Kupwara, a frontier district of J&K, witnesses a huge rush of tourists during summers. People from local areas and other districts rush to the soothing valleys of Lolab, Bangus and others to celebrate the pristine glory of nature. The upper reaches of the district are abode to a transhumance population who almost spend six months of summers here to rear their herds of goat and sheep. A large area of about 70% of geographical land in the district is under forests. This heavy concentration of forests provides enough scope for development of meadows, pastures which becomes a centre for their livestock rearing. Bakerwals and nomads who settle in these highland pastures erect behaks/dhokas to live with their families for six months. When summers draw to an end, they travel back to the areas that have a warmer climate. The biannual migration by this community presents numerous challenges to them. In winters these nomadic people erect temporary villages on the plains and low-lying areas and graze their animals there.
For centuries they have centred their life around rearing sheep and goats. Their livelihood depends on the meat, wool, and milk obtained from their flock. I personally had the chance to interact with this community during my official visit to the upper reaches of Bangus valley where large flock of livestock were being herded by this community. Living with them enabled me to hear of their wows and miseries, which a common man never can imagine of. This community seems to be treated with mistrust. Besides the scourge of poverty, they didn’t see any hope in governmental policies and welfare programmes. The tribes are aghast at the non-delivery and unreachability of the welfare schemes. The children of nomads/Bakerwals are still unable to get quality education. The health care is worse, with no provision of appropriate medical facilities at their local places or halting points during their migration. The changing weather and other difficulties faced by this indigenous community force them to give up the migration or in extreme cases, to end the rearing of animals.
The challenges highlighted by them during my interaction included difficulty in getting grazing permits, frequent conflict with landowners on migratory routes, unavailability of adequate health facilities during their migration, etc. They are reluctant to transport their animals due to poor condition of roads in the mountain regions. Animals are injured during the rough journey and some die on the roads.
Keeping in consideration the problems faced by them, the significant contribution of this community in shaping the environment and economy of the region cannot be ignored. In Kupwara, nearly 5,000 Bakerwal families with more than one lakh animals are on the move during this summer season. This large stock of animal population is the main source of income generation for the mostly agricultural and pastoral economy of the region. These communities are also essential part of ecosystem services and uphold the cultural legacy of J&K. These nomads and their herds provide nitrogen and phosphorous to meadows and fix the nutrient cycle. Besides, these animals help in pollination and also form the backbone of organic meat, wool and leather industries of the region.
The immense problems of Bakerwals for the first time have been given a patient hearing, with the government coming out with positive interventions to lessen the miseries faced by them in their daily lives. The Department of Tribal affairs has initiated a survey at UT level to collect their data in destinations which usually include behaks and dhokls. The data to be collected through government agencies captures various areas where the intervention of government is desperately needed. The main sectors which the government finds necessary to be improved include health, education, livelihood, convenience of migration, and improvement in livestock farming practices. The main aim of this positive step is to identify the gaps and problems faced by these communities and accordingly formulate policies/welfare programmes centred at extending the benefits of such schemes to them. This survey will be followed by complete documentation and issuance of smart cards with all details of the people of nomadic tribes. The government also plans to strengthen migratory schools, establish hostels and new residential schools apart from other interventions proposed in health, livelihood and livestock husbandry sector. The apt intervention of government is seen optimistically by the targeted population with high hopes of being included the mainstream with all opportunities and facilities available.
The writer is Assistant Director, E&S, Chief Planning Office Kupwara.