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The Nomads of Jammu & Kashmir: Gujjars and Bakkarwals and their Bonhomie with Army

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Utsav Pal

It is true to the spirit that this community takes pride in working with the Army and serving their motherland. The common factor between the Gujjar and Bakkarwals and the Army operating in Jammu and Kashmir is that, all are living, moving in and around remote areas and facing the harsh climate in the high altitude region.
 
Gujjars and Bakarwals of Kashmir valley love Indian Army
Nomadic life of Gujjars and Bakarwals in Kashmir valley

Gujjars and Bakkarwals are a unique ethnic group of Jammu and Kashmir with an even unique culture. A Gujjar can be defined as the one who keeps, tends and rears sheep, cows, and buffaloes for milk and other products. The Gujjars and Bakkarwals in question here move along with their livestock to far flung areas including mountains and higher reaches in Jammu and Kashmir during the summer season. The Gujjars who rear goats and sheep’s are called Bakkarwals. Due to climatic conditions, which vary from place to place in Jammu and Kashmir, Gujjars and Bakkarwals have adjusted themselves to different patterns of life.


Indian Army with Bakarwal and Gujjar
Dagger Division Commander with Bakarwals and Gujjars

They are hardened nomadic people traveling from place to place in the mountains in search of pastoral land. Bakkarwals wear the same attire as the Gujjars. While on their journey to the far flung areas, the Bakkarwals live under temporary settlements in plains and some regulars make their own shelters also known as Dhoks. This continues until the time of grazing is over. The entire period is of about eight to nine months starting from March to November post the first spell of snowfall. Gujjars and Bakkarwals constitute 8.1 percent of the total population in the State according to the census of India, 2019. The Gujjar and Bakkarwal population is highest in the Jammu region followed by the Valley of Kashmir. In the Kashmir Valley the districts of Poonch, Rajouri, Anantnag, Kupwara and Srinagar see a heavy concentration of Gujjars and Bakkarwals during the induction period.


The rituals, customs, clothing and traditions of Gujjars and Bakkarwals and their economic activities differ from the remaining ethnic groups of Jammu and Kashmir. Their dress, way of life, marriage and kinship, all are different as compared to their counterparts settled in other parts of the state. However Gujjars and Bakkarwals in Jammu and Kashmir have taken to the Islamic faith in its true form. The Gujjars and Bakkarwals settled in the Jammu and Kashmir possess tall personality with the Jewish features. The community have their own cultural and linguistic identity. The Gujjar and Bakkarwal community of Jammu and Kashmir speaks the Gujri also known as the Gojri language having influence from Rajasthan and a mix of other languages like Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and Pahari. The Gojri speaking people are the third largest linguistic group in Jammu and Kashmir after Kashmiri and Dogri. The Gujjar and Bakkarwal community is socially much backward in comparison to other communities of state, leading a simple life in houses made of wood and mud with paddy and grass roof also known as Dhoks.


Evolving Trends


However, with the changing times their houses in villages are now made of bricks and stones. During winters they move down to the plain areas and during summers, these hardened tribesmen move on foot to the mountains and higher reaches in search of pastoral land, with their cattle and sheep’s on foot and their luggage tied up on pony backs. Apart from this, the males and females have different roles to play in the said community. The women of this caste are busy in domestic tasks of cooking, washing, fetching of water, bringing up children, collection of wood and weaving of woollen garments. The Man of the house is busy in farming, rearing of cattle, collection of grass, ploughing and harvesting of crops. The community majorly dependes on milk products from their own cattle, cereals, wheat and corn. Constituting of both vegetarians and non vegetarians, makki ki roti, ganhar, kadam, sarsoon ka saag, lassi/chaach, kalari et al are their favoured delicacies.


Education


Education of the Gujjars and Bakkarwals is low to nil as compared to other communities of the state. They neither have the money nor the motivation to educate their children and send them to schools. As a legacy, they want their children also to follow this nomadic way of life. The non-availability of schools, constant move of the Gujjars and Bakkarwals, parental attitude towards education and migration makes it all the more difficult to send their children to schools.


Bonhomie between Army and Gujjar/ Bakarwal Community


The bonhomie between the Army and the Gujjar and Bakkarwal community is time immemorial. These hardened son of soils form and important lifeline for the Army in Jammu and Kashmir. It is true to the spirit that this community takes pride in working with the Army and serving their motherland. The common factor between the Gujjar and Bakkarwals and the Army operating in Jammu and Kashmir is that, all are living, moving in and around remote areas and facing the harsh climate in the high altitude region. Both have to face the brunt of resource crunch and environmental hazards, not only in their routine work but also to fight for survival in the inhospitable terrain and weather conditions. Thus, the environment has necessitated mutual support of all the people living in these areas, because that is the only way we can make a difference .


In March 2020, when the Army had to set up a Temporary Operating Base in a remote location called Trunkhal, a Recce party was sent to check the area, if the snow had cleared out and if the route was safe for the induction of troops. The marked track, also a prominent trekking route, that the troops usually took was, half way clear but further on, had almost knee deep snow cover. The route was a no go for troops and ponies as well. The Recce party on their way back met a Bakkarwal called Gh Ali. He was sitting along with his son Irfan and had his herd of sheep’s moving up. When enquired by the party Commandr, Ali told them that he would be moving to Gadsar lake via Trukhal. The Recce party took a break and the party cdr while sipping his tea along Ali, told him that the route to Trunkhal was not clear and that he should not move further. The son of soil then told the party cdr about a different, but difficult route, slightly steep, on the western side of the mountain which was more or less clear for him and his cattle to move. The party took the western approach to the top and marked a different route, other than the conventional track, which was clear for induction of troops to establish the Temporary Operating Base.


The Party Commander assured of any assistance if ever required by Ali and that he can feel free to come to the Temporary Operating Base anytime for a cup of kahwa. The Gujjars and Bakkawals are important to the Army in many ways. The Gujjars and Bakkarwals, being the sons of the soil are fully integrated with nature and the environment. They have tremendous knowledge of the ground, terrain and topography. They are familiar with the mule tracks/foot tracks of the area where they move around. They assist the Army in every way possible, act as guide and provide porter/ponies for induction of troops, acquaint troops with the local flora and fauna, familiarise troops with the local culture and their sensitivity to various social issues, provide info on demography of the region and sometime even help in casuality evacuation. The community came forward for the cause of country and was instrumental in helping the Army with porters and ponies for massive mobilization of troops during the Kargil war in 1999. Their unflinching dedication and devotion to help the the Army appreciated by all. Army in the same way is providing various types of support to the Gujjar and Bakkarwals in their Area of Responsiblity to assist them in their hour of need. Army authorities have also undertaken various welfare activities to win their hearts and minds to integrate them with the main stream of the country to enhance our national cause. Various Quick Impact Projects have been taken up by the Army to include Solar energy to provide them with electricity, establishing schools in remote areas to ensure education of their children, minor repairs of Dhoks, organising veterinary camps in remote locations, health camps for their treatment etc. The Army, as a kind gesture also distributes clothes, blankets, provide food and rations when required and help in evacuation and medical assistance to persons having serious medical conditions.


The Army regularly carries out formal and informal interactions with the Gujjar and Bakkarwals in the form of celebrations of national events like Independence Day, Republic Day and organising cultural activities, sports events etc to instil a sense of belongingness with the Gujjar and Bakkarwal community. The Gujjars and Bakkarwal community is a rare and a very important community of India. Their needs and aspirations are to be looked into. The Government is trying their best to improve the conditions of the said community and help them in improve their living standards with schemes and policies. The Army in its full vigour is doing the best they can to help the Gujjar and Bakkarwal community and at the same time making the best use of their knowledge of ground and terrain to ensure the safety and security of the country. The Army and troops keep rotating after a tough stint in these difficult regions but for these nomads, the mountains, difficult weather conditions and the terrain is a regular affair and their journey continues for years.





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