As a person tests positive for Covid-19, the entire eco-system for the family and the villages’ changes abruptly. Authorities take away the people to hospitals, quarantine centres and restrict movements in the Red Zone villages. Left behind remains the livestock, unattended and hungry, reports Umar Khurshid
On April 20 Ghulam Mohammad, 58, of Shangus Anantnag, woke up in the middle of the night as incessant mooing and grunting from the adjoining cattle shed sounded like a rebellion brewing next door. Mohammad alerted his wife Zaina, 55, and they both went out to check the animals.
“As I entered the shed, I could see both of our cows untied in the middle of the shed,” Mohammad said, adding he feared animals might run away because of the hunger. Due to the strict restrictions in his area, Mohammad had struggled to feed his cows. “I feed them only green grass that is easily available in our area,” Mohammad said.
Following morning, Mohammad tried to go to the neighbouring village to buy some fodder but was not let go. He returned and called one of his friends in a nearby village for the fodder. The friend managed to get it but the question was how to send it. Mohammad waited until evening for some help but when none came, he rushed to the other village taking alternate routes. “It took me hours to reach home with the fodder,” he said. There are many families like his, struggling hard to provide food to their animals.
In the last week of April, when Khudpora village of Khiram witnessed first Coronavirus positive case, the local administration marked the area a Red Zone and its adjoining areas as Buffer Zones. The positive case Mohammed Afzal, 75, was taken to Government Medical College Anantnag for treatment and his family to a nearby quarantine centre. But the only worrisome matter for the family, after Afzal, was their cow that they had left behind at home.
Following day, one of the family members somehow managed to send a signal to their relatives living in a nearby village to take care of their cow. The relative who wished to remain anonymous said he wore a proper outfit, entered the red zone and requested the security men deployed there to allow him to visit the place. “I took both cow and a calf to my place marked as Buffer Zone,” the relative said. He said the cow would cost Rs 70, 000.
To his utter surprise as soon as he entered his village with the cow, his neighbours asked him to send the animal back to Red Zone as she could be a carrier. “The entire locality was against me and I had no other option too,” the man said. A number of families later approached district administration and a designated team from Animal Husbandry Anantnag arranged some fodder for the animals. However, the fodder was not adequate for the village.
People from other parts of the district declared Red Zones have the same stories to tell. Shabir Ahmed, 45, of Nowgam said that his area faced many problems in feeding their cattle when every one of them were locked inside. Shabir has two cows and two sheep at home. In April on the very first day, when his area witnessed the first positive case and the area was declared as Red Zone he had some fodder in stock at home. But a few days later, when he was out of stock he tried to go out asking security personnel deployed outside to let him get some fodder for his livestock but he was not allowed. “I fed my cattle whatever I had in stock,” he said. “Apart from taking care of the family members, it was a very difficult time for those people rearing cattle.”
Two days later Shabir managed to fetch two sacks of wheat bran from an adjoining village declared as Buffer Zone. He said at another village, he felt embarrassed when people distanced himself from him after hearing the person had come from Red Zone. He said his neighbours rearing cows faced the same situation. “At times we shared whatever fodder we had,” he said.
Liyaqat Ahmed, 42, of Gadwail Kokernag, also a Red Zone, faced a similar problem. He along with two of his neighbours went to look for fodder for their cattle and they had to wait for 24 hours to get it. He said villagers are now routinely taking their cattle to forest areas for grazing as whatever stock they had at home has finished.
Liyaqat believes that because of the lack of adequate feed the most visible impact has been the fall in the sales of milk that goes out of the village to other places. He said if the lockdown continues it would automatically wipe out earnings of people dependent on cattle in future.
Talking about the overall milk business being run in Anantnag, another resident Mohammad Abdullah Bhat, 61, of Sonabrari Kokernag, said disruption in the supply chain has affected the domestic consumption, as both dairies and shops are closed.
Bhat is also struggling to feed his cow. “At this crucial time, who would look after the cows when humans are dying like animals?”
Sajad Ahmed, 32, of Shangus, said his area is part of 12 villages of Shangus declared Red Zones. According to him, adequate fodder doesn’t reach his area as most of the vehicles carrying feed for livestock have stopped plying.
As villagers restrict the entry of people from other areas, it is creating difficulty in movement of traffic which has affected the distribution of fodder and milk, he said.
They said since most of the fodder comes from outside Kashmir, its supply has completely stopped in the area. “Lockdown has put animals in extreme distress and many cows are going hungry,” he said.
An official said that most of the Covid-19 cases belong to villages and around 90 per cent of the villagers have cattle at home. He believes that those living in Red Zones must be facing so many issues while managing their small herds.
In Anantnag, thieves, on the other hand, are taking advantage of the pandemic as scores of cows, bulls and sheep were stolen. On the night of May 19, thieves at Waghama Bijbehara, barged into the cowshed and looted around 11 animals. The residents have sought a proper investigation in this matter. Similar incidents were reported from Supar, Tuli, Nopora, Makanpora and Danau villages of Kulgam. Fearing the loss, residents have now started spending nights outside their cowsheds as they are scared of losing their cattle. According to locals, thieves are on prowl taking advantage of the epidemic. A local resident, Mohammad Ramzan, 50, of Supar said that he lost two cows last week and both the animals cost more than one lakh rupees. “I was earning my livelihood by selling cow milk but after the theft I am jobless,” Ramzan said.