Facing Corona apartheid, Gujjar dairy farmers throw away milk into river

Screengrab from the video in which Gujjars are dumping hundreds of litres of milk in a river

Srinagar: Facing COVID apartheid, Gujjar dairy farmers are compelled to dump milk in the river as no one is ready to buy their produce amid lockdown in the Kathua district of Jammu division.

Hundreds of litres of milk have been dumped into the river in Kathua district after shopkeepers and people refused to purchase the product from the Gujjar community. 

“I dumped more than 200 litres of milk into the river. I had no other option but to throw away the milk. Nobody was ready to buy it. Factory owners are not ready to purchase surplus milk,” said Mohammad Sharief, a 38-year-old dairy farmer from Kathua.

Sharief is not an isolated case. Dozens of farmers have dumped milk in the river after they were unable to find the customers.  “I have come to know that more than 1600 litres of milk got wasted due to lockdown in the last few days. They are requesting for help. Hope administration will make some arrangements for them as well as for,” said Guftar Ahmad Chaudhary, prominent social activist.

What has complicated the problem is the COVID apartheid faced by the Gujjars. “A rumour has been spread by some media outlets connecting COVID 19 with Muslims.  Nobody is buying our milk. Some fear that we might be suffering from illness and our milk too might be infected too,” said Guftar.

Conservative figures reveal that around 2,000 Gujjar families in Kathua are dependent on dairy farming. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the families used to go to the town and sell milk to the shopkeepers and households. A small portion of the milk was also supplied to the dairy factories for processing. Post lockdown, their business has come to a complete halt incurring huge losses.

“We can’t even distribute milk for free because there will be a crowd and social distancing will go for a toss. And those who are buying milk are paying us Rs 15 to Rs 20 per liter which is not even the half what we used to get earlier,” said Maskeen Ali, another dairy farmer.

Deputy Commissioner of Kathua OP Bhagat said the issue has been resolved and the administration is now buying the milk which is being distributed among the migrant labourers.

“It (spilling milk) happened only once because of the communication gap. There were certain communal elements who tried to flare up the issue. We are now buying milk and distributing it among the migrant laborers,” he said.

What has added to the woes is the shortage of fodder for the animals. “Our fodder stocks are fast depleting. We were purchasing fodder from rice mills at Rs 850 per quintal. We were also buying grass from locals. Since we are unable to sell milk, we have no money to buy the fodder”, said Mohammad Rafi, a dairy farmer from Kathua.

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