Editor’s Note: This month, that is June 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Environment, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront while interacting with our natural as well as social surroundings. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
Fisheries has been a growing sector in Jammu & Kashmir economy which has been registering consistent growth during the past decades. Fish production and the agricultural activities in the Himalayan region contribute 2% of the GDP. However, persistent poverty and deteriorating economic conditions have forced many women from poor rural households to work outside their homes who ventured into varied economic activities while at the same time continuing to perform their traditional household duties.
Daily Struggles Of The Fisherwomen In Kashmir
Women traditionally have been known to play significant role in fisheries sector, yet their roles remain unarticulated and unrecognised. Fisherwomen, known as Gadhi-wajni in Kashmiri, are one of the prime and oldest entrepreneurs of Kashmir – who retained their individuality even when modernisation ruled the roost. Traditionally, in the fishing community, men would catch the fish at night, while women would sell them through the day.
These women usually, on the days of declared normalcy, sit on the pavements and roadsides to sell the fish, during the summers or harsh winters. Part of their struggles would be to fight with the municipality for the lack of space and no designated fish market. In addition to that comes the question of the dignity of labour, which forms one of the reasons why they do not want their children to continue in this business. The major constraints faced by women in fisheries also include limited control over resources, knowledge, training, finance, tools, little or no influence on the decision-making process especially in the public sphere, lack of proper infrastructure and support facilities for marketing and processing etc. Many scholars would like to believe so and this is not far from truth. However, this is not entirely the truth and certainly not a complete story. The overarching dynamics do certainly flow from two more significant variables—environment and politics!
The Fragile Ecosystem, Economic Sustainability and Politics
Kashmir valley which is located in the heart of the Himalayan ecosystem, is a very fragile ecosystem. Any minor disturbance affects environment and has deep consequences for the question of sustainability. The entire economy around fisheries is not immune from the same.
Directly or indirectly, it has telling effects on the community of fisherwomen. The water bodies and the change in its natural course, the lake which has been their source of livelihood has suddenly turned out to be monstrous for this community. However, this change is not sudden as one might like to believe.
The lake is increasingly becoming a cesspool and the fishes are vanishing at a growing speed from the water-bodies. According to a commonly cited study, the total fish production in Dal Lake registered a negative compound growth of -2.89% for the period of 2000-2010 and that fir the Wullar lake showed a negative compound growth rate of -8.87% from 2000-2011.
The factors responsible for the same are as follows: negative externalities of tourism; excessive fertilisation of vegetable crops on floating garden that lead to algal bloom and the spike in pollution due to the dumping of waste in the lakes, along with over fishing and encroachment. This has led to a persistent decline and destruction of the breeding grounds of the local fish species—schizothorax.
If one is to single out these factors to club it under two distinct subheads—one will be the political climate in the valley, the other will be the environment. Political climate—due to which the tourism takes a hit, hence the negative externalities of tourism and the rest of the factors can be studied under environment and question of sustainability. Not only that, but whenever the political turmoil scales up, the curfew, shutdowns and strike imply jeopardizing the market. Thus no substantial economic activity can be recorded during those periods. This in other words imply, that on the days of declared normalcy, while the fisherwomen can sit on the roadsides to do their business, on the days of lockdowns and curfews, their movement too stands suspended. It is yet to be seen, how this Covid-19 pandemic additionally has affected this community, while Kashmir continues to reel under double lockdown.
Further, it has been recorded that the annual consumption of fish stands at 25000 tons, the production stands at 20000 tons per year, of which Dal Lake produces no more than 5000 tons a year. This has taken a direct hit on the very question of sustainability and existence for the fisherwomen community. There are more than 2000 families that depend on fishing in the Dal Lake for their livelihood. The livelihood far from being decent is declining over a period of time; many people from this community therefore would opt for jobs other than this, hence jeopardizing the business of selling fish.
While this once again accentuates the symbiotic relation between environment, the people, the nature and the economy, the women are again the ones to suffer doubly. The loss of livelihood would not only mean a shift in the nature of the jobs being taken up, but also could imply the loss of financial independence to some extent, if not in its entirety. It is to be reiterated again, that these women would go out to sell the catch, not because it is a choice, but out of a compulsion, given that the nature of work, men had to catch the fish during the nights.
One wonders, now that this business is no longer profitable, would the public sphere be rendered inaccessible to these women for the time?
The Question That Needs Urgent Attention
The authorities are not oblivious of this reality. While measures have been taken to rectify the wrongs, and despite spending a huge chunk of money for the protection of the lakes, certain set of study concludes that the ecologically unsound management practices have led to the failure in the conservation efforts. The state authorities like LAWDA (Lakes and water development authorities) and pollution control board have often come under criticism for not taking scientists and experts on board while formulating the policies.
While official apathy is one of the reason for this, the question of environment being pushed on the backseat, one wonders if the plight of the fisherwomen community exclusively has ever even made to the agenda table of the authorities while discussing conservation strategies for the water bodies. The efforts of the civil society and NGOs while have been innumerable when it comes to the question of environment and conservation, fall silent and fails to address directly the plight of these fisherwomen.
Featured Image Source: Kashmir News Observer