Pastoralism and transhumance in J&K has been carrying on since centuries!
By: M S Nazki
In the past even the non tribesmen used to take their cattle flock to the hills and mountains during the summers and thus still have their Dhoks in the Pir Panjals!
- Now some of them want to carry on with the ancient practice but the problem is of permissions because of the massive network of surface communications that has come up in UT J&K, previously a state.
- Nomadic Pastoralism is still very much part of the calendar curriculum of the tribesmen like Gujjar’s and Bakerwals as their seasonal migrations are well known.
- But in times that have passed transhumance also used to take place with non-tribals also moving with their cattle . This was a mobile livestock farming method that was based on regular, seasonal movements. The movements were mostly predictable, each year, herders followed the rhythm of the seasons and passed over the same trails and pasturelands that they already knew.
- On the other hand, nomadism is characterised by the continual and unpredictable movements of all members of a family or a group. Most agro-pastoralists in J&K today practice semi-transhumance. They too have been doing so since ages.
- Only a part of the family moves according to the seasons, while the rest of the family practices sedentary farming.
- But there are people staying in hilly tracts for example Rajouri and Poonch, they too have kept livestock for self sustenance in the form of dairy products and meat. In the ancient times they used to take the animals uphill where like the nomads they had Dhoks and places to stay as and when they decided to move during the summers so that they could also graze their animal farm.
- Cattle were part of households in the past but due to rapid urbanization this practice has almost ceased to exist but in the interiors people have their own livestock of which sheep, goats, buffaloes and cows are an integral part.
- These people are non-tribes men and want to move up the mountains to graze their cattle as their ancestors used to do in these times that have passed and gone.
- Nomadic pastoralism is a form of pastoralism when livestock are herded in order to seek for fresh pastures on which to graze. True nomads follow an irregular pattern of movement, in contrast with transhumance where seasonal pastures are fixed.
- However this distinction is often not observed and the term nomad used for both in historical cases the regularity of movements is often unknown in any case.
- Nomadic pastoralism was a result of the Neolithic revolution and the rise of agriculture. During that revolution, humans began domesticating animals and plants for food and started forming cities.
- Nomadism generally has existed in symbiosis with such settled cultures trading animal products (meat, hides, wool, cheese and other animal products) for manufactured items not produced by the nomadic herders.
- Pastoral nomadism began as a cultural lifestyle in the wake of the 6200 BC climatic upheavals.
- In Bronze Age Central Asia, nomadic populations were associated with the earliest transmissions of millet and wheat grains through the region that eventually became central for the Silk Road.
- By the medieval period in Central Asia, nomadic communities exhibited isotopically diverse diets, suggesting a multitude of subsistence strategies.
I have a small story to tell which my friend and senior related to me regarding the non-tribal men also moved their cattle during the summers. This was part of discussion on our mobile handsets. He told me this story from Katra now in district Reasi but previously in Udhampur, which has become an expansive place now but in the late sixties it still had to gather pace and the architecture was not the kind as it is now. Here is what he told me in his own language and words, ‘the houses of the people were constructed of mud and wood because the brick work had not come into vogue. The main bazaar which is absolutely busy now (though on the hold due to the virus impact) was not that densely populated, yet plenty of people moved about. It was akin to a religious town of the ancient and not like a stupendously modeled commercial city like it has become now. The people were simple, lived an innocent life and had plenty of cattle tied in their backyards. In the morning they would lead them to grazing spaces, in those available in plenty and leave them with massive mastiffs to guard them. In the evening the whole flock used to come back on their own and get to the places earmarked for them to rest. A peculiar thing used to happen in the summers when many family heads staying in a locality used to sit and plan the summer grazing stint for these animals and they used to take them up the hilly tracts. Members of the families also used to move with them, stay in cooler and greener places and come back after three or four months with all the robustness on their faces and the flock healthy and fattened up . As a child I used to ask my granny as to where they used to take them? The reply was, ‘up the hills (Pahhad she used to call it) so that the animals could get plenty to eat’. My next question used to be as to where they used to stay? The response would be , ‘they had constructed mud houses with a kitchen to prepare the meals and sleep’. But as commercialization set in, things changed in rapidity, Now there are hardly a handful who keep cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats. The mastiffs are no more to be seen as people have opted for sophisticated pedigreed breeds costing enormous sums of money. The old pastures have been forgotten and so the mud cabins up the hill and mountain tops’.
But in Mendhar people who are non-tribals do know that they have their Dhoks as well as the cattle and they too want to move in the summers. Perhaps the administration either has forgotten about the summer migrations or does not know that this phenomenon did occur in the time period as mentioned by my friend.
I spoke to Majid Khan Bobby, President All Mazdoor and Kissan union Mendhar and he had the following to say:
- It is not that only Gujjar and Bakerwal used to move up the Pir Panjals with their herds, even the non-tribesmen used to do so.
- That is the reason that they have their own Dhoks up to stay in the summers with their cattle.
- Now the Mughal Road has come and hence walking has become easy but when it was not there the people used to move on the traditional routes, many of which still exist but are steep climbs.
- Later many problems surfaced and we all know what they were, the non-tribals stopped going but they still have their cattle and they know that their ancestors used to take the cattle into the mountains in the summers.
- Now they are asking the question that if the Gujjars and Bakerwals are being allowed then why not they? They were recently permitted to move when the Mughal road opened up. They too used to move and migrate for sometime in the past centuries.
- In short, they too want to move up as the seasons unfold every year and if a certain criteria is required they are prepared to meet it.
- Often traditional nomadic groups settle into a regular seasonal pattern of transhumance.
- The movements for example are about 180 to 200 km. Camps are established in the same place each year, often semi-permanent shelters are built in at least one place on this migration route.
- India’s temperate pastures are mainly in the Himalayas and adjacent chains; they form a narrow strip on the country’s northern and northeastern border.
- UT Jammu and Kashmir has great areas of grazing, much of it used by transhumant systems, but up-to-date information from there is not available.
- Nomadic pastoralism is prevalent in the Himalayas, where there are several nomadic tribes, such as the Gujars, Bakarwals and Gaddis, who rear sheep and goats under this system. The animals are moved to subalpine and alpine pastures during summer, while during winter they are grazed on adjoining plains. But so are the others rearing the animals.
*The scale of this enterprise is widespread and is practiced by a variety of farmers, including landless and marginal farmers, who have adopted this profession for earning a livelihood. Sale of wool and live animals for meat is their only source of income.
- The transhumant system is practiced in order to locate the best herbage resources from pastures and grasslands. There are also well recognized pastoral tribes who practice a complete transhumance, moving from one place to another on traditional migratory routes.
- The people staying in Poonch and Rajouri in the times that have gone by were dependent on two things. One was farming and the other was livestock. This was their only source of income. For most it still is but many have turned away from it and settled elsewhere. But those who are there want permission should be granted to them also so that they can move their animals as the Gujjars and Bakerwals do.
It was a continuous and traditional routine but was interrupted and everything was in disarray. The Pir Panjals had become a dreaded zone and the people were scared to move but now when everything is over and calm has presumably set the non tribesmen want to move along as the nomads and use the facility of grazing they used to in the past!
The migrants to summer pastures do say as they move along with their flock, wandering off is truly a gift? It is the driving force beneath the curiosity that leads us to wander and move these animals up the mountains so that they too can have the most delicious food in the form of rich greenery. For us it is not just wandering but a duty to do for our coming generations. This is our lifestyle and we love it. Summer brings sunshine, warmth and flowering in our lives, a thing where perhaps nomads are better than their counterparts who stay indoors with all the technological and electrical gadgetry around! That is wonderful but spare a thought for those also who too were part of this summer exercise till the winters arrived!