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Unreached People of the Day: Gujar of India

The Gujar are comprised of three very closely related people groups that are known collectively as the “Gujar Rajasthani.” They are located in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and several states in northeastern India (Himachal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir, and Rajasthan). In addition, the Gujarat district of western India is named after the historic Gujar peoples.

As various Muslim groups began invading India and Pakistan in the eleventh century, the Gujar Hindus converted to Islam. When this happened, their resentful Hindu neighbors began to rise up and take control of the area. The Gujar were forced to leave the region and search for good pastures elsewhere. Their wanderings took them into Pakistan and Afghanistan, where thousands have remained until this day.

The partition of Pakistan and India in 1947 also caused many tribal migrations. Masses of Muslims immigrated to Pakistan, while the Hindus flocked to India.

What are their lives like?
Ever since their conversion to Islam in the eleventh century, the Gujar have been bound by a life of poverty, illiteracy, and social oppression. In general, they are a simple, inoffensive people with a generous, hospitable nature. Today, most of the Gujar living in India live as law-abiding shepherds and farmers. Unfortunately, they are still belittled by those of higher castes (social classes), and often labeled as thieves and vagrants.

The Gujar living in the mountain forests of northeastern India raise buffalo. Unfortunately, the Indian government has imposed regulations on the number of buffalo one family can keep, and on how long they can live in the forests. This has been distressing for the Gujar, since this is their main source of income. For this reason, these nomads are constantly searching for new pastures for their herds.

The Gujar nomads who live in the state of Kashmir are often cheated by the “middlemen,” who take their agricultural products to the city markets and sell them as their own.

The Gujar castes are broadly divided along religious and geographic lines into two groups: the Muslim Gujar and the Hindu Gujar. The Muslims are seasonal nomads who live in windowless, one-room houses during sedentary growing seasons; whereas, the Hindus are settled farmers who live in the same place all year.

Most of the Gujar in Afghanistan are gypsy-like groups, who earn their living as tinkers (traveling menders of household goods), musicians, tradesmen, or fortune-tellers. Many are extremely poor and have resorted to begging and crime. Others are nomadic goat herders who travel the eastern valleys during the summer months. Unfortunately, conflicts between Afghanistan and Russia in recent years have damaged the economy for those who work in agriculture and trade.

The Gujar living in the forested mountain regions usually build their homes in clearings along the mountain fringes. The dwellings have one, two, or three rooms and are built with flat roofs. In contrast, the homes of those living in Kashmir typically have angular roofs. Since they cook inside over open fires, their homes are often dark and smoky.

The Gujar are divided into hundreds of clans. Their societies are patrilineal, which means that inheritances are passed down through the males. Marriages are usually arranged by the parents, and a “bride price” of either cash or buffalo is paid to the girl’s family. They are permitted to marry outside their clans, and young couples generally live near the grooms’ parents.

All three Gujar groups speak Gujari, an Indo-Aryan language. This common factor has helped to identify them as a distinct sub-group. The Gujar of Afghanistan also speak Pashto and/or Dari, which are Persian languages (and are spoken by three-quarters of the Afghani population).

What are their beliefs?
A majority of the Gujar are Hindu, but there is also a signficant number of Muslims among the Gujar, as well as a smaller number of Sikhs.

Because the Muslim Gujar share Hindu customs, they are not generally accepted by other Muslims. Nevertheless, in their desire for a unified front against the Hindus, the Muslim Kashmiri have agreed to accept the nomadic Gujar Muslims who recently entered Kashmir.

Prayer Points
* Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to share Christ with the Gujar.
* Pray that God will encourage the small number of Gujar believers and give them a vision to reach their own people.
* Ask God to send Christian teachers to live and work among the Gujar.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Gujar so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of the governmental leaders of India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to the Gospel.

Text source: Bethany World Prayer Center © 1999.

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