Obligated Resilience And Optimistic Illusion Of Climate Adaptation

by | Aug 1, 2023

Chronicles from a community’s struggle of resilience, who have to keep adapting to shifting according to political and climatic uncertainties

This climatic year have been bad for the Van Gujjar community as the migrating group went through the shift and faced repercussions of late winter and snowfall in the grazing meadows. Expected snowfall didn’t occur during December or January but came way later in March. Experts are still trying to study how increasing temperature and Western Disturbance affected the region. This delay resulted in death of some buffaloes and diseases such as pneumonia amongst the children as they were not expecting snowfall during their annual migration period. They found out after reaching to the forests that the meadows were covered in snow. It was a critical period of 10 -15 days during which the Buffalo had to stay without any fodder. Thinking it ended there was a sweet illusion.

Later monsoon hit early leaving the settlements near Ganga river vulnerable to the rising water levels. Low lying areas combined with recent NHAI (National Highway Authority of India) road expansion project which failed to consider the forest dwelling settlements resulted in catastrophic floods. And finally, the river decided to shift its course, and direct itself towards Naouki settlement. With around hundred houses, out of which around nine got totally washed away with no traces of any habitation left. This was happening the first time in Naouki and people have predicted that during the ongoing road expansion project a huge retaining wall was built in the parallel stretch leaving water no other choice but to shift.

Power hierarchy and political hypocrisy pushed the people further away from aid. As minority forest dwellers and migrating nomads they have a lower status resulting in ignorance by state. Even the disaster management funds were directed towards the village panchayat who is away from the settlement and in a way better shape.

Washed away…
Force of water destroyed the roof

Words Of Resistance

“Jab paani andar aa gaya tab mai uppar khat pe chad gai. Papa, chacha sab balti se pani nikalrahe the” said Najma, an 8 year old from Naouki Khatta, Shyampur range.

“Jahan tak nazar ja rahi thi, paani hi paani tha, ghar me, bahar, sab nadi ban gaya tha” said Juveda, who’s house got torn apart.

“Sau saal se paani nahi aaya itna, iss saal barish bhi bohot hui aur rasta bhi ban raha hai. Unhone bandh lagaya hai, aap dekhe to baju se jane wali nadi sukhi hai aur pani sara hamare gharo mein aa gaya hai” said Yaqoof.

“Paani aate hi humne bache hue bartan uthaaye aur samne ki chattan par chadh gaye. Barish ruki nai do din to do din upar hi rukna pada” said salma who waited for help, but it was just inaccessible.

“Sab log apna apna ghar bachane mein jud gaye. Koi mitti ki boriyo ka bandh laga raha hai, koi pani nikal raha hai, kuch log sab hone ke baad bahar aake nadi palli taraf modne ke koshish me jud gaye” said Gulam Rassol with a mixed emotion of sorrow about one had to do it and a bit comfort that we are still standing together.

Flood lasted for two days, and they received some help from nearby village and local Sangathans on the third day. Yaqoof said nobody ate anything that night, everyone was holding on to their kids and elders. “Some villagers reached next day, and we are extremely thankful to them and everyone who helped.”

Reflection And Refraction

I went there after a week to meet Yakoof and his family. It was difficult to reach on the other side as the soil was still wet. We saw huge tree trunks lying around which came with the water. I was scared to see what was to be unfold. I was involved in making the poster for food relief funds and banners so I was aware of the gravity of situation but was surprised to see the courage of these families.

Also read: From Meadows To Markets: The Van Gujjars’ Milk Routes in The Himalayas

When we went inside, we were received with tea, snacks and smiles. It was me who came from a notion of something horrible happened. It did happen but still it felt as if its just me who perceived it as terrible. The was a sense of hope and optimism all around, a strange sense of togetherness. People were defiantly sad about it but that didn’t stop them from doing everyday activities and move about chores with the same grace and dignity.

Buffaloes returning home after a day in wet forest land

Uncertain Hope

Salma said,

Iss taraf ki diwar gir gai hai magar filhal to aaise hi rahenge, abhi gili mitti sukhegi nahi, sardiyo mein aache se lipaai ke saath dere ki marammat karenge

Image from Naouki, Shyampur, Haridwar. The settlement is filled with river sand, logs, pistic and all that river brought with itself

What would I have said if that much water came to my door? What would I do? Do I have a community which will work together in case of calamities? The calm and collected smiles were like a ray of hope, optimistic adaptation in the wet deras with burning chulhas with their aspirations of future intact. A hope to see better days ahead. At the same time wondering if the rains has ended for this year? How will the next year look like? Will we have our land rights till then?

In my opinion, the tag of ‘Resilient Pastoralists’ takes away the realities community is struggling with. They do stand together in bad times and are quite strong emotionally, it helps them to cope with day to day problems. But that doesn’t mean we keep ignoring the cry of climate. Resilience is not a choice for them anymore.

Identity is what puts them in trouble. It is also the only thing they turn to draw courage from.

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