By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar: As they rejoice over timely snowfall that ensures the perennial water reservoirs of the Valley would not run dry this summer, the harsh winter has also evoked among Kashmiris a sense of absolute dependence on the outside world for essential supplies.
After nearly two decades, Kashmir received heavy snowfall at the beginning of the 40-day harsh winter period called the ‘Chila Kalan’.
Kashmiris term it timely because the Valley’s perennial water reservoirs are replenished during the Chila Kalan as the snow gets frozen and is stored, in contrast to that which falls in late winter, mixed with rain, and quickly gets washed away as slush. All foodstuff including grain, mutton, poultry, eggs, milk and vegetables are now brought into the Valley from outside.
Kashmiris once used to have their own flocks of sheep, poultry, milch animals and vegetables to sustain them during the harsh winter.
“Nobody would ever get a sheep or a goat from outside the Valley till the early 1950s. Local sheep and goats sufficed the mutton needs of the locals.
“Every rural household had some poultry and those living closer to lakes and rivers had flocks of ducks and swans in addition. These would meet the needs of the villagers and also those living in the cities as the surplus stocks of poultry, ducks and swans would be sold.” Noor Muhammad Rather, 76, told IANS.
“People grew their own vegetables some of which would be dried and preserved for use during the winter months,” he added.
“Milch animals were reared by locals and every village home had at least one cow for the milk needs of the family and a bullock to pair with that of the neighbor for ploughing the field,” said Ghulam Muhammad Wani, 78, who lives in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
Khwaja Nisar Hussain, 63, a retired chief engineer, however, argued that not many families could afford to buy mutton, poultry and other essentials because of abject poverty in the past.
Nisar also said the exponential increase in population has overtaken whatever little production of mutton, poultry, milk and vegetables Kashmir had.
Despite this assertion, the fact remains that finding ancestral agriculture and allied activities less profitable, Kashmiris took to government services and horticulture in preference to agriculture, sheep, poultry and dairy farming and the like.
Firewood, which used to be available in plenty in the past because of rich forests, is no longer used for cooking purposes because of its non-availability in the Valley.
Cooking gas, electric heaters and kerosene have replaced firewood and any temporary closure of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, through which petroleum products and other essentials are routed into the Valley, results in shortages and sees endless queues of locals lined up for a cooking gas cylinder or a few litres of kerosene.
“The worst part of the myth of our self-sufficiency is that the entire annual supply of mutton to the Valley comes from Rajasthan, which is a desert state, while we have some of the richest meadows and pastures in the world”, said Bashir Ahmad, a retired veterinarian.
Indiscriminate felling of forests and encroachments by expanding populations into areas otherwise demarcated as forest lands have brought the local forests to the brink of extinction.
In the absence of any worthwhile industrial activity, the only occupation the educated locals look for is government service.
“It is a sad but an established fact that while we speak of self-reliance and other lofty ideals, a fortnight’s blockade of the Jammu-Srinagar highway is enough to make one realize the abject dependence we have placed ourselves in,” college principal Muzaffar Ahmad told IANS.
“Everybody here wants to become rich overnight. Agriculture and allied activities like sheep, dairy, poultry farming and growing vegetables cannot realize such a dream. Honestly speaking, we have broken loose from the legacy of the past while chasing a mirage of the future that is not there,” he added.