Gujjars and Bakarwals of Jammu and Kashmir

The Gujjars and Bakarwals are the cattle rearing transhumants (people practicing seasonal migration) who oscillate to the different altitudes of mountain with their herds in the valleys of Jammu and Kashmir. However, they migrate in the pasture of Great Himalaya but more localised in the JK. Their habitat is in the hill terrain of 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 evidences trace their migration from a territory between Black Sea and 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 a serious famine in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The natural pastures utilized by the Gujjars and Bakarwals are seasonal. The pastoral economy of Gujjars depends on availability of these pasture. Winter and summer pastures have different climatic condition which results in their oscillation. While advent of summer is signaled by 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 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.

Economy and Society

The Gujjars and Bakarwals have divided themselves into three principal kinship groups:
  1. The Dera (houshold)
  2. Dada-potre (lineage)
  3.  The Gotra (clan)
A dera is referred to the houshold of a man, eatablished after marriage. Each son thus establishes his own dera as he gets married. It consists of five to six members. Division of labour in a household is based upon sex and age. Female performs the domestic work while male perform more arduous task like herding of cattle, repairing of tools, hunting of wild animals, ploughing and harvesting of crops. The household is thus 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 have been borrowed from their Hindu Gujjars. The gotra name is often suffixed to their names. The Gujjars have established institution of Zirga (panchayat), which decides the disputes among the members. By faith the Gujjars and Bakarwals are the followers of Islam. They practices the basic principles Islam. Due to there 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 celebration of Baishakhi in the month of April.

The sex ratio of Gujjars and Bakarwals is highly eskewed. There are approximately 856 women per 1000 men among the Gujjars-Bakarwals. This demographic imbalance influence 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 summers. The marriage is completed according to Islamic culture. The 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 organised 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.

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