Human migration based on seasons is common in agricultural circles. In many cases, humans along with their cattle or sheep move to lower /higher elevations based on the seasons. A prime example of this migration in our country are the Gaddi Shepherds.
Gaddi Shepherds are a pastoral group from Himachal Pradesh. Their economic activity revolves around sheep rearing and agriculture. They move according to the variations in seasons i.e. summer and winter. During winter season, they stay
in lower range of Shiwaliks to provide pastures to their animals. By April, when summers start, they go up in the Himalayas when snow melts and the mountains are lush green. After summers end, by September, they again march towards their lower base, i.e. Shiwaliks.
Gaddi is a generic term used for all of the indigenous population of the Bharmour area of Chamba district and some regions of Jammu and Kashmir. The Gaddis include Brahman, Rajputs, Khatri, Thakur Rathi, Hali, Rihare and Dom.
The community occupies the inaccessible, inhospitable terrain in between the Pir-Panjal and Dhauladhar range, between Ravi and Chenab valley. It is a high altitude area and remains cut off most of the time because of heavy snowfall.
The majority of the Gaddies are landowners and practice agriculture and horticulture as their primary means of livelihood. They are also pastorals and own large flocks of sheep and goats, as a subsidiary occupation.
The Himalayan ecological crisis has risen to be a major concern among policy-makers, environmental activists and academicians. Author Richard Tucker, in his essay “Mountain minorities and Ecological change in the Himalayas” observes:
Since independence, the dilemmas of the grazing economy have remained unresolved, and conflicting charges about the pattern and extent of overgrazing have persisted as before. Several government commissions have attempted but failed to resolve the competing claims of foresters and shepherds. Pressures on the land have intensified in the densely populated foothills. Settled agriculture there continues to expand, and hydroelectric dams have flooded rich bottomlands. The Gaddis themselves disagree over their long-range prospects. The sons of some migratory shepherds prefer school and then a wage-paying job to the rigors of the high passes. But other families continue as in previous generations. Collectively the profits of pastoralism provide them with one of the most lucrative segments of the entire Himachal economy. Environmental pressures may be slowly undermining the basis of their culture, but the future is very unclear.
Molly Kaushal, in the essay “Sacred Response to the Environment” opines that The manner in which Gaddi Shepherds have adapted to the hardships and diversity of the migratory grazing system brings into focus the inherent sustainability element. Emerging changes, no doubt, are exerting great pressure, but proper management mechanism will help in the sustainable functioning of the system which enjoys the advantages of inherent soundness and emotional attachments.