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Gujjars in Himalayan States
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 31 Mar , 2017

According to historians, Gujjars are warrior tribes. In this country Mount Abu is their oldest centre and the present, the people of the community are found approximately in five countries namely India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Iran. But majority of the Gujjars is in India who is dwelling in Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir.

Anthropologists in India have defined the Gujjars as of fair complexion, long nose, and tall, long head and wide forehead. The Gujjars hold fast to their religion but their outlook is secular. The Gujjar community at present living in Himalaya was once the holder of crown and kingdom but now it is roaming in forests and hills. These people are backward in comparison to the developed communities. They are homeless and landless wondering in the open. Other people live as social beings but these people live around quadrapeds all their life time. They do not have any house but only a tent and that tent is also made of several old pieces of cloth. Inside the tent there is family, tired and burdened by life’s chores. Children are lying naked and crying. They have kept some handmade woolen clothes. One wonders if their hardships are known to the world. The old man weakened due to sickness is lying inside the tent or “KOTHA” in old dirty clothes and coughing. The Kotha is all smoke. Eyes are swollen with smoke. Their animals are scattered over the hills and can get killed by harsh climate.

Now, let us study their life pattern which is quit unplanned. I think it will be better if I start it from my own state Jammu and Kashmir. Geographically, we divide our J&K State into three parts namely Jammu , Kashmir and Ladakh. Leaving behind occupied places, there are twenty two districts in our State. Apart from Ladakh Division Gujjars are to be found in each and every District of the State. But majority of the Gujjars is dewelling in Rajouri and Poonch Districts.

In overall population of the State, Gujjars are living in lakhs of numbers in J&K State divided in three tribes, settled, half-settled and homeless Gujjars.

The settled Gujjars are those who are settled at one place and staying in villages and they do agriculture pursuits. Half settled Gujjars are those who though live in villages and do agriculture profession but for six months of summer they leave for Peer Panjal with their cattle where pastures are available to graze on. From centuries these people are living in the laps of hills and on the banks of rivers. Some of Gujjars of Jammu and Kathua are big farmers.

The homeless Gujjars can be divided in two tribes, dodhi Gujjars and Bakerwal Gujjars. Dodhi Gujjars-In Jammu and Kashmir State one tribe of Gujjars is known as ‘Dodhi ‘ or ‘Banyara ‘ Gujjars. These people keep buffaloes and lead a nomadic life. In summer season, these people stay in Reasi, Udhampur and Kathua’s lower areas. Some Dodhi Gujjars go upto Pathankot and Gurdaspur also. When the summer sets in , these people start moving to the heights of Himalaya where green grass is available sufficiently for their cattle. They sell milk and ghee for their sustenance. Bakerwal Gujjars, other tribe of the homeless Gujjars is known as Bakerwal Gujjars. These people mainly keep sheep and goats besides other animals and these are their main sources of livelihood. As this tribe mainly rears sheep and goats, hence it is named as Bakerwal.

There are about 16 lakhs Gujjars in J&K State, in which the Bakerwal Gujjars are more than 1.50 lakhs. In appearance these people are well built and handsome and they are also brave and hospitable. Previously, all these were homeless but now, some of them have their own houses and have started to lead a life with permanent settlement at a place. The sub-castes of these Gujjars are also same as the other Gujjars are having, like Hakla, Bajjar, Kohli, Chechi, Khatana, Badhana, Bagdi, Goosi, and Kalas etc. etc. These people lead nomadic life. For example , when these people move from one place to another place, they form groups first in such a way that they will remain together sub-caste- and there will be one group of Khatana, the other group of Hakla and the other one of Kohli and so on.

Every person likes to remain with his own tribe. Their feuds and litigations also take place on clan basis. They are full of oneness and friendship. They are quite confident about friendship and enmity. Bakerwals do not construct a house to live permanently in them. Whatever may be called their house is tent only. It is being prepared with the cloth and some small sticks and rope lengths. With these tent can be bitched within a few months. They take their clothes and household articles from one place to another by loading on horses. Mostly, each family keeps about 400 sheep, 100 goats, 6 to 8 horses 4-5 dogs and 2-3 hens. Bakerwals oftenly do not keep buffaloes and cows. Women of this tribe wear home stitched caps. These people wear the shoe of quite a strong type which is called ‘Jooti’ fixed with iron keels at the bottom and are quite weighty.

As far as the life of settled and half settled Gujjars of J&K State, is concerned, they construct their houses permanently and stay in them but they do agriculture and after winter months, they leave for Peer Panjal alongwith their belongings as there they can have sufficient grazing fields for their cattle. These people’s way of life is different from Bakerwals.

In all fields of life, Gujjars are quite behind. During this period of science & technology, when communities are taking very active part in the developments, these people are lying far behind due to illiteracy and backwardness, because these people are living far away from the life of civilization on the heights of hills. They are also the victims of lack of self confidence, and did not proceed forward in the field of development alongwith other section of society. The benefits of education have not reached them. They are also not well versed with the modern ways of looking after the cattle and agricultural pursuits. Thus the way of living is of olden days and backward. Mostly, their houses are constructed of mud which are called ‘Kotha’. Oftenly, the condition of these Kothas is very bad. It contains one big room with only one door. There is no ventilation or window in this Kotha. These people keep their cattle alongwith them in the Kotha. On one side of this big room they raise a small place enclosed by mud to serve as kitchen. Fire is kept burning uninterruptedly. Their dresses are different from the local people. These are wonderful and not associated with any History of past.

The dress of Gujjars in Himalayas, J&K, Himachal, U. P. and Nepal is almost of one pattern. The dresses of these people are most probably same. They wear black and blue coloured clothes, shalwar and qameez of blue, black and green colours. Some Gujjars wear trousers and loincloth(tehband ) ofthe same colours. They wear turban of white or dark-brown colour on their heads.

Gujjars possess their own panchayat which is called ‘Jerga’ . This is a body comprising some old, honest and responsible persons of the community. They decide their matters, keeping in view the welfare and prosperity of their tribe. Most of the litigations are based on grazing fields and women and off and on the incidents of theft and murder are also being reported. For six months of summer, they go to the heights of hills and for winter months they move down to the plains. In this unsettled life it is very defficult for those people to educate their children. So these people cannot compete with other communities in the field of education and are far behind is respect of education for centuries.

The position of  Gujjars, who are living in Himachal Pradesh and Utter Pradesh is also the same. Ever since Himachal Pradesh accorded the scheduled tribe status to Gujjars, they have started to come out in the field of education, and have also developed. Though the Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir State has opened the Mobile School for these nomadic Gujjars but even then the education rate of these people has not improved. But in J&K State ever since Gujjar Sub-Plan and besides other schemes of educational facilities like Gujjar Hostels constructed at district HQ level most of the people have been attracted to engage their children in studies. Apart from this with the efforts of Social Committees and other prosperous people of the Community, people have started to send their children to schools. Now a good number of people are receiving education.

Most of the Gujjars, after receiving education have joined good posts. Now are living on the hills of Uttar Pradesh, Gujjars down the slopes of hills in grazing fields and occupation is cows and buffaloes. In the areas of Dalhousie and Chamba the tribes of homeless Gujjars can be seen moving to and from hills. Gujjars are scattered throughout the Himachal Pradesh State but most of these are staying in Chamba. Mostly, the Gujjar Tribes are found in the grazing fields of Tasha, Kahar, Parhari, Kamandi, Maral, and Bhawal. They have constructed their Kothas with wood and stone on the top of this hills. Sometime, in one Kotha five families are staying and they also keep about 40 buffaloes under the same roof.

In Jammu and Kashmir all Gujjars are Muslims, but in Himachal Pradesh, Hindu and Muslim Gujjars are living. They are of generous and hospitable. They get children married at an early age. These people are very honest. There is no theft in the locality of this people. They live on the top of hills for six months and come down to Kangra. Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur districts for other six months. Their women are pretty and they wear dresses of various colours and design and they use ornaments of silver. Males wear Chuga and turban on heads. Men and women keep a blanket around them and also carry a heavy wooden stick in their hands. These people decide their problems and litigations through their own Panchayat. Education is very less among these people.

In Himachal Pradesh Gujjars also live in Dharmshala, Nalagarh, Shimla , Mandi, Salan and Chamba in these areas of Chamba, Jhund, Bhalai, Manger, Bhawal, Kahar, Depur, Himgiri, Budhanetan, Bhangodsi, Chanji, Beera, Taisha, Lotekari and Jashoor. In the district of Kinour of Himachal

Pradesh, Muslim Gujjars are found and they lead the nomadic life. Some groups of these Gujjars live together and take possession of a grass- field(dhar) in exchange of which they have to pay the yearly tax on their cattle. After passing through many difficulties these people carry milk to the towns. Theycome out from their houses early in the morning and return late in the evening. This is the significantpart of their life. Children, young , old men and women, all remain at work to make both ends meet. Early in the morning men leave for cities with milk and their wives and children look after their cattle and other household work. In Chamba area, Gujjar occupation is to feed cattle and sell the milk. Gujjars

often keep buffaloes because the billy cow is very weak and produces less quantity of milk. Gujjars fully depend upon the income made through the sale of milk. These people move through various forests in search of grazing fields, where they get sufficient grass and then they stay there. Now these people have found out some hills where sufficient grass is available and these are knowDue to heavy snowfall in Chamba during winter the groups of Gujjars move down to the plains. They have to search for the grazing fields. These Gujjars are of white reddish colour having good physique. Immediately after the winter is over, Gujjar groups start preparing themselves to go back to hill.

In UP find Gujjars in Dehradoon, Taidi, Garhwal, Nainital, Almora, Utter Kashi, Chambal and Chitorgarh. Other people call them Kashmiri Gujjars or Ban Gujjars. We find similarity between Poonch, Rajouri and Peer Panjal grazing fields of Gujjars and those of Gangwa to Shivalik hills and on the bank of Jamuna river, Sarsava, Saroli, Old Rampur, Balya, Khadi etc. No doubt there is a little difference in the language of these Gujjars.

When I mention about the Gujjars of hilly areas of Utter Pradesh, my sight falls on those Gujjars who live in the hills of Dehradoon. In Dehradoon, Gujjar population is staying down the hills and some Gujjars are also passing the life as nomads. These people during the summer season go to Chamoli, Garhwal, Gangotri and Bejnore from Dehradoon. In the forests of Mandhal, Gujjar homeless tribes are also to be found. These people live in small groups from Jamuna to Kothdwar. Each group keeps about 40, 50 buffaloes, some cows and few horses. They take their animals for grazing to some grazing places

Which are distributed by them in advance. These people construct big hutments and feed their buffaloes with the leaves of trees. They live in the forests of Mandhal from October to April and from April to October they move to the areas of Gangotri and Kedarnath. Except selling the milk of buffaloes they do not have any other profession. They eat the bread of corn and Bajra. It has also been noticed that if a Gujjar does not have buffaloes he undertakes job at somebody’s house against some certain payment. Education is very less among these people. They are handsome to look at and have good health and Physique. Gujjars prefers to get their daughters married in their community only.

In all aspects of life, the position of Himalayan Gujjars is quite pitiable and they are also economically very backward. Though some steps have been taken for the development and prosperity of these people but no economic change has appeared in their lives so far.

Their profession is to feed the animals and sell milk and ghee to subsist upon. After doing much hard working these people are always burdened with the debts come down from the time of their forefathers. The debts which were taken by their elders from the money lenders could not liquidated by their children though they tried their best to do so. When these people go their nearest town to sell milk and ghee, shopkeepers purchase the product from them at cheap rates and they also play tricks in weighing, and in exchange of the same, they sell the items of their requirements to them for which the shopkeepers charge very high rates. To improve their economic position and to change the same to prosperity urgent attention has to be paid to their problems.

There is a need of Cooperative Centers which should be opened in their areas from where they could purchase their requirements on reasonable rates and they could also seal their products on proper rates. In Himalayan States, Muslims Gujjars perform marriages as per Islamic religion and Hindu Gujjars do this as per Hindu Law. Marriages are mostly held during summer season. The members of the boy’s family go to the house of girl’s family to ask for marriage. Then they fix the marriage and also perform engagements which is called Kudmai. Kurmai is being performed in such a ways that more than fifteen persons go to girl’s house and handover to them a suit of clothes for the bride. At this juncture the sweets are being distributed. Four to five months after the engagement marriage will be held.

On the occasion of marriage bride is offered the ornaments made of silver. They serve the marriage Party with sweets, rice and meat. The dowry which has spread in our society like a dangerous disease, is still far from these people. They gift to the bride very few items which are of utmost requirements comprising one bed , alon gwith a cot , one charkha, one buffalo, a few utensils and a few pair of clothes. Muslim Gujjars, divorce their wives as per the Mohammadan Law and Hindu do it so as per the Hindu Law. These people are always mobile and due to lack of education, they do not pay attention to family planning schemes. Therefore, often their families are large having number of children. But now with the awareness generated by education, these people have also started to adopt family planning Schemes. However, still some people are against the family planning as they believe that this is against their religion. Himalayan Gujjars speak most probably the same language and that is called “GOJRI”.

Govt. has also given special attention to the problems of Himalayan Gujjars. Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh had already been granted the status of Scheduled Tribes and recently the Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir State have also been facilitated with this category. Now it is hoped that these people will also come forward in line with other prosperous communities.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Shamsher Hakla Poonchi

Shamsher Hakla Poonchi, a prominent Gujjar leader and an intellectual of J&K.

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