Chopan- An untold story of Kashmiri Shepherds

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By: Ishfaq Ahmad Chopan

Chopan- As they are known, the Shepherds of Kashmir have remained an economically and socially backward community. This community has got significant importance in our societies and has inherited distinct culture and history particularly vis-a-vis  rural life.

The Shepherds who, by profession serve and breed the sheep and goat of farmers live in almost every village of the valley though most of the times several people from this community live very  close to nature in their endeavour to sheep rearing that takes them directly into the lap of nature. The process continues throughout the year in some parts while in some snow bound areas, the shepherds rest for the winter months.

Chopan’s are well acquainted with the higher altitudes and different regional pastures as they live roam around the pastures located deep into the forests alongwith the livestock and reside in make-shift tents. Now this a routine with Chupan’s here who have traditionally been associated with this trade and have been earning their livelihood this way.

At certain places, they live in the roughly made stony, wood and mud huts commonly called  ‘Kotha’s or ‘Dok’s’ and no matter how severe weather conditions prevail, they survive and also take good care of the livestock as well. Living a nomadic life, very close to nature, these Shepherds also have a knack for the various natural herbs and shrubs and other medicinal plants that are found in the ranges that the take their livestock.

However,  the overall economic and social status of this community is miserable and the other side of the story reveals the official apathy, unfulfilled list of  promises made to them time to time and also the social refrain that they constantly face. In fact, Chopan community is a telling example of the social injustice and discrimination.

It is a tragedy that this community is still not listed for reservation and those belonging to it have to compete with other social classes in the open merit category. Even though J&K’s commission for backward classes observes that Chopan community is similar to the Changpa community in Ladakh and Gadii in Jummu and northern India, who have already been granted the ST status, Chopans continue to remain alone and aloof owing to the administrative and political negligence of their long pending demands.

Chopans of Kashmir are mostly landless and poor as well as a socially dependent and to think that they can compete with other communities and enjoy some development as well as progress is a fancy thought not a real one.

‘J&K Chopan Welfare Association’ was established in 1996 with certain demands and with the core demand of government approval for ‘ST Status’ for the community and to seek reservation to in all government departments, particularly in departments vested with the job of promoting sheep rearing etc. The Association also demands providing of Mobile Schools for the community and insurance to their livestock besides special scholarship for Chopan students on state and national levels. However all these demands are still pending before the executing agencies and as a result the community is suffering pretty bad times.

In addition, the state and central government and also the concerned minority commissions made false promises with the community over the years stating that their inclusion in the Tribe list was on cards. This of course proved to be a harsh joke the community didn’t appreciate!

It is interesting to mention that the common minimum programme of last PDP-BJP collation government even mentioned it very clearly that Chopan community would be ensured their deprived rights by empowering them with Scheduled Tribe status was a the duty of the government. However, till the end of this collation, the matter was never ever even discussed.

Even though J&K legislative assembly passed a resolution on 10th of April, 2010, for the inclusion of Chopan community for the ST status but the central government has never taken any cognizance of the same. Moreover concerned ministries, in their categorization of Nomadic and Semi Nomadic tribes, also described Chopans as a Nomadic tribe of J&K. But the reality is that members of this community enjoy no services or reservation in terms of education opportunities to their children nor in terms of job’s for the aspirants among them.

Justice delayed is rather justice denied and the current status of Chopans largely describes the tale of unfulfilled demands, broken promises and official neglect over the years by the successive governments. They have been reduced to a mere vote bank. It is important and an urgent need of the time to ensure justice by enlisting the Chopan community of Kashmir in the Scheduled Tribe list of state in order to empower them and bring them on the radar of development and progress, at par with other communities.

Writer is a at the Central University of Kashmir.

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