Marginalised by fate and the government alike, poor shepherds trapped in inaccessible Bara Banghal area of Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, continue to struggle with little help coming from any quarter.
While the body of one shepherd, who was reportedly buried in snow, on the intervening night of 22 and 23 September, has not been retrieved for hostile terrain and indifferent authorities, the delayed official response to the plight of shepherds, worsened the situation. The early snow on the Thamsar Pass (15,700 feet high) compounded their problems.
Sources said around 100 shepherds are still stranded in the remote area with flocks of over 8,000 sheep, goats and horses, and are waiting for snow to harden on Thamsar Pass, so that they can walk out of the inaccessible pocket- An option that the local administration has advised them not to avail in view of the dicey terrain, where thickness of snow cannot be gauged.
Bara Banghal involves a tough mountainous trek of 70 kilometres from Bir in Kangra and Holi in Chamba district. Mules can reach the area from Bir side only and that’s why the shepherds are unable to chose alternative route to Chamba district with horses.
Bara Banghal Panchayat comprises two villages, Ghraan and Phaal, with a populace of over 700.
“We have issued an advisory for shepherds that they should avoid Thamsar Pass and instead cross over from Jalsu to reach Chamba side. We have spoken to Bara Banghal locals, who can take care of their horses for time being,” said Sub Divisional Magistrate, Baijnath, Vikas Shukla.
The search for sprawling greener pastures for their flocks of sheep and goats in Bara Banghal this summer turned an ordeal for shepherds from different districts, as the paths for pedestrians and mules near Palachak on way to Thamsar Pass from Bir and two other places got washed away in heavy rains.
While government ensured that Bara Banghal locals are not devoid of ration supplies in the landlocked belt and sent the supplies through chopper a month and a half ago, the shepherds were left out for the facility, holding that they are not residents of the area.
The shepherds were denied ration for many days even after the SDM, Baijnath telling the depot holder in Bara Banghal to provide 10 per cent ration to shepherds stranded there. The repair work for broken paths also could not start early for objections by wild life wing, it being a wild life sanctuary area—On this, however, the SDM had to pass an order to the wild life wing in second week of September to address the issue urgently in stipulated period, as the winters, which were around, could worsen the situation.
“The government has not been kind enough to this marginalised community. The situation would not have grim had they been provided ration along with locals, and had the broken paths been repaired on priority,”said Akshay Jasrotia, an activist, working with pastoral nomads in Himachal. He said limited food packets were sent by chopper for stuck-up shepherds last week, who have again been left as such.
“We urge the government to revert back to the old system of giving ration to shepherds in Bara Banghal in summers s as there is no alternate to this inaccessible area,” said Jasrotia.