(Photo: Muneeb Ul Islam)
In Photos: Bakarwals Left in Lurch After Lockdown Delays Migration
The Bakarwals annual migration which takes place in April was pushed to June this year.
Bakarwals, a nomadic tribe, walking to the green pastors of Kashmir valley with their sheep, is a tradition older than the Mughal dynasty. But, for the first time in their history, this journey has been delayed due to the nationwide lockdown imposed following the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Bakarwals’ annual migration which takes place in April was pushed to June this year, affecting their livelihood. Unable to move and feed the sheep, the Bakarwals say many of their sheep is undernourished this year, yielding them lesser profits.
The road taken by them, an 84km stretch road that connects Poonch district of Jammu to Kashmir's Shopian district, starts from Bafliaz, a small town nestled under the mountains. The journey to the valley includes passing through the 11,500 feet high Pir Panjal mountain range. April was ideal for this travel.
As the lockdown was imposed, the government banned all travel including the movement of these nomads. When the movement was finally allowed in June, the screening has delayed their trip.
Mumtaz Ahmed Khan, a shepherd who arrived in Kashmir last week said his group was planning to move to the Madou area of Kokernag. But as the rest of his group was delayed because of the screenings, he was forced to wait.
Talking about the screening, he said in Lawarmunda area of Qazigund, the officer-in-charge gave him a slip, like a curfew pass, which he was asked to safeguard.
Khan's only earning is his livestock. Every year he sells a portion of the cattle to buy bread and other essentials for his family. This year people didn’t buy his sheep on Eid-ul-Adha as his sheep were undernourished.
The government has allowed to us to travel so late that it has become difficult to find grazing fields for our sheep. This has led to huge loss and our cattle is starving. We are looking for alternative arrangements to feed our cattle now.Mumtaz Ahmed Khan
Another Bakarwals, Shabir Ahmad Lalley said: "We were screened at Cheennani and once our screening was done, the officer-in-charge put a stamp on our arms. But we are afraid to move as people in main towns have stigma against us. Since we have been travelling, they suspect we might have contracted the virus.”
Several Bakarwals said that those showing symptoms like fever, cough or cold were not allowed to migrate this year, and only those who cleared the screening were allowed to pass.
However, local residents are not happy about this movement. Locals say they are uncomfortable with the migration because of the virus threat. Ubaid, a resident of Anantnag said:
“On one side the government says those who have travel history shall be quarantined till their tests come out negative, but in this case, the government is simply doing thermal scanning which is not a reliable way to test for coronavirus.”
‘No Orders to Conduct Tests, Only Screening’
Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Kulgam, Fazil Ali Koshak, who is in-charge of the screening, said there are orders to test anyone. "We were ordered to screen all the Bakarwals who are traveling to Kashmir by foot or vehicle. There were no other orders. We simply follow the SOP that comes from the higher authorities. If the authorities order us to do testing of these people, we will follow those orders,” he said.
Bakarwals, however, find these restrictions “ill-planned.” “The government is just doing the thermal screening. If this was their process, why didn’t they allow us to travel in April itself? Now that our cattle is starving, we have to end our migration before the beginning of July. We pray may this be the end of our miseries.”
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