Cultural Overview

The Bakkarwal of Jammu and Kashmir are a patrilineal Sunni Muslim community of nomadic pastoralists consisting of 39 preferentially endogamous descent groups or "patrilineages" known as zaat or khel (Rao, 1988/1995). Zaat derives from the same Indo-Iranian root as the jaati of the Hindu varna-jaati system, while khel denotes units of social organization in areas of Pashtun influence. Although taxonomically different, Bakkarwal zaat and khel are organically and functionally indifferentiable, but they indicate different origins. Despite preferential endogamy and concepts of intergen-erationally transmitted zaat- and khel-specific characteristics, these units cannot be glossed by the term "caste," since a formal ideology of social ranking is absent. Thirty-six zaat form one subdivision (that of the Kunhaari); the remaining zaat and two khel form a second subdivision (that of the Allaiwaal). These two subdivisions are named after the two valleys of Allai and Kunhar, in present day Pakistan, from where the ancestors of all Bakkarwal are said to have migrated into their present area (Rao, 1999).

The Bakkarwal herd mainly goats, but also sheep, and use horses and mules as pack animals. Some of the very wealthy also have cows, buffaloes, and land. There is increasing economic stratification within the community (Khatana, 1992; Rao, 1998a). Whereas the poorest must often supplement their income by working as hired shepherds (Rao, 1995) or manual laborers, the well-to-do have annual surplus budgets.

Positions of authority within the community are occupied by several wealthy men of influence who, by common consent, are the "most capable"; known as "big men," they have specific units of social organization linked to them (Casimir & Rao, 1995).

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