Gujjar Bakarwal: Lost Faith but Intact Ethos of Tribal
| Yajin Bhatt - Independent Journalist, Delhi - 08 May 2020

Despite facing hardships, ever since the tribal invasion in J&K in 1947, Gujjar Bakarwal fought for India and defeated them. The role of this tribe against the militancy era in the last 30 years is remarkable. In 1965,  1971 and even in 1999 Kargil war fought between Indian and Pakistan, this community supported Indian army to protected J&K from the evil designs of Pakistan with might and man and they drove off Pakistan infiltrators from Jammu and Kashmir.

Lt Gen K H Singh lauded the qualities of patriotism, politeness and generosity among the Gujjar Bakerwal tribe, Lt. Gen D S Hooda in his book called them eyes & ears of Indian Army.

By Yajin Bhatt

Bharat or India as a nation is called is the land of diversities.This nation has been nurturing place for almost all the religions of the world.

History is witness that from times immemorial, in the pursuit of humanity, this nation has sheltered persecuted and refugees of all religions and nations of the world.

Tolerance and universal acceptance isthe inherent character of this nation which is running in the blood of every Indian.Apart from this, our country is also blessed with geographical and climatic Diversities.

At one end we have Siachin where temperature dips to minus 55 and on the other hand we have Pokhran where temperature can go up to 55 degrees Celsius.

All these things clubbed together brings in the diversity in the lifestyles of people which include dresses, food habits, festivals etc. and make our country stand out among all other nations, and enrich and beautify our culture and reinforce cohesive coexistence.

There is no denying the fact that our constitution has been highly instrumental to make our country what it stands today.

Its fundamental duties intertwined with fundamental rights enable every citizen of India to move ahead in the fields of their choice and caliber.

Some prefer to go in service sectors, some choose to become entrepreneurs, some going to agriculture and other like fields and so on.Besides these, a large population belonging to numerous communities are engaged in varioussubdued jobs which usually go unnoticed, but they do have some miniscule contribution towards the economy of this nation.

For example, there is a community called Devi pujaks. Earlier they were known as waghray samaj. For them, the entire nation is their hometown.

They have the expertise in identifying the specialty of the region and go about doing business in the same product.Till they reach in the other regions.

Interestingly, they adopt the chain process beginning from one end of the country to another end. For example, they start from Kanyakumari, take the local produce, jackfruit in abundance and sell them in local trains buses etc. till they reach to other state, Karela. Here they will go on selling banana chips and even pineapples up to Karnataka border and earn their living.

Here the purchase Nanjina good banana to sell them in buses & local trains till Koorg where they deal in oranges. So, every time, they reach to new region their commodity changes with the place. Similarly, in Goa they will purchase and sell cashew nuts, in Gujrat Fig, Dates etc, in MP-UP Guava Jamun, Mango till they reach Delhi.

Here they purchase plastic toys from Chandni Chowk and reach to Haryana and Punjab. Those coming from the Rajasthan route sell the local delicacies like Rabri etc and other local items to reach Delhi and then Jammu & Kashmir.

In their return journey back, they start from Jammu purchasing dry fruits from the local wholesalers and rest follow the same bus and train method of earning livelihood. In the entire process they neither beg nor involve in any kind of robbery or theft. Despite the hardships they face in their daily lives but never compromise their dignity & honor.

We have yet another community in our country addressed with different nomenclature in different state. They also play a significant role in the economy but at a micro level.

They also cannot follow the static lifestyle & need to move from one place to another because of the nature of their occupation. They are called the Kachchi Rabaris in Gujarat, Yadavas in UP and Bihar, Rathod in Maharashtra, Banjaras in Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, they are called Gujjars.

This name is so familiar that automatically the picture of herds of cattle sheep and goat followed by some herdsmen come in the site.

As they are the owners of the large flocks of sheep and goat and large herd of cattle, they're also called ‘Maldars’ in Gujarat.

They are the main suppliers of milk and other dairy products in the entire region. Their life is both tough & hectic owing to long spell of dry season which compel them to move to greener areas.

However, with commercialization and modernization a lot of them have either taken to other professions or have opened huge dairy farms of their own.

The former ones who stick traditionally with this profession preferably move to greener forestlands during the dry months.

This migration process might have started some centuries back, wherein the people of these communities would migrate from lower altitudes of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, UP & Punjab to the higher altitudes of alpine forests in the north.

Here vast expanse of pastures called “Margs” used to welcome them every summer. The same process continued smoothly & uninterruptedly till 1700 century.

During the reign of Aurangzeb in the later period of Mughal empire they had to face atrocities at the hands of such cruel rulers.

Unfortunately, in 1682 a major flood inundated the entire Kashmir as a result most of these families could not return to their native places.

They were forced to stay back in Kashmir only to face tougher times as all of them were compelled to embrace Islam. Over the period they have become the part & parcel of the entire region of J & K.

Today, this community of Gujjars as we analyze them is still untouched by the craze & glaze of modernization & technology. Busy in their own world of rearing of cattle Sheep & Goats, they have been able to create a niche of their own in the ever-boiling state of J&K.

Coming to their physical appearance, with Boney face & tall height, coincides with the Gujjars of the other regions of the country. The unique pattern of their turban shows the stark resemblance with the Rabbaris of Gujarat & Rajasthan.

Despite living in Kashmir for such a long time they have maintained their ethos, culture, language, traditions and customs. They do not speak any language of this region & have not adopted any of the local attires.

They do not even like eating rice or nonveg like Kashmiri’s but prefer eating the vegetarian food with Roti of Miaze or Bajra along with Ghee or Buttermilk.

Perhaps, with the pertinent Hindu lineage (past) this community still follows the set of principles for the clans called “GOTRAS”.

That is why the resemblance of some Hindu casts are still prominent in this community e.g. Khatana, Ahwana, Badana, Chaudri, Door, Digga, Jaindhad, Kohli, Jinjuaetc.

Although, they follow Islam in the territory of JK but they celebrate Baisakhi with the same fervor like their community brethren in Punjab. Even their marriage rituals are different from Muslims.

They remind us of the Swyamwara of the Mahabharata period wherein, the bridegroom was selected based on valor, courage & efficiency to face the challenge put forth him.

This is called “Budder” and it is one of the important functions of marriages celebrations. Yet another example is that of keeping pet dog, which is strictly prohibited in the Islam but for this community pet dogs are a must.

Another evidence is that of Buffaloes which is very common in these families, despite the hilly terrains being against their nature & character, whereas the Kashmiri’s will hardly pet such animal.

Apart from the males the females of this community are born with guts & nerve. This character connects them to their roots.

It is a common saying in Gujarat that a Maaldhari young female can drive away the fierceful loin of Gir forests with her shepherd’s crook, to protect her cattle.

In J&K also fighting with wild animals is the part & parcel of the daily routine of the females of this community, but what is more praise worthyis their intrepidity to fight with terrorists with their Axes etc., cutting them into pieces & snatching their arms & ammunition.

One such example is of Rukhsana Kausar, the class 9th student from Rajori. This brave girl received the national bravery award from the govt of India. She not only proved her heritage of patriotism but created an example for most of her community young girls. 

As far as the social reconstruction of this community is concerned here in J&K it is broadly divided into two groups Gujjars & Bakarwallas. Gujjars which form a sizeable population are mainly stationed at one place, and have forged into professions as Govt jobs, dairy farming, wood cutters, labors, some of them also rear donkeys, horses & mules & supply them in hilly areas for various purposes.

The Bakarwals on the other hand have the real transhuman character, purely engaged in rearing & caring of goats. They form a sizeable population of approx. six lakhs, this nomadic community, needs to move from one place to another.

By the last week of April, the winter pastures are almost exhausted, and this is the time when they start moving towards higher altitudes. They move in Kafilas (group of interrelated families).

These Kafila follow either the Pir Panjal route or the Banihal Pass route. The Pirpanjal route has all grazing fields enroute, right from Akhnoor,Jammu to extreme north Kashmir (Naranag) the summer base pasture.

Therefore, the Kafilas on this route spend two months, one month in jour­ney and almost equal days halt at Marg.

The second is Banihal route, tough equally challenging for the Kafilas travelling, for many reasons. For them, the entire journey period is not more than 20 days. There are almost 15 halts & the most dangerous night at Khooni Nallah.

There is continuous 2 days journey as to avoid the halt on dry hills. The flock is to travel on the National Highway-1 being a very busy route, there are often accidents, lack of fodder and same is the period of shifting of secretariat “Darbar Move” from Jammu to Srinagar.

They have very limited options to break their journeys at Manawal, Udhampur, Banihal, verynag, Ashwabal, Hilltops of Umanagri,Salar, Masitnar, Chandanwari, Gabdalwa, Panjtarni and Sukhnala. Some of them divert to Daksum route some towards Pahelgam. The hills of South Kashmir like Halan, Woodwan is their summer base pasture.

Despite facing hardships, ever since the tribal invasion in J&K in 1947, Gujjar Bakarwal fought for India and defeated them. In 1965 & in 1971 they drove off Pakistan infiltrators during the Indo-Pak war.

Again, in Kargil war fought between Indian and Pakistan in 1999, this community supported Indian army to protected J&K from the evil designs of Pakistan with might and man. The role of this tribe against the militancy era in the last 30 years is also remarkable.

Many of Indian army heads have rewarded them on various occasions. Lt Gen K H Singh lauded the qualities of patriotism, politeness and generosity among the Gujjar Bakerwal tribe, Lt. Gen D S Hooda in his book called them eyes & ears of Indian Army.

This community is most eco-friendly, indulging in no sort of conflict and clash, are enjoying a jubilant health.

As they live in forests, hill tops away from all sorts ofradiation, pollution, they breathe the purest form of oxygen.

They consume natural herbs and non-toxic food and whole-some water which not only increase their appetite but is completely free from any poisonous chemical substances.

The 365 days weather conditions, they live in, prevent them from anysort of biological disease, viruses.

Most of them settled along the old Mughal route in Sialkot, Gujranwala, and Jhelum in Pakistan are in miserable conditions, both socially as well economically.

Punjabi dominant Pakistan administration has strategically pushed them to extremefanatism, involved in terrorist activities and used them as human bombs etc.

Similar was the fate of Balti tribe, when Islam became dominant in this region, with Sayed Ali Hamdani in 15th century. Balti the word derived from Buddhism.

Now, despite being Shia Muslims; Baltis still follow certain prominent Buddhist & pre-Islamic practices. Some of them living in Ladakh are living a life of self-respect and liberally following their religious practices, here they are socially & economically well-off.

Majority of this community are scattered in various places of Pakistan and sizeable population in occupied area (Gilgit-Balkistan).practicing their age-old Bon (Buddhism) their dominant practices of meditation, spirituality & Buddhist rituals. This make them vulnerable in an Islamic state like Pakistan. Pakistan has plunged Baloch tribe into an area of darkness.

Baluchistan is made Mandi for Narcotics & smuggling network. Those well qualified Balochi’s are compelled to leave their native to save their lives.

Those left behind are kept illiterate, backward & deprived. For more than 60 years, Pakistan’sKarachi, Punjab & other some states get piped natural gas from Sui of Baluchistan but the tribal of Sui are still deprived of any such facility.

This region & Balochis are severely lagging in every developmental parameter, except two things which are growing in number with each day & scoring over other parts of Pakistan;

  1. Number of Madrassas 2. That of Police stations.

Both under the absolute control of Pakistan administration. It is an open secret that the Pak policy towards this Tribe & region is “Bludgeon the Baloch”.

 (Yajin Bhatt is a writer & Social Activist)

Representational File Images Courtesy – Gujjar and Bakarwal Tribe of J&K FB Page /  Gujjari Culture Teh Sakafaht - Gujjars of J&K FB Page / Gujjar Council of J&K FB Page

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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