over travel routes, and excessive parental demands on married children, as well as individual acts of inappropriate behavior such as theft, drunkenness, excessive sexual joking, serious injury, murder, or involvement of outside authorities in any kind of internal Qalandar affairs. When senior members of a dēra cannot negotiate a compromise among disputing parties, adversaries and their supporters will seek out Qalandar lawyers ( waikel ), who in turn select judges ( surbara ), thus setting in motion an elaborate and prolonged legal proceeding culminating in a trial. Before proceeding to trial litigants and their supporters must agree to post a cash bond with judges binding them to the decisions ( karna ) or rulings of the jural body called for a particular dispute. Depending on the offense, sanctions involve public apologies, fines, banishment, or execution. Lacking institutions or specialized roles for enforcing legal decrees, enforcement devolves on the disputants, their families, and their friends. Conflict fuels perpetual processes of fission and fusion among tents and contributes to changing patterns of alliance and spatial mobility throughout the year.


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