Enroute the destinations of summer and winter pastures located in Himalayan highlands and Jammu foothills respectively, gujjar nomadic tribes face an enormous amount of hardship and hostility. They come into contact with settled population and commuters enroute who don’t always have a receptive attitude towards them on account of the traffic jamming caused by cattle. But this wasn’t so until very recently. They have had well defined off road routes for movement of cattle. Even when they used roads, they didn’t face much of a problem on account of very less traffic. But things have drastically changed. Developmental activities have erased their routes at multiple locations on all known routes. At many places there is no mark of old routes left because of construction of roads, buildings, bridges, forest closures and change of land use in villages. All these things have effectively blocked their routes and pushed them to use roads and new routes. This has resulted in an environment of conflict with the enroute population and commuters. Besides, the expansion of population and increased developmental activities have practically shrunk the green lands and vegetation enroute to sustain cattle during a long journey that spans over a month either side. To overcome this, some of them opted to transport cattle on trucks but this too was met with new types of challenges which sometimes they can’t circumvent. And transporting a large flock of bovine animals is practically not possible. They have to spend approximately 40 days enroute to cope up with climate. The large flocks can’t afford to delay the start of upward journey beyond 20th March and the passes on upper Pir Panchal don’t open earlier than 20 April. So they have to be in between winter pastures and mountain passes for a month.
The above problems have resulted in pushing some of them to abandon their profession all together. But on account of being landless a very high number of them has opted to adopt a profession of labourers pitching tents in open lands. Lower Shivalik and orchards in Kashmir are dotted with such single tent homes. But even there, they practice internal localized migration almost every year. They decamp to pitch the tents again at other locations where they get some work to do. Having left their nomadic way of life they couldn’t find honorable outlet. The majority of them, with whom I could interact, is dismayed at their decision. They feel nostalgic about their previous life style. They feel, despite hardship, being a nomad was a far better activity as it entailed independence and a sense of pride. But the hard fact remains, they are frequently joined by those who are leaving the age old practice.
Now the question is, whether abandoning an age old activity be encouraged just because it’s becoming cumbersome or the focus should shift to upgrading this profession by encouraging investment in this activity and by registering state support. An interesting thing, perhaps, is to learn lessons from the treatment of nomadic tribes in developed countries.
Those who suggest to help nomads settle permanently should bear in mind that this is not just a profession; it’s a way of life carrying with it an enormous amount of cultural values. It’s not just about cattle, it’s about a great treasure in the forms of pastures that they are proud to possess. Pastures like Tosemaidan, Nagberri, Wardwan, Suez, Padri and Srimastan, to name just a few, are among the world’s most beautiful places. These belong to nomads. Similarly the beautiful green forests and shrubs located in undulating landscape of Shivalik and Jammu foothills constitute their winter pastures. This is a time immemorial activity. Just that it didn’t get system’s support and community backing doesn’t mean it’s something not worth pursuing. What is required is an up-gradation of this activity to a next level to make it both economical beneficial and socially honorable again. The following steps can prove to be fundamentally critical to augment this activity.
One, the support should come by means of strengthening existing facilitation centres; the non-existent and inept facilitation centers should be made accountable enroute. The facilitation so far has had just one function: get their share in the form of a sheep or two depending upon size of flock. A more working facilitation point should include a conflict resolving team from departments like police and revenue also so that they don’t face any problems. The facilitation points located along roads need to be supplemented with more resources, and some mobile facilitation must be added.
Two, routes should be earmarked for their movements. Society must understand that it has swallowed up their tracks and it just can’t do well to vomit them outside their boundaries. They are inseparable part of their ecology and have added value and vigor to the culture. State should own up and give them space to move. Those among the tribe who have tendency of finding a short cut should be made not to do that.
Third, most of them just don’t find their products economically beneficial. It’s because they don’t know how to process and market them. Like, for instance, wool, skin of animals, milk and milk products if properly processed, preserved and marketed can prove to be fate changer. Here they need training and proper guidance from sheep and animal husbandry departments. The training should include programs to help them make most out of their products by diversification of base products. Unless they diversify and process they will never find raw products economically beneficial
Fourth, there is need of a community owned and operated cooperative to ensure that they have say in the transaction of their products, particularly milk. They do find good market for milk during winters but they don’t find any taker when they reach high land during summer. Enroute also they aren’t able to sell their products. A diary, mobile and dynamic in character, must have ability to fetch their products from where they are and market it.
Fifth, If this activity will have to be upgraded and its honour restored, the well to do and educated lot among the community will have to become part of it, own nomads, invest in it and feel proud being part of it.
To conclude, the way ahead is upgradation and augmentation of nomadic activity rather than finding fault with it and depriving ourselves of a great cultural stream that is connected to snow clad peaks of Himalaya on the one hand and Indian plains on the other. Between these extremes their forefathers have not only traversed with cattle but as harbingers of a great tribal culture also.