The Bakarwal of South Asia

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

Psalm 22:27 (NRSV)

Kairiya thumbs through the soiled pages of her notebook and finds a blank page to begin writing her next school lesson. She’s excited. Today Salim, her teacher, is going to tell her class about the solar system.

The sun is rising toward its zenith and the warm rays shine on her pink head covering adorned with delicate embroidered flowers and shiny sequins. Kairiya and her 12 classmates sit outdoors, barefoot on the thick, brightly colored woven mat. The eight girls, comfortable in their loose clothing, sit in a half-circle on one side of Salim while the boys in their collared buttoned-up shirts and comfortably loose pants sit cross-legged on the other side of the mat. Beside the clean mat are 13 pairs of dirty, well-worn shoes and sandals. Kairiya, like the others, holds her notebook and pencil ready to write what Salim will have them memorize for tomorrow’s lesson.

Goats bleat nearby. Kairiya’s thoughts are momentarily distracted by this reminder that she and her classmates will soon have to stop school when their families move to the animals’ new pasture areas. Salim has been so helpful: he followed her people’s migration up from the valley in order to keep school going, but soon he will leave them when they move their flocks to the summer grazing area higher up the mountains. There will be no more classes until they come down to the valley again next winter.

Kairiya will so miss these times! Reading, writing and learning about the world in her own language has been wonderful! In the evenings, in their tent, Salim has also been teaching Kairiya’s father Ammar and four other fathers to read. Ammar lost fewer baby goats last birthing season since he learned to read a booklet that is helping him and Kairiya’s brothers manage their herd with improved methods of animal husbandry.

Salim’s raised voice catches Kairiya’s attention again. He reminds the class it is time to stop their studies for the customary midday prayer. She likes the prayer times. The repeated prayers, customary movements and postures, and knowledge that she is doing what honors her family give her a feeling of security. Still, God seems to be distant and unknowable. Although Kairiya tries very hard to submit, she wonders if God will accept her.

The highland nomadic Bakarwal of South Asia make frequent migrations between summer and winter pastures for their herds of sheep, goats and water buffalo. As one of the poorest tribes in the region, this pastoral practice, while essential for their livelihood, exposes them to various natural and man-made hazards, economic hardship and difficult access to health care. Their frequent movements are also a hurdle to traditional formal education. A few organizations are trying to meet this challenge by providing mobile schools, literacy programs, health training, and even veterinary services while the Bakarwal are on the move. The mobile school system uses a shepherd-focused curriculum in their heart language as well as the predominant language of the region. Through this system nearly 400 children are improving their lives, and parents are being equipped for the task of educating their families – and themselves, too.

For centuries the Bakarwal were Hindu but now most are Muslim, with some Hindu practices still mixed in. There are few followers of Jesus among them.

Pray for the Bakarwal

  • For God’s Spirit to work in the hearts of the Bakarwal people, preparing them to understand and receive the Good News when workers share with them about Jesus.
  • For orality workers to be equipped for sharing The Message in culturally meaningful ways and without requiring literacy (e.g. through chronological Bible storytelling).
  • That these nomadic shepherds will soon come to know the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  • For those among the Bakarwal who receive the Good News to become obedient and faithful disciples… and be wise, sensitive and bold in living out their faith.
  • That recognized Bakarwal leaders who become followers of Jesus would have far reaching influence for the fruitful sowing of the Word of Life.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

John 10:14-16 (NRSV)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:27,28 (NRSV)