The union territory of J&K is home to several ethnic groups like Kashmiris, Paharis, Ladhakis and Gujjars & Bakarwals. The Gujjars & Bakarwals are a nomadic community of J&K whose traditional occupation is livestock herding and they remain on move during summers for good grazing grounds. While moving for operation & in higher reaches, I come across numerous Bakarwals with their sheep. In fact, my area of responsibility is used by them as route to move towards Machhal village which is hardly 30 Km from line of control. While Operating in their regions gives this unique opportunity to come close to local population of J&K and know their culture and traditions. While interacting with them, I found their aspirations are quite similar to those of other communities in India. They want a better life for themselves and their children, with access to good education, healthcare and employment opportunities. While doing everything, they also want to preserve their culture and traditions and stay connected to roots. However, the Gujjars and Bakarwals face numerous challenges that make it difficult to achieve their aspirations.
Gujjars and Bakarwals are one of the poorest communities in India. The average literacy rate among them is only 30% and many children do not attend school even today. Indian Army is doing their bit and reaching out to them to motivate them for attending school but family compulsions force them to drop out. Since the community dwell in higher reaches, it becomes difficult to get access to good medical facility especially for women and children. The Gujjars and Bakarwals often face discrimination from other communities. This makes it difficult for them to access education, employment and other opportunities.
They are heavily dependent on the environment for their livelihood. The climate change is significantly impacting their livelihood Despite all these challenges, the Gujjaras and Bakarwals are resilient community. They are determined to improve their lives and the lives of their children. They are working hard to overcome the challenges they face and they are making progress. Some salient aspirations of this community are: To improve the educational opportunities for their children. To be able to earn decent living for themselves. To have access to better healthcare. To be able to preserve their culture and traditions. To be treated with respect by other communities. All these aspirations are very basic in nature and require concerted effort from government and stakeholders to meet these aspirations. Though, some steps have been taken by government like opening of schools and health care facilities in remote areas but more needs to be done to help them to be part of mainstream lifestyle. The Indian Army has a long history of helping Gujjars and Bakarwals.
As part of Sadbhavna operation, we keep interacting with them and promote education and employment. At times we also help them to improve infrastructure. Justice Sharma commission has recommended the government to provide reservation to this community in various government jobs which will benefit the community in achieving their aspirations. As the country marches to path of development, we need to take a holistic approach to integrate this community in mainstream by various development schemes which can bring positive change in them.