People & Society

Who are the Bakarwals?

Updated 27 Apr, 2018 02:32am

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A man cuts a log along the Zojila. Wood fires are used for cooking and warmth as there is no electricity | Photos by Shome Basu.
A man cuts a log along the Zojila. Wood fires are used for cooking and warmth as there is no electricity | Photos by Shome Basu.

It was the spring of 1999 when a motley group of shepherds, who were doing their daily work in the mountainous Drass, saw a handful of men moving with guns toward Kashmir. Without losing a second, they ably passed on the information to the Indian Army with the help of their closely-knit network of people. The shepherds were none other than the Bakarwals.

A nomadic tribe, Bakarwals are Sunni Muslims of Gujjar ethnicity. Today, they are in the limelight due to the horrific gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old girl belonging to the community in Jammu’s Kathua.

In 1991, the Jammu and Kashmir government added the community to the list of Scheduled Tribes. Thereafter, in 2001, the Indian government officially declared them as a Scheduled Tribe.

Although they are now part of the mainstream economy, they continue to practice the ancient barter system as the supply of food and essential items is restricted in the hamlets located in the upper ridges of the Himalayas.

These images explore who they are.

In the pastures of Sonamarg in Kashmir
In the pastures of Sonamarg in Kashmir

A Bakarwal woman cooking at a makeshift camp
A Bakarwal woman cooking at a makeshift camp

At a makeshift salon on NH1A to Kargil
At a makeshift salon on NH1A to Kargil

Horses and mules are used for transport
Horses and mules are used for transport

A Bakarwal woman with her daughter and son
A Bakarwal woman with her daughter and son


The article was originally published in The Wire.