Fields full of ripe paddy in valley of unrest

By F. Ahmed, IANS,

Srinagar : As the soothing autumn sun shines over the Kashmir Valley, farmer Ghulam Muhammad, 31, feels satisfied when he surveys his abundant paddy crop. The yield has been good this year, and farming activity in the valley has remained untouched by the ongoing unrest in the towns.

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Farmers like Muhammad are busy harvesting, threshing and milling their paddy crop to sustain their families through the ensuing winter that brings everything to a halt in Kashmir.

“The yield has been good despite inclement weather, flash floods and cloudbursts. I had not expected the yield to be so good this year,” said Muhammad, a farmer in Ganderbal district, as he busied himself in threshing the paddy crop and preparing its storage for the winter months.

“Despite the political uncertainty and the tensions here, life has to somehow go on and this principle of continuity cannot be understood better than by looking at a ripe paddy field which must be harvested in time if the year’s labours are not to go waste,” said Master Habibullah, 65, a retired school teacher who lives in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. Habibullah engages himself actively in harvesting, threshing and milling of his paddy produce, lending a helping hand to his sons.

Despite the fact that agricultural land has been shrinking in the countryside because of road widening and other construction work, a majority of Kashmiris living in rural areas still continue with agriculture as their main occupation.

“There is a standing law against use of agricultural land for any other purpose, but this law is now observed more in its breach.

“The authorities watch the construction of residential houses, shopping complexes, etc., on agricultural land as silent spectators. The alarming use of agricultural land for other purposes today threatens the generations-old occupation of the local farmers,” says Habibullah.

Interestingly, womenfolk in the countryside work alongside men during the agricultural operations, helping out with the weeding, harvesting and milling of the crop.

The agricultural operations in the valley is witnessing a change with increasing numbers of labourers from outside the valley being engaged.

“Labourers from outside the valley, who come to work here, are now engaged for sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting and even threshing of the paddy crop.

“This is happening because of the diversification of the traditional farmer families of the valley,” said Habibullah.

“Many men and women in rural Kashmir are now engaged in government employment, business activities, etc., and since they find less time to engage in their traditional family occupation of farming, labourers from outside are employed as daily wagers to do the agricultural work.”

The ongoing unrest which has so far claimed 110 lives has not affected agricultural activity in the valley.

“Farming is a time-bound activity. The ripe paddy crop has to be harvested in time; otherwise the grains will spill,” Abdul Majid, another farmer, told IANS.

“Nobody can afford to delay agricultural operations as that would mean losing the labour of the entire year. This is the reason that despite the separatists-called shutdowns and official restrictions, agricultural activity has continued without any hindrance.

“After all, if we do not harvest the crop what do we eat for the rest of the months?” asked Majid.

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at [email protected])