The Gujjar tribe is scattered across the mountains and foothills of Pakistan and north India. Traditionally, the Gujjars are nomadic pastoralists, looking after herds of sheep, goats, or water buffalo.
Over the centuries some Gujjars have taken up a sedentary, agricultural lifestyle. However, many are still to be found migrating to the mountain pastures each summer. Gujjar life is hard and beset with difficulties, including poverty, illiteracy, lack of medical facilities, and disempowerment.
The Gujjar in India and Kashmir
The Gujjar lifestyle has been disturbed by 15 years of militancy in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The mountain heights are no longer considered safe, and this has caused many Gujjars to give up migrating altogether. Other areas have seen overgrazing of pastures and jungles, so that the migration routes no longer support the animal herds. Other Gujjars have given up migrating to pursue a better life in the towns with salaried employment and access to education and healthcare.
As the Gujjars move from a traditional lifestyle to a modern one, their culture is experiencing rapid change. Family relationships are struggling to adjust to a new social environment, and often there are tensions between family members. Traditional clothes are being replaced by modern ones.
The Growth of Islam among the Gujjar
Historically, Gujjars have been known as folk Muslims. Today, though, many Gujjars are becoming increasingly orthodox through the efforts of Islamic teachers. Nevertheless, most Gujjars still visit Muslim shrines in times of need, and traditional cures and amulets are dispensed by holy men called”pirs”. The most influential pir for Indian Gujjars is Mian Bashir, a Sufi whose father and grandfather are entombed at the shrine of Wangat Sharif in Kashmir. In the spiritual worldview of Gujjars, these holy men are close to God, whom they consider to be distant and inaccessible apart from the assistance of a pir.
Certain shrines are said to have power to grant particular requests, such as for health, wealth, children, or deliverance from evil spirits. The supplicant pledges allegiance to the entombed saint, vowing his or her loyalty and life in exchange for the granting of the favour asked. A positive result is sometimes achieved, but only at the cost of spiritual bondage and demonisation. A small group of Gujjars has already exchanged this desperate servitude for the abundant life given freely by the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ.
Questions Among Gujjar Youth
The past 15 years have been turbulent times for the Gujjar people, and an assortment of external pressures have led to an increased receptivity among the younger generations. Many, perhaps most, young Gujjars have begun to question the worldview, religious beliefs and practices of their elders. They are looking for real spiritual answers.
* Pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send out additional workers among the Gujjar.
* At present there is no Gujjar Bible, but translation work is in process. Pray for translations in all Gujjar dialects. Pray also for audio/oral Bibles in the Gujjar language, as most Gujjars are illiterate.
* Pray for the fellowship and spiritual growth of the Gujjar believers.
* Pray that the Gujjar believers would organize themselves into groups that multiply and become salt and light to their people.