There is a division of labour among the members of the household on the basis of sex and age. Females perform the dom«stic tasks of cooking, washing, drawing of water, upbringing of children, collection of wood, and spinning and making of woollen 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 resources as the transhumants are on the move for about 110 to 130 days in a year.
The elders wanted 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 that is responsible for the socio-economic and political activities of his group.
The headship of the unit is based on the principle of primogeniture and passes on the eldest son either at the death of the father or when the father opts to retire. Many political and administrative decisions are taken by the head and the members of the group follow these decisions unquestionably. The unit head also gives punishment to the wrong doers.
The entire Gujjar-Bakarwal community is divided into a number of gotras (clans). The members of a clan are the descendants of a common ancestor. The gotra system has been borrowed from their Hindu Gujjars. The Gotra name is often suffixed to their names.
The transhumant mode of life makes it necessary to form a number of functional groups for the efficient pursuit of their pastoral activities. For most part of their lives the transhumant’s live as members of these functional groups.
The primary functional group among the Gujjar-Bakarwals is the herding unit. A herding unit is based on several deras (households) which is helpful in the efficient grazing and care of flock.
The size of the flock determines the size of the herding unit. If the size of flock becomes larger it affects the efficiency of grazing and the health of the flock.
In such cases some of the deras prefer to break away from the herding unit, and when the size of flock is reduced considerably, it joins the original herding unit.
The qafila is the second important functional group among the Gujjar-Bakarwals. A qafila is a group of families which move together during the seasonal migration and submit to the authority of qafila leader at least for the period of annual migratory cycle. It is the transhumant counterpart of the compact village settlement of sedentary population group.
They form the qafilas to assist each other during the arduous journeys. The qafila among the Gujjar-Bakarwals is, however, not a permanent grouping nor does it enjoy equal importance and relevance during the entire period of the annual migratory cycle.
The Gujjar-Bakarwals have an established institution of Zirga (panchayat), which decides the disputes among its members.
By faith the Gujjar-Bakarwals are the followers of Islam. They accept and observe the basic principles of Islam. Within the limits defined by the general tenets of Islam, they are free to develop and elaborate their ceremonies and customs as an autonomous folk system.
Since the Gujjar-Bakarwals are on the move for most of the year, their social and cultural traditions are strongly influenced by the migratory pattern.
The basic activities involve camping, herding and travelling. The beliefs, rituals, and ceremonies of these people need to be considered in the context of these meanings in the cycle of migration which dominates the life-
The main religious activities and festivals observed by the Gujjar-Bakarwals are five times prayers, fasting in the month of Ramzan (Ramadan), Idul-Fitr, idul-Azha, Naoroz and Baisakhi.
They start their upward journey after the celebration of Baisakhi festival in April. During the course of annual migration, they pass in succession many shrines and the graves of Pirs (holymen).
The sex ratio of the Gujjar-Bakarwals is highly eskewed. There are approximately 856 women per 1,000 men among the Gujjar-Bakarwals. This demographic imbalance has a direct bearing upon their marriage pattern. The ceremonies connected with marriage have been directly influenced by their mode of life.
Among the well-to-do Gujjar-Bakarwals, the Mangni (engagement ceremony) is generally held at an early age of about eight years.
The blikah (marriage) usually takes place after five years from the date of engagement. Marriages generally take place during the summer season when everyone has more time to spare. Marriage among these people is a simple ceremony.
The bridegroom’s father is required to fix the mehr (dower) at the time of marriage in the form of animals (sheep and goats), jewellery, money and other property.
The marriage takes place according to Islamic procedure. The consummation of marriage, however, takes place after a ceremony called Rukhsati which is usually held three or four years after the Nikih. The cases of divorce are rare. The widow can remarry.
The Gujjar-Bakarwals bury their dead according to the Islamic rites. If a death occurs during migration, the dead is buried somewhere along the route. They heap up stones on the grave and every year as they pass through the route they pay respects to the departed soul and lit a lamp on the grave.
In brief, the Gujjar-Bakarwals have an organized social life. The existence of social and economic institutions, functional groups, and social stratification, the custom-S, traditions and taboos are the outcome of the transhumance. These innocent people are of the superstitious nature.
Their innocent nature is exploited by the Pirs. The geo-ecological environment of their habitat has exerted ? determining influence in shaping their mode of life, their cultural ethos, values, customs and traditions.
The arduous journeys performed by the Gujjar-Bakarwals, though help in the utilization of winter and summer pastures, are, however, not conducive for the socioeconomic development of these people. Sedentarization in the side-valleys and at other suitable places therefore need to be done.
For the sedentarization it must be borne in mind by the policy makers to identify the places and sites for which they are more attached and where they can sustain themselves by cultivation of crops and by herding.
These places where permanent settlements are to be made should be such where the quality of life is fully satisfying for the nomads. If sedentarization of the Gujjar-Bakarwals could be made at the places where some land for cultivation is available and pastures for flocks are also in the vicinity of settlement, their quality of life may improve and the ecosystems may be more sustainable.