SOPHIA, the Society for Promotion of Himalayan Indigenous Activities, is an Indian, non-profit, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). Its Director Praveen Kaushal, “Manto”, founded the NGO in 1996. The NGO operates within the three Himalayan states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The NGO primarily engages with the Van Gujjars, who are traditionally nomadic buffalo herders that have dwelled within the Himalayan forests for centuries. The Van Gujjars face serious challenges to their livelihoods, which largely stem from a lack of forest rights, previously unrecognised domicile rights and poverty. These hurdles place the Van Gujjars' unique practice of pastoral buffalo husbandry and nomadism in jeopardy. Additionally, SOPHIA has recently collaborated with numerous sedentary village communities with whom the Van Gujjars share the forests. SOPHIA strives towards the socio-political empowerment of the communities it works with and for their opportunity to continue their customary, Himalayan modes of production and livelihoods.
• To support the social mobilisation and empowerment of the Van Gujjar community by aiding their efforts to build and strengthen their socio-political platform.
• To support the Van Gujjars’ opportunity to maintain their environmentally sustainable, traditional livelihoods and modes of production within the Himalayan forests.
• To fortify the Van Gujjars’ and sedentary village communities’ forest rights, thus advocating pro-indigenous policies.
To actualise its objectives SOPHIA has adopted a rights-based approach, which provides communities with lasting support for their livelihoods by conneting them to their state rights. Additionally, the NGO runs two projects concerning forest and domicile rights and milk marketing. These projects were formed through the Van Gujjars’ ‘self-diagnosis’ of their issues and, subsequently, meetings with the village communities. Furthermore, SOPHIA engages with mainstream digital and social media, whilst networking with and lobbying the government to actualise its goals.