Faithful Gathering

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With people flocking from different corners of Kashmir to sell their livestock, Srinagar’s Eidgah is a busy place before Eid-ul-Azha. Muhammad Raafi spends a day at Kashmir’s biggest livestock market to get the feel of festivity

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Sitting on a parapet in Eidgah, Srinagar – Kashmir’s biggest livestock market – Ahmed Ganie is puffing a traditional hookah (hubble-bubble), with his eyes fixed on his herd gazing in the distance. He has taken time off from a busy day of luring customers’ days before Eid-ul-Azha. Ganie has made a long and painful journey from his native village in Baderwah, Doda, hoping to strike a decent bargain for his livestock.

There are many others like him who have flocked from different corners of Kashmir at Eidgah in Srinagar, making the vast grounds look like a mélange of sub-cultures and outfits.

Stuffed in layers of oversized clothes Sadiq Ali, who claims to be in his early seventies, has spent weeks to reach Srinagar from his native village Kausa in Udhampur district. Wearing a pensive look on his wrinkled face, Ali is hopeful that his decision to undertake such a long journey from home proves profitable after all. “I am accompanied by all the male members of my family. In order to move such a big herd you need manpower,” says Ali while keeping his eyes fixed on his herd.

But so far Ali’s experience in Srinagar is nothing short of nightmare. “There is no uniformity in rates. And to add to our woes police is always on our heads. In order to get best bargains for themselves some policemen use pressure tactics with outsiders like us,” alleges Ali. But Ali has made up his mind that he will not leave Kashmir unless he has sold every single animal from his herd.

On the other corner of Eidgah Habib Awan is busy bargaining with buyers. He has come from Rajouri. “I had to pay Rs 20 thousand as carriage charges for bringing my stock here,” says Awan. “Transporters know that we are helpless at this time of year so they exploit.”

On occasions like Eid, given the volume of market, Awan and other shepherds from far-flung areas like Poonch, Rajouri, Baderwah etc. pin their hope on Kashmir. “This is the biggest nearby market place for us. We invest everything to get good bargain on Eid,” says Awan.

However, despite good business prospects, the journey of shepherds like Awan is full of miseries. “There is no availability of space in Srinagar’s Eidgah. We spend nights under open sky with our livestock,” says Awan.

Ali, the shepherd from Udhampur district, is pained by the way locals treat them. “I have not taken a shower since last six days. I have no place to stay. And if by some miracle you manage to rent a place in Srinagar, it costs people like us fortune,” says Ali.

But not all are complaining about space crunch and indifferent natives. There are some content faces around too. One of them is Jabbar khan of Baderwah. Khan is a regular face among livestock sellers at Eidgah. It is his seventh visit to Srinagar’s livestock market. Before Jabbar it was his father Abdul Sattar, who would come to Eidgah during Eids to sell his stock. “I have come with 100 sheep this year. And I have already sold most of them,” says a content looking Jabbar. Ask him about his earnings and he is quick to respond: thank Allah it is satisfactory. Then without losing a breath he adds, “In fact it is huge.”

Jabbar is hoping to finish to his remaining stock before Eid so that he can go back and join his family in Baderwah.

With institutions like EDI facilitating capital requirement and giving necessary training to youngster who want to set up their small business ventures, there is a surge in sheep farms across Kashmir.

One such entrepreneur is Fazal-ul-Amin Dar of Sagipora, Sopore. In 2012, Fazal left a lucrative job in Mumbai to start a sheep farm with EDI’s help. “I started with 70 sheep back then. Now I have around 1000,” says Fazal.

This year, so far Fazal has sold 125 sheep at an average cost of Rs 10,000 each. “There is huge demand for livestock especially on Eid. But local stock holders market share is still miniscule,” feels Fazal.

Javaid, a livestock seller from Srinagar, says in last few years demand for local stock has increased manifold because of its quality and taste. “Though local breed is costlier than Indian breeds, it still has huge demand,” says Javaid. “Local shepherds rear them under hygienic conditions keeping in view that they are for sacrifice.”

Usually a cost of a livestock is determined by factors like its weight, physical conditions, look, colour, cleanliness etc. “But not all can afford local sheep. They rather opt for cheaper options from Rajasthan, Haryana etc,” says Javaid.

Meanwhile at Eidgah the rush of enthusiastic buyers is picking up as Eid nears. And the livestock owners, both from Srinagar and far-away places like Rajouri, Poonch and Baderwah, are busy striking deals so that they can head back home on time for a happy Eid with their loved ones.

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