Society for Promotion of Himalayan Indigenous Activities (SOPHIA) is an Indian Non Government Organisation (NGO) working with nomadic Van Gujjars in the Himalayan region. SOPHIA is active in the states of Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal), Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. The NGO is registered under FCRA, with the Ministry of Home.SOPHIA is actively working to safeguard rights and ensure sustainability of Van Gujjar livelihood. SOPHIA evolved as positive market intervention NGO to support Van Gujjars in pursuing their traditional livelihood. This project has evolved into a self-sustaining operation giving the Van Gujjars a stable income.
A highly committed team professionally manages SOPHIA and believes in need-based interventions with a strong people-centered approach.
"SOPHIA’s strength at the moment is that it is a small organization with very committed staff dedicating much of their time to field work in the forest – and a modest infrastructure with no vehicles and a small rented office. SOPHIA staff has village background, and the two who were with us in the field clearly enjoyed being in the forest with the Van Gujjars. It was obvious that they were known to the people out there, and many came to them and asked questions or referred to discussions they had had earlier. I believe this is a good and very important approach to take for a support organization as SOPHIA – being there, having a close day-to-day relationship with the Van Gujjars."
(Ms. Sille Stidsen, Asia Desk Officer, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, (IWGIA), Denmark)
SOPHIA is committed to facilitating a process of effective organizing and capacity building amongst communities indigenous to the Himalayan region.
• To support social mobilization of the Van Gujjar community for building and strengthening indigenous platforms.
• To strengthen indigenous modes of production and reinforce indigenous activities in the Himalayas.
• To advocate pro-indigenous policies and promote political empowerment.
The complex nature of issues surrounding the rights of the Van Gujjar community cannot be addressed by a single strategy. Van Gujjars who choose a lifestyle of settled pastoralism should be empowered to negotiate and demand their rights from the government surrounding this decision. Conversely, Gujjars who wish to stay in the forest must have the opportunity to fight for their rights over the use of forest resources and should be consulted in cooperation for forest protection and regeneration.