Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoral Nomads, the State and a National Park: The Case of Dachigam, Kashmir

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoral Nomads, the State and a National Park: The Case of Dachigam, Kashmir

Article excerpt

Introduction

Most of the world's nomadic communities live in South Asia, and this region has the greatest variety of domestic animals systematically herded--bovines, equines, cameis, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, guinea-fowl. Yet, scholarly interest in South Asian nomadism is meagre (Rao and Casimir 2003), and largely limited to expounding the 'problems' these 'backward' communities create for the state in its developmental aims. Reflecting colonial and orientalist attitudes flavoured by an urbanised and sedentist bias, the perspective has been largely that of a state, whose ultimate objective is to settle migratory pastoralists and other nomads. With environmental problems growing and alarming reports of deforestation throughout the region, state forest departments in many South Asian countries are locked in battles over what they deem 'overexploitation' by migratory herders. Increasingly, however, this perspective is being questioned and issues of social justice are coming to the fore. The notion of the environment being a concern of and for the state, rather than one of and for the people, is being contested. Slowly, but steadily, resource use--and with this, nomadism--in South Asia is also becoming a contested domain.

In this paper I draw on ethnographic data (1) and archival materials to discuss some of the contradictions inherent in the conflict between the state in South Asia and its organs and institutions on the one hand and pastoral communities on the other. Using the example of the Dachigam National Park, I try to illustrate how wildlife management problems are often embedded in the much larger context of state-nomad relations and, more generally, in relations of dominance handed down from colonial times, and closely related to colonial concepts of nature. Finally, I show how such relations of dominance can be contested in times of more generalised political conflict. I take as an example the Valley of Kashmir, which has been witnessing severe armed violence since 1990.

The Setting

The Valley of Kashmir (henceforth, 'Kashmir') in the western Himalayas is part of the Indian-administered unit known as Jammu and Kashmir (henceforth, J&K) and comprises the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Great variations in topography and vegetation mark these regions (2), each of which witnesses considerable seasonal, intra- and interregional migration, and till 1989, a sizeable influx of tourists from beyond J&K in the summer months. The bulk of migrants consists of individuals and families who drive various types of livestock to appropriate pastures. Each of these groups exploits only part of the total environment. Their strategies are influenced not only by the ecological settings, but also by the presence of the other pastoralists and the attempts of each of these to optimise subsistence strategies.

As in many (Guillet 1983) high-altitude areas of the world, here too verticality is the main form of pastoral resource exploitation (Casimir and Rao 1985), and the alpine (2,332 [km.sup.2]: MPDNP 1995: 49) and subalpine pastures surrounding the Kashmir Basin have long been the traditional summer grazing areas for herds of sheep, goats, cows and buffaloes (Casimir et al. 1992; Casimir and Rao 1998; Casimir 2003). The herders belong to different communities, some of whom are sedentary, others transhumant and still others nomadic. Thus in summer, Kashmiri farmers, living year round in hamlets at 2,000 to 2,500 m with easy access to village commons, are often entrusted by farmers living further below with their livestock, in return for payment in cash and kind. Other farmers still lower down in the Valley pay the Pohol--professional Kashmiri herdsmen--to take their stock up to alpine pastures and bring them back in autumn, to be stail-fed in winter. Additionally, nomadic pastoral communities of the Bakkarwal and the Banihara enter Kashmir with their herds in early summer and exit in autumn, while the Gujar spend the entire year with their livestock transhuming within the Valley. …

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