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Total population
c. 16.5 to 28.5 million
Regions with significant populations
Pakistan 8,400,000[1]
India 7,549,331[2]
Afghanistan 5,301,456
China (PRC) 900,000
Gojri (varieties of Pashto and Urdu)
Islam (mostly Sunni)
Related ethnic groups
Other Iranian peoples

Bakarwal (or Gujjar - Bakharwal) is a mostly-Sunni Muslim[3] nomadic tribe based in the Pir Panjal and Himalayan mountains of South Asia. They are mainly goatherds and shepherds. They are found in the entire Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, and in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan


The Gurjar-Bakarwals claim a common ancestry from the ancient Gurjar tribe of India. Scholars are of the opinion that they are the foreign stock representing the pastoral nomads who migrated from Central Asia.[citation needed]

Some take the opinion that the Gurjar-Bakarwals are the descendants of the Kushan and the Yuezhi (Yuchi) tribes of Eastern Tatars (Turkic-speaking people in south-west Russia). Recent archaeological, linguistic and geographical evidences also support the theory that they are the descendants of Yuezhi Gurjis (Georgians) who inhabit a territory between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains, now an independent republic which was formerly part of south-west Russia. One of the major traditions of the Gurji people is that they used to give their tribal name to the places and localities they inhabited. It is strongly believed that before their march to the Subcontinent of India, they occupied some places in Iran, Central Asia and Afghanistan. These areas are known as Juzrs or Jurz, Gujar, Guru, Gurjistan, Gujar Khas and Chausak Gujar. When they came to India, they named certain areas as Gujranwala (a district in Pakistan), Gujargarh (Gwalior). Many smaller places also have their names after Gujjars.[citation needed]

Many Kashmiri Muslims including many Bakerwals and Gurjars migrated from the Valley to Punjab due to famine and policies of Hindu Dogra rulers, during the mid-18th Century. Traditionally Shia and Sufi Muslims, they are usually pro-India, and caretaker and service providers to the Hindu shrine of Amarnath Temple.[3][4]


'Bakarwal' is derived from the Gojri, Urdu, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Dogri, Jammu and Pashto terms, bakra meaning goat or sheep, and wal meaning "one who takes care of". Essentially, the name "Bakarwal" implies "high-altitude goatherds/shepherds".

The Bakarwals belong to the same ethnicity as the Gujjars, and inter-marriages take place among them.[5] Although, Bakarwals have same gotra or clan like Gujjars, many local shepherds, who may not necessarily belong to the community, are often termed as Bakarwal.

Economy and society[edit]

The Gujar-Bakarwals have divided themselves into three principal kinship groups:

(i) The dera (household), (ii) Dada-Potre (lineage), (iii) the gotra (clan).

The dera is the basic unit of social structure among the Gujjar-Bakarwals. They count their numbers and describe their grazing and qafila groups in terms of the number of deras.

A dera usually comes into existence when a person establishes an independent household, which happens normally after his marriage. Each son, thus, establishes his own dera as he gets married. A dera usually consists of five to six members. There is a division of labour among the members of the household on the basis of sex and age.

Females perform the domestic tasks of cooking, washing, fetching of water, upbringing of children, collection of wood, and spinning and making of woolen garments. On the other hand, males perform more arduous tasks like herding of flock and cattle, repairing of tools and equipment, collection of grass, herbs, deer-musk, hunting of wild animals, ploughing and harvesting of crops.

The household is, thus, a primary economic unit. A nuclear family is the production and consumption unit. A joint family which is generally large cannot survive on the meagre pasture resource as the transhumance are on the move for about 110 to 130 days in a year.

The elders want the eligible married youngsters to shoulder the responsibility of looking after the flock of sheep and goats independently. This would ensure greater security to the herds and sharing all responsible jobs by the adult members.

Several deras (households) constitute a lineage (dada-potra). The pastures are allotted to the lineage and not to the individuals. In a lineage, there may be about two hundred persons. Usually, a Gujjar-Bakarwal father divides his property (animal wealth) among his male children as and when they get married.

The lineage, thus, consists of several generations and includes cousins and distant relatives. They share the common pastures. The lineage unit is quite powerful administrative unit. Each lineage has a head who is responsible for the socio-economic and political activities of his group.

Social status[edit]

As of 2001, the Bakarwal were classified as a Scheduled Tribe under the Indian government's reservation program of positive discrimination.[6] They are mentioned in the Afghan National Anthem as one of the integral tribes present in Afghanistan.


  1. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Pakistan
  2. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Kashmir
  3. ^ a b Expert Speak on Kashmir: No algorithm for Azadi, Observer Research Foundation, August 2016.
  4. ^ Carl W. Ernst, 2016, Refractions of Islam in India: Situating Sufism and Yoga, SAGE Publications, ISBN 9351509648.
  5. ^ Kapoor, A. K.; M. K. Raha; D. Basu; Satwanti Kapoor (1994). Ecology and man in the Himalayas. M. D. Publications. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-81-85880-16-7. 
  6. ^ "List of Scheduled Tribes". Census of India: Government of India. 7 March 2007. Archived from the original on 7 February 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Prashad, Ram (1992). Tribal Migration in Himalayan Frontiers: Study of Gujjar Bakarwal Transhumance Economy class. Vintage Books. ISBN 81-85326-46-0.