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Indo-China standoff in Ladakh hits seasonal migration of Bakarwals

1500 families stranded in Kashmir

Srinagar:  On a lush green meadow at Shopian, fifty-year-old Bakarwal Ali Mohammad Khatana is running from one corner to another to mind his animals.

Hailing from Reasi, Khatana along with 500 sheep and goats has been camping in Shopian for the last four weeks, waiting for a green signal to march towards Ladakh for annual grazing.

Prolonged halts, lack of facilities and new routes have exhausted the master shepherd who has been going to Ladakh every year to graze his cattle.

The border tension between India and China is giving him sleepless nights as the government in Ladakh is yet to allow Bakarwals to enter the region for bi-annual migration.

“Normally we don’t stay for a long time in Kashmir. It is just a transit route for us. We have different breeds of goat and sheep which love grazing on high altitudes of Kargil and Drass. Since everything is not going well on borders, a lot of families are currently stranded in Kashmir,” he said.

Season migration by Gujjars and Bakarwals take place in April when goatherds leave their Dokas (temporary shelters) in Jammu region and move through Shivalik, Pirpanchal, and Trikuta mountains.

It takes them 40-50 days to reach their destinations in Kashmir and Kargil.  Their migration period ends in October when the temperature in the valley starts dropping.

Due to the current India-China face-off, at least 1500 Gujjar and Bakarwal families are stationed in Kashmir.   Others have moved to pastures in Pahalgam, Ganderbal, and Gurez.

As per Gujjar-Bakarwal Youth Welfare Conference (GBYWC), the migration schedule of many Bakarwals, which was already disturbed by Covid-19, is now getting affected by India- China face-off.

“Bakarwals livelihood is completely dependent on their livestock. Earlier, they were not allowed to migrate, then transport issues surfaced and now their entire schedule has got disturbed. Wherefrom will they get fodder for sheep and goats?” asked president GBYWC Zahid Parwaz Chaudhary.

Abdul Aziz Kalokhel, a Bakarwal from Reasi said most of them have now started moving towards pastures in Kashmir. “Bakarwals have now moved towards Tral, Pahalgam, Budgam, and other areas,” he said.

 Kalokhel said many of them were put under quarantine in Ladakh. “Some 10-15 dheras migrated earlier and we got information that they had suffered a lot. They were not allowed to move towards villages due to the coronavirus fear. Even vehicles are not allowed to head towards Ladakh,” he said.

Divisional Commissioner of Ladakh Saugat Biswas said the administration is working to facilitate the migration of Bakarwals.  “The Bakarwals are coming. I will look into the problems and ensure their smooth seasonal migration to Ladakh,“ he said.

According to the 2011 census, 1.5 million Gujjars and Bakarwals live in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, which constitute 11.9 percent of the Union Territory’s total population (12.5 million).

 According to 2011 census, Gujjar and Bakarwals in Jammu and Kashmir is 810800 . In Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch districts have the highest Gujjar and Bakarwals population at 232815 and 176101 respectively. In Kashmir, Anantnag has the highest Gujjar and Bakarwal population at 116006.