When COVID-19 struck the world, many countries responded by imposing a lockdown to check the spread of the virus. India put in place one of the strictest restrictions on movement during the lockdown. The suddenness with which the lockdown was imposed in the country naturally had an impact on a wide section of the population. Migrant labour working in Indian cities visibly took the worst hit as they were left in the lurch with the complete abeyance of transport facilities.
Given that mobility forms a central core of pastoralist lifestyle, CfP felt the need for examining the lockdown’s impact on pastoralists in India. Between June to September 2020, we collaborated with academic partners and NGOs to conduct a survey of nearly 400 pastoralists and more than 30 pastoral communities, spread across nine states and two union territories: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Ladakh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Uttarakhand.
We found that experiences varied according to the conditions that prevailed in different regions. For instance, in some states pastoralists reported a positive impact on their movement as the lockdown translated into reduced traffic, easing their herds’ movement. On the other hand, in states like Uttarakhand pastoralists could not move at all. Other impacts on pastoral mobility included limited access to pastures located in forest and protected areas, and disruption in usual migratory patterns.
Financial stress due to increased expenditure and reduced income levels was another key source of difficulty. The closure of dairy and livestock markets created difficulties in selling milk and animals. Other factors that contributed to higher than normal expenditure included limited availability of public veterinary care services, ration shops, and transport for fodder. We found communities which derive their incomes solely from the sale of milk were affected much more than those that rely on a combination of sources for their livelihood. There were however variations in the degree of financial stress faced in the different regions.
Social stigma faced by pastoralists stemmed from two core reasons: religious identity and the fear of COVID-19 transmission. The stigma faced by communities who practice Islam was much worse than those faced by others. This is because the stigma on the basis of religious identity was caused by the ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ rumours spread through national media channels in March 2020. On the other hand, tensions and stigma due to fear of COVID-19 transmission were soon dissipated through discussions between villagers and pastoralists. The pre-existing social ties that pastoralists have with farmers along their migratory route helped a long way in this. In the Himalayan and western regions however, examples of such cooperation were fewer.
For more detailed findings of this survey, read this national level report.