Army troops come to the aid of migrating Gujjars and Bakarwals in J&K


With ration on their back, soldiers trek 24 hours in snow to help a Bakarwal family stranded at over 11,000 ft mountain ridge in Kishtwar

By Bunty Mahajan


Jammu: Carrying ration, blankets and medicines among essential items on their back last week, Army personnel responding to a distress call trekked through knee deep snow for nearly 24 hours from a nearby Bandarkoot check post to reach a nomadic Bakarwal family, who was stranded at an over 11,000 ft high Naginsur ridge due to heavy snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district.

The family comprising Bashir Ahmed, his wife and three children along with were on way to Nawapachi along with their cattle as part of their usual upward migration from the plains of Kathua during summer.

Bashir’s is among hundreds of nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal families who with the onset of summer, have started moving to their highland pastures along with cattle herds on the upper reaches of Pir Panjal from the plains of Kathua, Samba and even Jammu district. The current pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have no halted their upward migration.

With the onset of every summer, hundreds of families of nomadic Gujjars and Bakarwals who form third largest ethnic group after Kashmiris and Dogras, move from the plains of Jammu to higher reaches Pir Panjal which act as a dividing line between Jammu and Kashmir divisions. Some of them, even cross the Pir Panjal and move to their pastures in Kashmir Valley and adjoining Union Territory of Ladakh.

After staying there for six months, they return to the plains of Jammu along with their cattle only to move again during summer. The process has been going on since centuries, but successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir did not establish any medical facilities or make any provision to supply them essential commodities at those higher reaches.

However, things started changing for them after the onset of militancy when army reached there as part of their anti-terror operations.

As these Gujjars and Bakarwals are considered pro-Indians and second line of defence along the bordes for their role during all the wars with Pakistan since 1947, the army started organizing camps supplying them ration and other essential commodities, besides taking care of their medical needs. To ensure that that they can contact them for help in case of any eventuality, natural or from any militant threat, Army shared its phone numbers with them.

While it is usual summer migration by nomads, but this has brought in added responsibilities for the troops in view of COVID pandemic this time as they have to ensure that the higher reaches remain Corona free, apart from providing them essential commodities to sustain at the higher reaches. For this, the troops have set up camps at various places en route screening nomads for any health related issues and providing them medicines.

In return, these Gujjars and Bakarwals appreciate troops for all the army help, but also act as their ears and eyes where there is state apparatus available. They are only a phone call away even at night and during heavy snowfall, said a Bakarwal lady camping near Kishtwar along with her family.

These army men help us and our children by providing us ration, medicines and other essentials including study material, another Bakarwal added.