Kashmir Shepherds Rediscover Their Pastures

Kashmir Shepherds Rediscover Their Pastures

13 November 2012
Khabar South Asia
Amin Masoodi

Bandipora: In July 1988, Jamal-u-din Khatana, now 58, herded livestock to grazing pastures in forests of his native Bandipora district, 50km from Srinagar. The shepherd didn't know at the time it would be his last visit for over two decades. He and many other shepherds in rural Kashmir districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora were forced to abandon the years-old practice of grazing livestock in pastures following the outbreak of insurgency in the early 1990s. The violence deprived them of their livelihoods and was a huge setback for a rural economy largely dependent on livestock and agriculture. With peace returning to the troubled Kashmir Valley, however, Jamal-u-din has been able to resume his traditional occupation. 'After 24 years, I brought a herd of goats to graze in the green pastures of dense Gurez forests near the Line of Control (LoC) in my native district,' he told Khabar South Asia. 'Amid a sense of security, I stayed in grazing pastures for about four months till September. The only thing I feared was wild animals in the forest.' He is not the only one. Officials say hundreds of shepherds in the upper reaches of rural Kashmir are now leading flocks to graze in pastures near forests and hillocks. Economic experts believe this development will help a great deal in reviving the rural economy. 'Use of grazing pastures will enhance the production of meat and milk, especially for commercial purposes,' Abdul Wahid Qureshi, economics professor and vice chancellor at the Central University of Kashmir, told Khabar. 'Since a large chunk of the population in rural Kashmir has been traditionally involved in rearing the livestock for sustenance, grazing pastures plays a vital role in enhancing production,' he said, adding that most milk consumed in Kashmir is produced in rural areas. Meat is an important part of the Kashmiri diet and about 40% of meat is produced in rural areas. 'The local production of meat is likely to increase from existing 40% in the next few years as more and more people are rearing cattle in rural Kashmir,' Mushtaq Ahmad, Director of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Kashmir division, told Khabar. A traditional way of life resumes Shepherds in rural Kashmir can earn a good income from four months' worth of grazing. 'I earned Rs 84,000 ($1,540) this season from grazing 120 [sheep]. I feel happy to be able to resume my occupation,' Bagoo Sheikh, a shepherd from the town of Handwara in Kupwara district, told Khabar. Police say that more and more areas are being opened up as the security situation improves, with the sound of sheep bells returning to locations which once saw gunfire and carnage. 'The shepherds this year were able to move across Shamsavari Ridge near the LoC, which stretches from Machil to Gurez,' Irshad Ahmad, Senior Superintendent of Police in Kupwara, told Khabar. 'They were even able to graze the livestock in Jumagund and Moori, close to the LoC in bordering Kupwara district.' Untouched after all these years, these areas offer a feast for the animals. 'The forests have grown dense and pastures grassy. My herd of sheep returned healthy,' said Bahadur Khan of Kupwara town.