Gujjars and Bakarwals of Jammu and Kashmir
The Gujjars and Bakarwals are the cattle-rearing transhumance (people practicing seasonal migration) who oscillate to the different altitudes of mountains with their herds in the valleys of Jammu and Kashmir. However, they migrate in the pasture of the Great Himalayas but are more localized in the JK. Their habitat is in the hilly terrain of the North-Western Himalayas. Scholars have different views regarding their origin, some are of the view that they are the pastoral nomads of Central Asia, while some consider them the descendant of the Kushan and the Yuchi tribes of Eastern Tatars (Russia). Some scholars hold the view that they are of Indian origin. Recent archeological, linguistic, and geographical pieces of evidence trace their migration from territory between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and proved them the descendant of Gurjis. It is believed that originally residing in Gujarat, part of the tribe migrated towards JK after the outbreak of serious famine in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The natural pastures utilized by the Gujjars and Bakarwals are seasonal. The pastoral economy of Gujjars depends on the availability of these pastures. Winter and summer pastures have a different climatic condition which results in their oscillation. While the advent of summer is signaled by the drying up of pastures in the south, they take the folks during this period to the pastures of high altitude, locally known as Dhoks, in the north. When the highland pastures are covered with snow and ice and the health of folks is affected by severe cold at high altitudes, they started migrating to the lower altitude pastures in the month of September. Major oscillation channels of Gujjars and Bakarwals are through Pir Panjal range.
The Gujjars and Bakarwals have divided themselves into three principal kinship groups:
- The Dera (household)
- Dada-potre (lineage)
- The Gotra (clan)
A dera is referred to the household of a man, established after marriage. Each son thus establishes his own dera as he gets married. It consists of five to six members. The division of labor in a household is based on sex and age. Female performs domestic work while male perform more arduous task like herding cattle, repairing tools, hunting wild animals, plowing, and harvesting of crops. The household is thus the primary economic unit.
Several dera constitute a lineage (dada-potra). The pastures are allotted to lineage but not to individuals. Lineage may have 200 persons. Each lineage has a head who is responsible for the socio-economic and political activities of his group. The entire Gujjar community is divided into a number of gotras (clans). The gotra system has been borrowed from their Hindu Gujjars. The gotra name is often suffixed to their names. The Gujjars have established the institution of Zirga (panchayat), which decides the disputes among the members. By faith, the Gujjars and Bakarwals are followers of Islam. They practice the basic principles of Islam. Due to their migratory habits, their social and cultural traditions are strongly influenced by the migratory pattern Their main festivals are Iduul- Fitrr, Iduul- Azha, Naoroz, and Baishakhi. They start their upward journey after the celebration of Baishakhi in the month of April.
The sex ratio of Gujjars and Bakarwals is highly skewed. There are approximately 856 women per 1000 men. This demographic imbalance influences their marriage pattern. Among the Gujjars-Bakarwals, the Mangani (engagement ceremony) is generally held at an early age of about eight years. The Nikah (marriage) usually takes place after five years from the date of engagement which usually takes place during summer. The marriage is completed according to Islamic culture. Cases of divorce are rare. The widow could remarry. Gujjars and Bakarwals bury their dead according to Islamic rites.
In brief, Gujjars-Bakarwals have an organized social life. The existence of social and economic institutions, functional groups, and social stratification, the customs, traditions, and taboos are result of their transhuman nature.