Nomads face the heat amid lockdown in J&K, Himachal Pradesh
The Covid-19 lockdown has delayed the seasonal migration of the nomadic tribes of Gujjars and Bakerwals in Jammu and Kashmir and neighbouring Himachal Pradesh by a fortnight, putting their lives and livestock at risk.
By March-end, the tribes are headed for greener pastures and cooler climes of Kishtwar, Kashmir and Ladakh as summer approaches the plains. It takes them about 45 days to make it to their destination with their livestock, comprising sheep, goats, buffaloes, cows, donkeys, horses, mules and camels.
Choudhary Mohammed Iqbal Phambra, 64, a Gujjar from Mansar in Udhampur district, says, “In this lockdown, we neither have access to veterinarians nor medicines. Fodder is in short supply. Further delay can be fatal for the cattle.”
FACING A BACKLASH
The Gujjars say the increase in Covid-19 cases in Kashmir could make them unwelcome visitors. “People there doubt that we are carrying the infection from the plains. We fear a confrontation,” he says.
The Gujjars of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh say there is already a backlash against the community after the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi that led to a spike in coronavirus cases across the country.
Mohammad Aslam, an assistant professor at Akal University, Bathinda, says, “Gujjars are not associated with the Tablighi Jamaat but have become a target due to the hate being spread on social media. The entire community is being blamed.”
A Bakerwal leader, Haji Mohammed Khalid, 78, from Pouni in Reasi says, “Our sheep and goats can’t bear the heat. They suffer from high fever that can be fatal. Though we have heard that the J&K administration has cleared the migration but it hasn’t started. Still, it’s not too late if the government facilitates our migration by providing tarpaulins and ration besides ensuring access to vets and medicines.”
Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, J&K, founder Javaid Rahi says the administration should formulate a comprehensive plan after consulting local tribal leaders in view of the lockdown.
Principal secretary, animal husbandry, Navin Kumar Choudhary says, “All deputy commissioners have been asked to allow the migration in batches. The process has started.”
Another Gujjar leader, Mohammed Asif, 54, from Kathua, says: “We urge the officials to distribute copies of the permission for our movement to avoid harassment from the police.”
UP AGAINST A DIVIDE
In Himachal, the Muslim Gujjar population is concentrated in Chamba district. The community migrates to the plains of Kangra district and Gurdaspur and Mukerian in the Shivalik foothills in Punjab to return to Chamba in summer.
But this time the lockdown has hit them hard. Fakardeen, a Gujjar from Belj village of Chamba, and his family are based in Indora in Kangra. “People have stopped buying milk from us. There is a shortage of fodder,” he says.
“The situation is worse in adjoining Punjab. People are threatening and forcing us to leave the plains after the recent incident in Delhi. There are no buyers for milk and khoya with most shops closed due to the lockdown,” says Ghulam Mohammad.
Another Gujjar from Chamba, Hussain Ali, says, “The barter system in the villages of Chamba has collapsed. There is a silent boycott.”