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.
All photos by Shome Basu.