Saturday 27 May 2017 News Updated at 07:05 AM IST
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Nomads begin annual journey - Deccan Herald
Nomads begin annual journey
Zulfikar Majid in Srinagar,
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A Bakarwal boy rides on a horse as nomads begin their journey to warmer areas in Jammu and Kashmir. Umer Asif
With the onset of summer in Kashmir, thousands of nomadic Bakarwals along with their thousands of sheep and goats have just begun their annual journey to the Valley across the Pir Panjal mountain range.

The herder families begin their journey with their livestock to the alpine pastures for grazing during the summer, before returning to warmer Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu in October as the weather worsens. The tradition is much like the Durbar Move, in which the Jammu and Kashmir government functions for six months each in the two capitals of the state-- Srinagar and Jammu-- to escape extreme weather conditions in these places.

Negotiating hilly terrains, bad weather and heavy traffic with huge flock without a frown is something the Bakarwals have learnt through generations. The difficult journey usually takes over three weeks, but in recent years, it has become more tougher. Traditional routes, which the tribesmen used for generations, are now crisscrossed by many busy roads that disturb animals.

The journey has become even more treacherous due to landslides, sometimes triggered by blasting of mountains by mining companies to extract minerals. "Our life revolves around our flocks. Our forefathers were doing the same job and for us rearing sheep and goat is source of livelihood. No doubt with the advent of modern technology, there has been lot of changes in the world, but it hasn’t affected us much,” Chcici Poswal, an octogenarian Bakarwal, told DH.

Asked whether the government provides and supports them when they travel, he said, "Not at all. We have to manage everything on our own. Though there are different government schemes meant for welfare of nomads, they remain on paper only. There are mobile schools for our children in government records, but none exists on ground. There is no medical facility for either humans or livestock. As we keep running from one place to another, there is no way we can keep our children behind in schools.”

To safeguard their flock from wild animals, the Bakarwals carry a ferocious dog, which keeps a 24-hour vigil on sheep and goats while they graze in the meadows. "Two such dogs keep a bear or a leopard at bay. They don’t allow a bear or a leopard to lift a goat or a sheep during grazing. If there is a suspicious movement around our camp during the night, the dogs bark menacingly, alerting us of the impending danger,” he added.

Poswal’s views were echoed by a young Gujjar leader Mian Mehr Ali. "Sometimes the nomads have to face nature’s fury like lightning or thunderstorms and sometimes their flock are hit by disease and they have to incur a huge losses. It is a tough existence. As they live in highly inaccessible meadows, a minor ailment becomes life threatening for both humans and livestock,” he said.

"Grazing area is shrinking considerably in the state and this has directly impacted the livelihood of Gujjar-Bakarwal community. After 1999 Kargil war, several areas on the border were sealed and that has hugely impacted the livestock population,” Ali added. The nomads carry tents, utensils, foodstuff and medicines for the livestock and the family on horseback while men and women travel on foot during the journey. Infants are carried by mothers, in special cradles tied to their back.

According to Javed Rahi, a tribal researcher, nomad children are mostly illiterate due to lack of education facilities in the higher reaches of the state. "Though desirous of having formal education, these nomads are not in a position to change their lifestyle. The literacy rate among the Gujjars and Bakarwals is very poor compare to other inhabitants of the state,” he said.

"Parents tend to use their children for domestic as well as raring livestock activities and this has led to poor attendance of nomad students in schools. Due to militancy, mobile schools are seriously affected and many of them are shut down. This has seriously affected the education and number of illiterates or with low level of education is huge among the Gujjars and Bakarwals,” Rahi said.
In 2011, the Jammu and Kashmir Government had approved 100 migratory schools that move with the Bakarwal families from their winter homes to the Valley's meadows. The teachers were drawn from the Bakarwal families. However, the move, according to officials, hasn’t achieved the desired results till now due to various reasons.

Bakarwals belong to the same ethnicity as Gujjars and inter-marriages take place among them. Though Bakarwals have the same gotra or clan like Gujjars, many local shepherds, who may not necessarily belong to the community, are often identified as Bakarwals. Bakarwals along with Gujjars is the third largest community in Jammu and Kashmir and constitute 8.1% of the total population, according to the 2011 census. Scholars are of the opinion that they are the foreign stock representing the pastoral nomads who migrated from Central Asia.

Some take the opinion that the Gujjars and Bakarwals are the descendants of the Kushan and the Yuchi tribes of Eastern Tatars (Russia). However, recent archaeological, linguistic and geographical evidences show that they are the descendants of Gurjis (Georgians) who inhabit a territory between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains, now an independent republic.