Gujjars and Bakkarwals

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Gujjars and Bakkarwals

Dr. Kavita Suri , Decline in seasonal migratory practices "Daily Excelsior" 29/1/2017

With the onset of summers each year, the Gujjars and Bakkarwals – the twin nomadic communities of Jammu and Kashmir – migrate along with their livestock to upper reaches of Himalayas through traditional migration routes.

They move to the lower and middle mountain areas in Pir Panjal pastures in the summer with their flock of buffalos where they engage in cultivation and come back to the plains in the winters. However, the protracted conflict in Jammu and Kashmir which has entered its 27th year has impacted the lives of the Gujjars Bakkarwals. These past years of bloodshed and violence in the conflict-ridden border state not only witnessed the suspension of the two great annual seasonal migrations in the initial years of turmoil but it did expose them to new pressures. As the terrorists would remain hidden in the dense forests in the upper reaches of the mountains especially in Pir Panjal ranges, the nomads who would also go to the higher reaches, were seen as a keen element in the escalated violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Travelling to far flung regions they would often come into contact with the militants who also used these areas to hide from the security forces. The security forces would also see their journeys to the higher regions as a source of support to the various terrorist outfits operating in the higher ridges. The nomads were sandwiched between the militants and the security forces and were hit from either side. This exposed the tribal population to further vulnerability and more retaliation at the hands of the militant cadres. As a result many of them abandoned their age-old practice of pastoralism and stopped moving as part of their annual migration for fear of gun.

The field interviews conducted with the nomadic members of Gujjar Bakkarwal tribes reveal that the conflict has impacted the livelihood of nomadic shepherd community as the presence of militants in the upper reaches and their atrocities and fear of retaliation or safety of their family members, made most of the families abandon their annual migratory practices. Many of them were forced to remain in lower areas only and abandon the migration making their livelihood an unviable proposition.

The migratory practices of the nomads in Jammu and Kashmir have undoubtedly been impacted by the armed conflict. Firstly, ever since the militancy started in Jammu region, there has been a reduction in the number of Bakkarwals who would go up in the mountains some 30-40 years ago in comparison to the present times. After militancy erupted, the Bakarwals couldn’t go up in their mountain pastures. When the militants would take their goats and other things, they could not help but stopped moving for fear of gun. Once militancy started, the militants started killing them, their dignity was destroyed, they lost their habitats and thus were hit badly. Few of the Bakarwals turned to farming which is very less seen among their tribes.

Secondly, the caravans have become smaller, the goats are no longer in plenty, the number of their cattle is reducing with each passing day and as they do not have any major land holdings, many of them have been forced to leave their centuries old tradition of nomadism and are forced to do labour work. They are no longer able to fend for themselves.

Thirdly, the Bakkarwals who travel to the higher reaches with their herd use forest land for resources. These forests provided shelter and food for many Bakkarwals as many set camps under large trees. In the 1980’s the Forest Department decided to close and fence off a major chunk of the forest land in the Jammu region. These forests and the Forest department wanted to conserve this land that fed the seasonal migrations of the nomads. There was huge dependence of these tribes on the forest area, and its closure ultimately stopped many nomads from migrating and they settled down.

Since the eruption of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, the security forces including the police and army have also been keeping an eye on the migratory population and checking the movement of militants along with them. For this purpose, the security agencies and the state administration has set up Joint Forest Check Posts (JCP) since 2009 to monitor and record the movement of Gujjar-Bakkarwals. Under this initiative, each JCP maintains a joint biometric observation or monitoring of the migration by one representative each from the police, army, a veterinary doctor from the Animal Husbandry Department and a Forest Department official. There are currently six such check posts in the Poonch-Rajouri located at Mandi, Kulali, Behramgala, Thanamandi, Darhal and Mahrot, along the routes followed by the Bakarwals. Another JCP was at Kandi in the initial years.

Besides the militancy, the decline in the number of persons can also be attributed to the opening of Mughal Road and the new trend of people moving in transport to the grazing areas. Maximum number of Deras move through the JCPs at Mandi, Marhot and Thanamandi areas whereas JCPs at Kulali, Darhal have witnessed minimum migration. The improvement of the Mughal Road has been a major factor in the increase in deras movement via Behramgala. Deras have been able to move along the valley and reach the road approximately five km short of Pir Gali. The worst stretch of movement to Pir Gali is normally the climb to the pass and thus the Deras are now able to move along the road alignment. The wider pass is lowest on the Pir Panjal ranges and thereafter the movement is a reasonably good one along the road for some distance and then via the valley selected by the dera. This is the main reason for the increase in Dera movement via Behramgala.

An analysis of reverse migration data of the nomads clearly establishes the fact that most of the livestock carried by Deras is sold off by them. This is an obvious outcome based on the fact that handsome returns are earned by their sale especially during the festivities after Ramzan. This also impacts their migration routes. During the seasonal migration, the route of induction and de-induction differs every year. Not necessarily the Deras will return by the same route as it had taken to induct. At times if their livestock is disposed off, the members may move back by road. The pattern of onward and return migration is also unlikely to confirm to a set pattern of sticking to one route/mode of returning during the winters. The movement pattern of various carvans or Deras shows that there is marginal variation in the route of induction. The deras may also return by the surface transport via Jammu even if the livestock is not disposed off.

Clearly, the migratory practices of nomadic Gujjar Bakkarwal population of Jammu and Kashmir have been impacted by the armed conflict. Not only more and more Gujjars and Bakkarwals are settling in the plains for fear of terrorists, but the fodder shortage due to closure of pastures and forest areas is also posing problems for them.

Besides, the Gujjar Bakkarwals have no adequate political voices especially the Bakkarwals have not a single member in the Gujjar Bakkarwal Advisory Board. The Gujjar Bakkarwal Advisory Board possesses great authority in determining who from the Below Poverty Line section, will get access to various schemes. There should be more Bakkarwal members on the board. As both the Gujjars and Bakarwals gain greater political power they will be able to demand and control developmental funds for their own areas. Government should formulate a plan to protect their nomadic identity by providing them education and health facilities during their migration at upper reaches.

Therefore, for the betterment of the Gujjar Bakkarwal community, corrective measures must be taken by the government. Adequate security needs to be given to them while on seasonal migration, more channels of communication should be available to them so that in remote isolated place they can get in touch with administration and security forces in times of need. The nomadic Deras move freely across higher ranges of Pir Panjal ranges. Due to lack of communication with the security forces or the district administration, they face terror or climatic urgencies. They are not able to contact anybody and thus suffer a lot. There are no adequate communication networks among the nomadic population and the security forces or administration which can not only provide them with the latest information about the various terrorists operating in the higher ranges and their outfits, activity patterns etc but also will also help them in case of bad weather conditions or sudden rainfall etc. and thus launch Rescue and Relief operations. There are many instances where in the army came to the rescue of hundreds and thousands of Bakkarwals in J&K in higher reaches when sudden cold and snowfall took a toll of them and their cattle. Thus stronger means of communication are also required.

(The author is Director and Head, Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu)

The Gujjars

Shamsher Hakla Poonchi , The Gujjars "Daily Excelsior" 30/4/2017

A Gujjar with his herd of goats

Gujjar community which inhabit not only in India but in countries like Pakistan, Afganistan,Iran and Rassia also.Though in different countries the word “Gujjar”has come to be known differently but yet it has not changed altogether e.g. “Gurjar”, “Gojar”,” Gorjar”, ” Godar” and kochar or “Gorj” etc. Historians have different opinions of their origins and their coming to India. Some historians are of the view that they were the inhabitants of India herself long ago while others say that they had migrated to India from Central Asia.It is also said that probably they might have settled in the Indian green territory during 5th or 6ht century A.D.The historians who take them as aborigines of India , say that the three sects of Kshatrias-Suraj Vanshi, Chandra Vanshi and Yadav Vanshi had amalgamated with Gujjars after the war of Mahabharta. Prior to the Mahabharta war , kshatrias used to be the sole rulers but their power and influence declined considerably after war.

Lord Krishan Ji with some of the kshatrias who survived the Mahabharta war abandoned Mathura and went towards the west to Dwarika.The ancient kshtaria clans thronged around Lord Krishna who united them into a class and named it as “Gujjar” and their Govt. came to be known as” Gujratar” the first capital of which was established at Dwarika.

Pandit Vasudeva Prasad, a famous Sanskrit Pandit of banaras, has proved through ancient Sanskrit literature that the word” Gujjar”used to be spoken after the names of antique,Kshatrias Another Sanskrit scholarRadhakant, is of the opinion that the word Gujjars was for Kshatrias .Scientific evidence has also proved that the Gujjar belong to Aryans.

Before the advent of Muslims from outside India, their Sanskrit history and dialect showed that they were Gujjars.So much so that the Arab invaders also named them as Gujjars in their writings.

Mr Baij Nath Puri,a famous historian of India , in his book ‘The history of Gujjars and Pratharas’ and another historian K.M.Munshi in his book ‘The glory that was Gujjar Desh’,Rana Ali Hassan Chouhan, in his book ‘The history of Gujjars’, Mr. Jatider Kumar Verma in his book “Gujjar Itihas ” by way of historical records,have fully proved that they belonged to Aryan Dynasty and refuted that they had come from out side India and settled here.

In 78 AD they had established two reigns of two dynasties which were those of Nagars and Kushans,one of which ruled Patna which included Bengal,Bihar, Orissa,Utter Pradesh and central India of Arya Varta.This was ruled by Gujjar Dynasty of Nagars whose head was Maharaja Sabhao Nagar.

Their second kingdom was that of Peshawar which spread upto the river Jamuna and Afghanistan. This kingdom was ruled by the dynasty of Kushan Gujjars whose king was emperor Kanishka. One of the edicts revealed that Kushans had named the territory of Sutlej as Gujrat.During the reign of king Kanishka the Subhao Nagar,the Aryavatra was at its peak of glory. These kingdoms had spread their trade upto Europe.

The Gujjar reign of emperor Kanishka had spread upto Central Asia as a result of which the Gujjars could be seen dwelling in Afghanistan,Russia and Iran even these days.It is believed that the emperor Kanishka had established his capital somewhere in Kashmir.It would be wrong to say that the present territorial boundaries of Kashmir are correct,rather it was far wide spread than what it is today.The brave kings of those bygone days had subdued the countries like Kabul and Kandhar.Emperor Kanishka ruled between 78 and 130 centuries A.D. After the downfall of the Gujjars,Nagar and Kushan dynasties,the Gujjars again regained power during the 5th century A.D.

In the 6th century A.D. when the Gupta Rule was in its last phase and its downfall was imminent the Gujjars overpowered the Guptas and founded a strong Gujjar kingdom.They began to protect the country and started to take effective steps for its all-round progress.

After 7th century A.D. the Gujjar rulers established their full authority over the entire Northern India.Thereafter the Gujjar rulers,named several provinces,cities,grand buildings,temples and fortresses after the name of Gujjars.The Gujjar kings felt proud of their being called Gujjars.Several edicts found so far bear testimony to this fact. An edict of 1139 AD which was found in Dohar,Jai Singh Barh Raj,has been stated to be the king of Gujjar Mandal.

The king Prithvi Raj Chouhan united the kingdoms of Ajmer and Delhi, when he ascended the Throne.He established a federation by the name of “Gujjar Mandal ” From the historical evidences,it becomes clear that during the reign of King Meharbhuja the banner of Gujjar rule was waving all over North India.

During the Gujjar rule, the gojri language was made as an official language and all official work used to be carried out in it. In 9th century A.D. and after this period, the Arab travelers who wrote about Gujjar History, presented the fact in distorted manner because at that time only Gujjar community, had opposed the Arabs tooth and nail. Inspite of all this the Arabs praised them for their valour. The Arab Historians recognisd the Gujjar Rule as the most stable and powerful. After ruling for centuries together over India,their downfall began during the reign of Muslim rulers.In 1697 Al-ud-Din Khilji overran Analwada Gujrat resulting in the end of Gujjar Rule in India.All the territories that belonged to Gujjara rulers, were taken away from them and they were once again subjugated by others. They left their territoriesand took shelter in mountains and deserts. Gujjars were ruthlessly suppressed and presecuted.They were even deprived of the bjobs. Numerous plots began to be hatched against Gujjars.Under these bad and hostile conditions some Gujjars ran away for safety while others disliked to be called “Gujjars ” and in a way they converted themselves in communities, other than Gujjars.Some went into hiding in mountains and forests, and began to call themselves as Rajputs and not Gujjars. Lateron, some Persian historians recognized them as Rajputs as they failed to understand their identity.Even the English rulers recognized them as Rajputs.The name of Rajput became so popular among the historians that the names of Gujjars disappeared from the history.

The Archaeological department during its research found valuable edicts of the past viz. the period which prevailed before the foreign Muslim rulers.All such edicts showed the writings of the Gujjar rulers.No evidence came forth which would show a link between Rajputs and Gujjars.

Experts are of the view that by their classification,Gujjars are almost similar everywhere may it be India, Pakistan ,Iran, Afganistan or Russia or anywhere.They resemble each other.They have their own mother -tongue which is Gojri and the interesting thing in it is that how far apart they may be from one another, their tongue is similar in all countries.

Gujjar community,has a strong internal organization.Different groups of Gujjars living in bulk numbers feel proud of being called “Gujjars “. Presently,there are Hindu,Muslims ,Sikhs and Jain Gujjars in India.They are kind to one another and have no aversion for one another.

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