Mushtaq Hurra

The plight of our wetlands

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Nearly two decades ago, our wetlands and other water bodies were not only pristine but rich with fish. Thus, these water bodies were a big source of food and also great sight to see and picnic around while some would love the typical Kashmiri style of fishing.  Fishing, apart from the fishermen community who did it for earning their livelihood, was more of enjoyment and fun than anything else. Catching fish in wetlands between dense cattail and other aquatic vegetation was quite a fascinating experience.

People living in villages would prefer fishing in shallow waters during summers and autumns. Even the same was done in spring season as well when water levels would be high in these water bodies. During spring, fishing was done with indigenously made fishing rods. The fish were neither eaten alone nor sold but distributed among neighbors and relatives as well.

Thus, the distribution of fish among relatives and neighbours was adding greatly to our old social bindings.

Young and old, irrespective of gender, people used to catch fish through different indigenous methods. Women mostly used old bottomless wicker baskets and men used a typical locally made instrument called Naarutch (a bunch of short Spears fitted in a long wooden handle). Even children would go fishing with bare hands in shallow streams.

During springs and early summers when water levels used to be very high, teenage boys used those typical indigenous fishing-rods attaching earthworms as bait to attract the fish. Rich as well as poor had a passion for it and we were sometimes reprimanded by our parents and elders for this hobby of ours as it would waste a lot of our precious time which we would be expected to spend on our studies. Though the practice is still alive but it is confined to a particular community only. Even many tourists are seen fishing on the banks of rivers but we have lost those traditional ways which were full of pleasure and adventure.

With the use of weedicides and the chemical fertilizers, the production of fish in our water bodies has considerably shrunk and decreased.  Excessive usage of these chemically made fertilizers has not only reduced the production of fish in our wetlands but it has made many harmed several aquatic species go extinct. Nadru and Pumb were abundantly found in many ponds and wetlands, but now these special vegetables are almost on the verge of extinction. We have not only lost an inexpensive and free of cost food item with tremendous nutritious value but a centuries  old tradition and legacy as well.

Fish has been our favourite cuisine since ages for its nutritional value which mutton, chicken or beef lack and is preferred over various other foods. Our fathers and forefathers would receive this special gift free of cost but our greed and so-called modernization has snatched from us this legacy.

Though every Kashmiri would taste the fish multiple times in a year particularly during cold season but the decreased production has deprived us from a cherished food that is suffering due to the increased pollution levels in our water bodies. If not checked in time, we may have no more fishes here and would need to import fish like chicken and mutton from the coastal areas.

The writer is a Teacher by profession and contributes to various newspapers. [email protected]

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