Ashfaq Ahmad Chopan
Chopans, the shepherds of Kashmir, are an economically and socially backward community found almost everywhere of our valley. The community has got significant importance in our societies and an inherited distinct culture and history with regard to rural Kashmiri life.
These shepherds have a very close association to nature in a way that they roam in fields throughout the year and move to the higher altitudes and different regional pastures with their sheep in the summers and there by residing there for months and from the decades. They live openly under a roughly designed stony, wood and mud made huts commonly called “kotha” within the extremely volatile climatic conditions in the upper reaches of Kashmir.
Living a nomadic life very close to nature, these shepherds also master and search for the various naturally valued herbs and medicines commonly used in villages and by native doctors.
However, the overall economic and social status of community is miserable. The community has got an unheard story of the negligence and unfulfilled list of promises. In fact, the Chopan community constitutes perfect example of the social injustice and discrimination for their promised rights and basic genuine demands.
It is disheartening to describe that community is still falling under no reservation and is rather an open merit facing or a general category. Even though J&K’s commission for backward classes observes the Chopan similar to job as that of Changpa in Ladakh and Gadii in Jammu and northern India who have been already granted the ST status. Then who can justify this discrimination toward Kashmiri shepherds, the Chopans?
However talking technically, Chopans, the shepherds of Kashmir till now enjoy no service or reservation in terms of education opportunities to their children or in terms of jobs which has discouraged and deteriorated the already weak socio economic condition of the community.
By way of a conclusion, I would like to state that justice delayed is rather justice denied and it largely describes the tale of our deprived demands, the unfulfilled promises and negligence of our community over the years by the multiple governments by considering the community as a vote bank. It is an important and urgent need of the time to ensure justice by enlisting the Chopan community of Kashmir in the Scheduled Tribe list and to empower these Kashmiri Shepherds.
The author is a columnist and is currently doing his Masters from Central University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org