While travelling in the beautiful state of Jammu & Kashmir, one often comes across the nomadic tribes moving in group with Sheep, Goats and Cattle. These are the Gujjar and Bakarwals, the nomadic pastoralists, who akin to the state government (Darbar move), continuously keep on moving as per the season (summers in pastures of Kashmir and winters in plains of Jammu). They have vast exposure of the state and are aware about the pulse of the ground in all areas. They possess the experience of having treaded almost every inch of the ground and measuring all the routes in higher reaches with their foot. This transhumance community is aware of each nook and corner from Pir Panjal range to Himalayan Mountains. Gujjar and Bakarwals constitute 12% of the state‘s population and are the third largest ethnic group after Kashmiris and Dogras.
As per their traditions, Gujjar and Bakarwals even now rear livestock (mostly Cows, Goats and Sheep), which is their prime source of income. Unperturbed by the modernity and complexities of the rest of the world, they satisfactorily live simple lives with their family and livestock. They are known as the preservers and caretakers of the environment and forests. Their routine day to day activities are in synchronization with the laws of nature and does not harm the environment in any way. Moreover, they do not believe in private ownership of land, which is remarkably in contrast with the rest of the world. Their relationship with the environment is pious and opposite to the prevalent consumerist nature of the so called ‘Developed Human Race’.
The violent conflict initiated by Pakistan for the territory of Jammu and Kashmir has had a very adverse effect on the lives of this community. The pastures of north western districts like Kupwara, Baramulla, Poonch and Rajouri have become inaccessible for Gujjar and Bakkarwals for safety reasons. This has limited their move to internal districts only and forced them to find new grazing areas for their livestock. The quest for new pastures has put them in a very uncomfortable position against the Forest department and government, who accuse them of destroying the natural habitat of government land. This community does not actively participate in the politics and are not motivated by any vested interests, but are only concerned about their families and livestock.
Historically, they are known for the immense knowledge of the ecosystem that they traverse and the same is passed on to their kids for generations. Their lifestyle is not stable and static and they are considered as backwards by the modern world. However, we must understand that, it is just a different way of living that they have been able to preserve and practice for centuries, without getting corrupt by the luxuries of the world. Not being and living like us does not make them inferior or less entitled in any way. For them to have a better future, government should not ignore this community during policy making and keep its interest also in mind. They are the citizens of this country and have equal rights as compared to any other citizen.