Kashmir’s another conflict that is consuming lives silently

  • UBEER NAQUSHBANDI
  • Publish Date: Jun 17 2019 3:39AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jun 17 2019 3:39AM
Kashmir’s another conflict that is consuming lives silentlyIN MOURNING: Family of Showkat Ahmad Khatana at Faqir Gujree

On May 20, women in groups with heavy steps were trekking uphill towards non-descript shanty mud house. Located at Mungkhan mohalla of the picturesque village along Zabarwan mountain range, women were going to condole with the family of Showkat Ahmad Khatana.

Khatana had recently been mauled to death by a sleuth of black bears a day earlier. His death has left his family devastated. His wife Shaheen, teenage daughter Shazia and six-year-old son Ayaz every time look with teary eyes towards woods, as if asking the murderer  why it did to them.    

Khatana’s death is nothing new for the village of around 800 chulas (households), since the villagers say they have been mourning death of their dear ones every year, who have been left mauled by wild animals.      

At Khatana’s place, there was lull. People silently entered to offer condolences with the Khatana clan and also thanked heavens for surprise escape to Khatana’s other two brothers—Parveez Ahmad and Ghulam Nabi, who were among the group of six people heading towards their fields, when three bears suddenly attacked them.

“When three bears attacked us, we were frightened. We ran away. Those beasts got hold of my brother (Khatana). Then one big bear got over him and started ripping him apart. We tried to fight it with lathis, but it overcame us. I saw my own brother dying and couldn’t do anything,” says Parveez with fear of horror still visible on his face.  

He adds: “Then, they started dragging him. After that bear started running towards us. One among us took his pheran out and threw towards the bear. Then it left probably taking it as its prey. And we wrapped mauled, blood drenched body of my brother and carried it back to the village”.

While, Ghulam Nabi has not spoken post incident and is lying unconscious in another room. The doctors have told the family that Ghulam Nabi has been left traumatized by the incident, which will take him some time to recover.  

In the room packed with mourners, people also questioned what would it take authorities to come to their rescue, from the suffering which is resulting into death of somebody each year from their village.

“Last year Mohammad Yaseen Famda was killed in a similar incident. Before this there were many others. Yes, many others. A woman Zulikha was also left dead by those wild beasts. We fear for our lives. We fear to venture out in mornings and evenings. Death looms large on our village. Will there be someone to take us out of this,” says Ghulam Nabi Khan, a short statured man who has come to express condolences with the family.   

Khan says the village’s populace is testimony to gruesome attacks of wild animals. “Here everybody has been attacked. Take the case of my nephew Qasim Khan. He was injured near village’s ration store near military camp. His face still bears scars of the attack,” he says

The recent incident has also left teenager Riyaz Bajran injured. His blood soaked bandaged head is reflection of intensity with which the bear had gone on rampage in the village. “I was near scholar’s school. I heard cries coming from masjid side. I ran towards the spot. I saw one heck of a bear along with two other small ones mauling Khatana’s body. I tried to save him by attacking the bears with lathi. But then suddenly I felt somebody struck my head with hammer. I fell down rolling down towards a group of people who were also coming to the spot. Afterwards, I didn’t know what happened to me till somebody sprinkled water on my face,” says Bajran at his meek house jostled by villagers.

The villagers are also aghast  that no higher official or politician has visited them since tragedy  struck their village. “If a wild animal gets killed, there is uproar and condemnation. We have lost a soul. Another has been left disabled. Isn’t it something tragic,” says Abdul Rashid Bajran, who has been the former sarpanch (head) of the village.

 

Kashmir losing lives to man-animal conflict

However, incident of Faqir Gujri is not the secluded one. In fact Kashmir has been losing lives to this unending conflict. The statistics from Wildlife Department reveal 201 people have already been left dead, while 2645 people injured with most left disabled in the conflict.

Until this year, already six people have been left dead till January, while 71 people have been injured in the conflict.

The research carried out by the department in the regions five wildlife divisions including Central division, North division, Shopian division, Wetland division and South division show an increasing trend of the conflict involving wild animals, with black bear topping the chart followed by leopard.

“Over the years there has been habitat disturbance. We are seeing tourists, security forces and other people in search of wild Gucci (variety of mushrooms) or to collect firewood venturing into the domain of wild animals. As a result of which wild animals find their habitat changed. There has also been food shortage in the wild to these animals,” said assistant conservator of forests Kashmir, Suhail Ahmad Wagay.

Wagay, who is also the technical officer to chief wildlife warden J&K claimed that department is bringing in various measures to mitigate the conflict.

“We have increased protected areas. Besides, we have also increased wildlife corridors to facilitate the movement of wild animals in their areas instead of them venturing into human habitations. While, we are also enriching wild with orchids to stop animals to venture out in search of them in human habitations,” says Wagay.

Wagay added over the years there has also been change in hibernation pattern of bears in the last few years.

“Bears are now spotted in January and February. Their habitat has also changed due to climate change,” he says.

Besides, he says increase of leftover food near wild habitations and also fruit trees near forest areas also act as attractants for wild animals.

“See black bear has strong smell power. It can smell food from kilometres. Similarly, we have seen increased dog population near fringe areas. This also acts as enticement for wild animals especially leopards,” explains Wagay.

The department has provision of compensation for the victims of man-animal conflict. The compensation of Rs 3 lakh is provided to next of kin of the deceased victims, while Rs 1 lakh is given to victim suffering from grievous injury and Rs 15 thousand has been fixed compensation for victims with minor injury.

Another concern that is hindering the department to channelize its efforts is shortage of manpower. Sample this: A group of 10- 15 people man the huge Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary which is around 300 kilometer.

Meanwhile, inhabitants of Faqir Gujree, a village dotted with orchids and also close to capital Srinagar, continue to pose question: “What would it take authorities to end their plight”.