Himalayan Heritage Foundation

Center for policy research on Himalayan Region

Gujjars and Bakkarwals-In The Line of Fire

Gujjars and Bakkarwals have the access to the higher reaches of the Shivaliks and are familiar to the mountain passes which are unknown to even the experts.

Written by: Dr. Mahesh Kaul || Posted in category: Books || Dated: 2015-01-18

Book Review : Gujjars and Bakkarwals of Jammu and Kashmir

The ethno-religious conflict that ravaged the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989-90 has done tremendous damage to every sphere of human activity leaving the people at the receiving end of terrorist violence. The people of all the three regions of the State (Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh) suffered at the hands of the enemies of the nation especially those sections of the society who never compromised their commitment towards the Indian nation. Either they were subjected to internal displacement or persecution.

The book titled Gujjars and Bakkarwals of Jammu and Kashmir — In the Shadows of Conflict written by Dr Kavita Suri and Deepshikha Hooda is an important contribution towards highlighting the pain and agony of the Gujjars and Bakkarwals who have been in the forefront of this turmoil in the State. These tribal people have enriched the cultural landscape of Jammu and Kashmir with their colourful traditions and culture and are the living example of entrepreneurship in terms of their sustenance.

Their nomadic lifestyle is the hallmark of their personality. In the ethno-religious conflict that brought the security forces and the militants face to face had a tremendous effect on the lives of these tribal people who are always on the move due to their nomadic pursuits. Gujjars and Bakkarwals have the access to the higher reaches of the Shivaliks and are familiar to the mountain passes which are unknown to even the experts. This attribute made them the victim of the militant barbarity as jihadis often held then at ransom in order to co-opt them for their inhuman deeds.

This book gives an insight into the multitude of problems faced by these tribes. It is a well-researched work that has given preference to the primary data and documented the trials and tribulations of Gujjars and Bakkarwals. It has been divided into eight chapters besides having detailed bibliography and two annexures that gives a serious reader and researcher a peep into the comprehensive work carried out by the authors.

The first chapter is titled Gujjars and Bakkarwals  — an Overview. It traces the origin of the tribes and explodes the myth that these tribes are just adherents of Islam but shows they have an all India presence and practicing Hinduism and its other variants in all over India. It has traced the trail of the tribes from 100 BC till the present times. Cultural moorings and traditions of the tribes have been highlighted with great insight. Having a migratory lifestyle, the tribes travel through all the three regions of the State — Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. Highlighting the troubles faced by these tribes due to the persecution by the militants, the chapter develops a case for the economic empowerment of these highly enterprising people.

Second chapter titled Violence, Insurgency and Gujjars and Bakkarwals is tribute to the chivalry of the tribes who in spite of having been on the terrorist radar have not lost hope in their brave spirit and have given apt affront to the Wahabi radical Islam propagated by the jihadis. The militants from across the border have exploited Gujjars and Bakkarwals both in terms of religion and livestock that has forced them to sell their assets at throw away prices. Despite the unwanted pressure from the militants, these tribes have lived up to their tradition of loyalty towards the Indian nation.

Many youths from the community were lured by the fanatics but with the tribal wisdom and foresight along with the unflinching help of the Army, they have checked this intrusion into their tribes by the enemies of the nation.The upshot has been the valour of the Gujjar and Bakkarwal women who have formed the frontline in weaning away the militancy in the upper reaches of the Himalayas and Shivaliks by being the members of the VDCs. Thus, truly revealing that these women are the incarnation of the Shakti when it comes to defending the Indian sovereignty. Gujjar and Bakkarwal women have been at the receiving end of the militant torture and other heinous crimes that were inflicted on them by the so-called defenders of religion.

The third chapter titled Resistance, Rebellion and The Upheaval is very important from three counts points. It showcases the valour of the tribes, their spirit of nationalism and the swift action of the Indian Army to erase the militants from the strategic Surankote area under the operation ‘Hill Kaka’. This chapter is important to understand the national security paradigm as it has brought to the fore the vision and wisdom of the Indian army and the security forces in terms of making the tribes as stakeholders in defending the Northern Frontier of India. It should act as a case study in other areas of India where terrorism has posed challenge to the national security. Popularly known as Operation SarpVinash, it has acted to reinforce the security grid of the State.

Fourth chapter titled Exploring the Traces A Decade After War analyses the period after the successful culmination of the Operation SarpVinash. It brings to the fore the resentment of the tribes who were abandoned once the militants were flushed out. Their rehabilitation and reconstruction have not been given priority by the administration. But the Army has made development of the tribes a priority and enhanced the developmental work. Though the schools have come up but due to the mobility of the tribes,it affects the education of their children as teachers are in depletion for mobile schools.

Chapter five is titled The Story of Salwa and is a tribute to the people of Salwa located in Mendhar. Bakkarwals were wonderstruck when militants started showing signs of their presence as it was never expected by the tribes in this region.But with their zeal for peace and development these people tackled this menace with the tribal wisdom.

Chapter six titled A Nomad’s Journey deals with the seasonal migration of the nomads to their Dhoks in the higher reaches. It traces the vulnerability of the tribes due to various inhuman factors. The seventh chapter is called Education, A Casualty of Conflict brings to the fore the problem of imparting education to the children of these tribes as mobile schools have ceased to be mobile. But it again goes to the credit of the army that they have managed to set up educational infrastructure for the children.

The last chapter is titled Echoes from the Ground Zero is again of strategic value and should be taken into account by the policymakers and the national security grid. Gujjars and Bakkarwals are the most vulnerable section of the society and have faced the problem of terrorist menace head on. They are amply clear that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should not be revoked and as they will be one among the first victims of jihadis if this this act is repealed because they have acted as a bulwark against the jihadis. The moment it is revoked they will be targeted.

This book has a wide canvas. The quality photographs by Shib Narayan Acharya and both of the authors add to the authenticity and scholarship of this well written book. Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon, deserves special appreciation in bringing out the book in a wonderful format as the printing and presentation are excellent as well.

Keywords: Gujjars ,Bakkarwals ,Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) , Dhoks ,Salwa , Mendhar ,Operation SarpVinash Hinduism , Hill Kaka ,ethno-religious conflict , Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh , nomadic lifes