By Dr. Tariq Ahmad Beigh

Bakerwal and Gujjar community are the third largest fragment of our state Jammu and Kashmir after Kashmiries and Dogras. According to the census  ( 2011), the Gujjars and Bakerwals constitute 11.9% of the state population.

The traditional set of these two communities reveal that their names reflect the livestock they reared (Gujjar reared cattle, Bakerwals reared sheep and goats). With time the communities have adopted somewhat divergent paths, the bakerwals of j&k are predominantly Muslims and their way of life, language and customs are prominently different as compared to their counterparts settled mostly in the plains of the state.

 Near about one million Gujjars reside in mountainous areas who heavily depend upon livestock rearing and small-scale agricultural practices. While on the other hand Bakerwals remain itinerant with their flocks for the summers, but due to the inclement weather conditions, lack of facilities like sheds on the migratory route for night stay, fatal incidents of flock trampling by automobiles on national high way roads particularly on Srinagar Jammu national high way they suffer a lot.

Natural disasters like lightning strikes (thrath) and thunders cum hailstorm accompanied with a flood, flock mortalities, infectious diseases due to lack of timely veterinary care, it compounds the problem and snowballs into bigger misery.

 I being the new entrant doctor in the sheep husbandry department posted in district kupwara recently witnessed the afflictions and miseries which these bakerwals met during the course of their migration to highland pastures. On the intervening night of 03-06-2019 (the last day of the holy month of Ramadan) a sword of demoncals fell from sky in the form of a lightning strike (thrath) which took the toll of entire goat flock rendering them helpless.

I along with the team of doctors rushed to the spot and took the stock of the situation at hand. Following the standard operating procedure, we conducted a random postmortem examination of a few dead goats and submitted the report to the District Sheep Husbandry Officer (DSHO) kupwara for further action to mitigate the economic loss.

                  The incidents like this are happening continuously all across the state during their transhumance to the highland pastures thus resulting in the loss of valuable economic support to the state’s GDP which can be contemplated by inflation of sheep and goat import for meat purposes from other neighboring states, particularly Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana.  Administrative steps have to be taken both from the state administrative level and from the department itself to dwindle the calamities due to inclement weather and human-induced tragedies on highway roads due to automobiles.

Narrated by Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said:The Messanger of Allah (peace be upon him)said: “soon there will come a time when the best wealth a Muslim have will be sheep which he will take to the mountain tops and places where rain falls, thus fleeing form tribulation for the sake of his religious commitment.

Way Forward:

To combat all these problems which people suffer during their migration to highland pastures, proper scientific management, facilities, infrastructure and boon to animal and sheep husbandry department by inculcating more veterinarians in the department can prove as a sustainable gateway for the development in this sector.

Management and proper supervision of flocks all along their migratory routes, resting sheds which can accommodate the migratory flock for an overnight stay,  so as to avoid any untoward natural calamity or any wild attack.

Proper supervision of flock along the national highway from peer panjal route to highland pastures in Kashmir valley and vice versa.The high penalty should be levied on careless automobile drivers involved in trampling incidents of migratory flocks on the national highway. Already several cases are pending in local courts thus hampering their time-bound assistance and compensation. Insurance policies framed by the government should be updated. Easily accessible veterinary aid should be made available all along their migratory route so as to circumvent sudden deaths and to revive diseased animals can be on time.

 Mainstay places in high land pastures should be acquainted with proper infrastructure for veterinary services including a clinic with at least two VAS and attached staff along with dispensary where vaccination program can be implemented regularly. Proper facilities for the employees should be made available.

 Flock sheds for sheep, goats, lambs, and kids with proper partition and fencing should be constructed on priority basis in these places. Labour service of bakerwal community can be taken into consideration for construction purposes to avoid construction costs after seeking their consent.

Since the sector reflects our economic strength and moral attitude towards the welfare of animal rights. Taking a keen interest in its development will boost not only our economy but will safeguard the interests of the bakerwal community too.

The author is currently working as a veterinary assistant surgeon in Sheep Husbandry Department Jammu and Kashmir and can be reached at dr.beightariq9@gmail.com

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