Srinagar: After five months stay in Kashmir, 50-year- old Chaudhary Ali Mohammad of Rajouri is on the way home with his 300 sheep.
This year the ace Bakarwal suffered a double whammy. From incomplete migration to lockdown Chaudhary suffered huge financial losses in 2020. “I couldn’t sell any of my 300 sheep. I am worried how to pass through populated areas and manage fodder for my cattle,” he said.
COVID-19, dry weather, and Indo-China border tension hampered seasonal migration of Bakarwals this year. With the autumn setting in, Bakarwals are returning to the plains of Jammu. Till now 30 percent of them have already reached Jammu.
This year, the migration of Bakarwals was delayed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The administration allowed migration of Bakarwals almost a month late.
Chaudhary Iqbal Phambra, a Bakarwal representative of Chadwa village in Udhampur district said they had to cut short their migration due to the COVID-19 situation.
“Those who had stayed in Gurez, Wadwan, and Sonmarg are moving towards plains and will use Mughal road to return back,” he said.
This year, goatherds could not go to the designated places due to the COVID situation. “While a few stayed in Wadwan, some moved to Gurez and Sonmarg,” he said.
Another setback for Bakarwals was the prolonged dry weather coupled with escalating Indo-China tension. Hundreds of Bakarwals couldn’t head towards Ladakh, which was tense due to Indo-China ace-off along the Line of Actual Control.
“Normally we don’t stay in Kashmir for a long time. 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 the situation on borders was tense, a lot of families stayed in Kashmir,” said Zahid Parwaz Chaudhary president Gujjar Bakarwal Youth Welfare Conference (GBYWC).
Dr. Javaid Rahi, Founder of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation said the return of Bakarwals to their winter destinations is equally challenging due to the increasing Covid-19 cases across the union territory.
“Bakarwals are apprehensive of people’s reaction since they will have to now pass through the containment zones. They have been already facing issues of transport,” Rahi said.
He said the migration of Bakarwals remained incomplete this year, which will impact their schedule for winter. “For the next one and a half months, the migration will continue. Now the major issue for Bakarwals will have to look for fodder for winter,” Rahi said.