Cementing Livelihood

With concrete replacing traditional ways of demarcating farmlands a huge chunk of land is left useless across Kashmir. The trend not only changes the landscape but also disturbs the fragile ecology of the Kashmir’s most fertile regions. Bilal Handoo reports the growing menace in rural spaces.        

Three years ago, the paddy field of Abdul Khaliq in district Ganderbal’s Tulmulla area wasn’t partitioned. There were no signs of concrete. No cemented pathways in the middle of his field. And there wasn’t any concrete boundaries guarding his piece of land.

But soon the rural landscape of his field is waned. Concrete margins and cemented lines running in the middle of his field makes one feel, as if one is witnessing scenes on city suburbs, where concretization is rampant.

Khaliq, who is in his late seventies, wasn’t supportive to take concrete in his field. Farming close to seven decades now, one day his sons decided to lay concrete structures in his ancestral field. When the ‘perplexed’ father enquired the motive behind the move, he was told by his sons that “it is need of an hour”. The poor father had to submit before the decision taken by his sons.

To know the motivation behind the move, I met the youngest among the three sons of Khaliq in his shop nearby. Arif, who is Class 12 dropout, runs a smalltime grocery shop apart from working on the field. He talks in brisk pace and wears sullen look on his face. “Everybody is doing that,” he replied when asked about the aim behind taking concrete to his farmland. Arif is right. They aren’t alone who seem to have dressed their paddy fields with concrete partitions, lanes and boundaries. Concrete structures make their presence felt in nearby fields as well.

At stones throw, one young man apparently in his late twenties is working on his field. His field too bears the presence of concrete. The man is Faheem Sultan, who is owner of his ancestral field. Two years ago, he laid concrete strips in his paddy field after his neighboring farmlands were marked with concrete.

“There wasn’t a specific reason behind laying the concrete strips other than to make the things convenient,” Sultan explains, “The concrete pathway makes movement in and out of field quite convenient, especially when it rains.”

But apart from demarcation and convenience, there is more to this move than what meets the eye. Moving further in interior areas of district Ganderbal offers frequent glimpses of concrete cells raised on land. Locals living near these demarcation lands claim that most of this land belongs to moneyed class of the society. They have purchased the land many years back, locals say, and later on, laid concrete cells in them to make clear distinction.

“After purchasing the land, they kept it as it is for a while,” Muneer Khwaja, a resident of Darind area of district Ganderbal says. “Later on this model was followed by others and has presently become a norm.”

In early years of 2000, the influx of people to Ganderbal was incessant. I was told by the locals that most of these visitors were ‘men with heavy pocket’. After zeroing on the land, they would later on lay concrete structures and cemented cells. Slowly this resulted in the multiplication of trend. “It never ceased after that,” Gowher Nazir, a shopkeeper in main market Ganderbal, said. “It seems people copy/paste the step till it become a popular trend.”

But king’s constituency isn’t alone. There are spaces in the valley where concrete is entering inside the fields like never before. In Saffron town Pampore in south Kashmir, the trend is already in vogue.

Bashir Ahmad from main town Pampore divided the share of his land among his two sons four years ago. Soon the land which once was devoid of any boundary or partition got bifurcated among Bashir’s sons. To make demarcation clear, concrete pillars were laid down.

What Bashir did isn’t exceptional. Since ages, the parental property does get divided among progeny. When it comes to land though, the trend of spreading cemented divides and structures was uncommon till recently.

“As land is getting distributed among the progeny of people,” says Altaf Hassan in this southern town, “more and more concrete is penetrating inside landholdings. The development indicates the growing instance of insecurity among people in property matters.”

There is one more nail in this coffin! As landholdings are getting slim across the valley, many avail the land by resorting to illegal practices and by raising cemented partitions.

Locals in saffron town don’t deny this assertion. “During nineties when law in the land was toothless,” says Hassan, “many people raised these concrete boundaries to cement land in their name.”

This doesn’t end there only. Imtiyaz Gul who lives near J&K EDI Pampore is witness how change swept across his locality after central rural development schemes made forays in his town and were subsequently implemented. Apart from roads and developmental projects, concrete bunds touching the farmland also started cropping up.

“Earlier instead of concrete bunds, there used to be trees which would separate road and the land,” Gul says. “But as concrete structures started emerging, the land under it became useless.”

In the fringe of Srinagar towards Habbak area, much of the land is already under the grip of concrete. In many fields, water carrying canals aren’t bearing the look of soil. They have been jacketed by concrete. A vast stretch of land in the area that catches the eye of a passerby has concrete canal running in the middle, besides cemented pathways and boundaries.

To dig out details behind obsession for concrete in farmlands, I met a local elder, Mohammad Ashraf. This retired government official of PHE department doesn’t own a land, but he is witness to change that has swept to it all these years.

“As far I understand this change, it is nothing but aimed at altering the look of village life,” Ashraf says. “Some people in the heat of catching the urban pace are blurring the distinction between the two, which can’t be termed as sign of development.”

Ashraf isn’t naysayer to rural development. He isn’t conservative either. His argument is simple that village and city life shouldn’t merge with each other, “because then, both will lose their identity. And I think concretization of land is first step towards that merger.”

Huge patch of land is already owned by moneyed class of the society. After demarcation, observation goes that the land remains useless. In a way, concretization is not only rendering the land useless, but is also marring production potential of the land.

Earlier people would use Kashmiri variety of popular to demarcate land holdings which in turn earned landowners revenue. “Growing insecurities and lack of trust among new generation landowners has made such changes unavoidable,” said Nazir Ahmad, a seventy year old farmer from Pampore.

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