Caught in the storm

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Beaten first by rough weather, the year has been tough for Gujjar nomads, with the long shutdown adding to their woes. Ikhlaq Qadri reports.

Herding their flocks in the mountains far away from plains, Gujjar nomads may appear isolated from the political unrest of the Kashmir Valley, but they are not. The nomads are facing shortage of food items, as the long shutdowns in Kashmir Valley has impacted supply of materials to towns as well as villages across the region.

An NGO working for Gujjar interests has even appealed government and national agencies to help the nomads overcome food scarcity both for humans and their livestock.

The community was already facing tremendous hardships due to inclement weather this year. The incessant rains and snowfall in upper reaches in early summer caught the nomads off guard in the mountainous tracks causing heavy losses to their livestock and even imperiling their lives.

The weather and now the unrest has badly hit their economy.

With the onset of spring thousands of Gujjars and Bakerwals migrate along with women and children to take their livestock to meadows and pastures in upper reaches of Kashmir.  The nomads lost around 45000 livestock to weather as unexpected heavy rains lashed Kashmir late spring.  The left over flock is facing deadly diseases.

Gujjars and Bakerwals began their seasonal migration to the upper reaches of the Himalayas a month ahead of the routine schedule due to unusual rise in the daily temperature in the northern states. The routine timing of migration is month of May but this year it was undertaken in April. It was after 30 years that these tribes have advanced their seasonal migration. A dry March had caused the maximum temperature to rise above the normal levels by 8 to 12 degrees and prompted the early migration.

However, once the nomads were on upper reaches they had to face weather change. Heavy rains and snowfall cut off the roads. The avalanches and landslides brought a dead end to their way of communication. They were caught at wrong foot where going back was no option.

“The link roads, bridges made of tree logs and other means of connection to the rest of world were damaged due to rainfall, says Javaid Rahi, Secretary Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation (TRCF), an organisation working on Gujjar issues.

The damp conditions developed problems among the livestock. Consequently their livelihood got a huge setback.
“The cattle have developed serious complication in their foot as a result of being in water for much longer time,” said Rahi.

About the disease and its nature Rahi said that in case of sheep, the dampness and grubby conditions cause “Infectious Pod dermatitis” commonly known as Foot rot. The organism causes wide spread damage to the foot of sheep causing dermatitis initially and than necrosis of local tissue. This paves way for other organisms to proliferate like E. coli, Fusobacter.

This is hard to treat and if left untended infects the whole flock. This renders the livestock uneconomical and ultimately causes the death. In case of horses there is “Thrush and Quitter” which damage the leg and if the wound is left untreated it renders the animal useless. “Immediately the livestock should be shifted to dry place to prevent further loss and treatment should be started as soon as possible,” said veterinarian Dr Iqbal Hussain.

Director Sheep Husbandry Dr Sudan Singh, told Kashmir Life, “We have centres in respective areas. Our field staff is there to help in every possible way.”

Close on the heels of weather fury the community, had to bear the brunt of the political unrest. They are complaining of intense shortage of food grains and medicines both for livestock and humans, in all areas connected with tribal belts.

Rahi said the TRCF has appealed the state and central government for immediate help by providing food, fodder and medicines to tribal Gujjars and Bakerwals to minimize the losses.

“In a written appeal to state and national agencies, we asked them to take immediate steps for restoration of food grains supplies in tribal belts including life saving drugs in areas connected to tribal belts in valley,” said Rahi.

Community members say that because of unrest basic commodities were sold at escalated prices. “We faced the brunt of climate and the situation but people also made us to suffer by selling at high prices taking advantage of our helplessness,” said Bashir Ahmad Khatana, a Gujjar man who lost a major chunk of his flock.

Facing a threat of starvation the nomads are planning an early return, than their scheduled migration which starts in the mid October.

“The acute scarcity of basic amenities is compelling the nomadic communities to start migration in advance towards planes” said Rahi.

The members are already in a process to move back before Eid ul Fitr.

For now, the community says the government has not come up with any sort of relief measure. The Gujjars and Bakerwals form a significant portion of the population of state.

“We appeal government to help the community in all possible ways in the difficult time and ensure that their future migration is not suffered,”Rahi said.

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