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  HOME PAGE 21/04/2021 13:30 
08.03.2021 10:57 News >> Another Conflict Grips Kashmir But On Mutton This Time

Another Conflict Grips Kashmir But On Mutton This Time

Since November 2020, butchers have stopped sale after government order to lower prices.

For the past four months, Ghulam Qadir Mir has been spending his mornings searching for mutton, which has virtually disappeared from Kashmiri markets because of a disagreement between butchers and the local government over prices.
Mir, an early riser, visits each of the four meat shops in Bemina, a densely populated locality in Srinagar, the capital city of Indian-administered Kashmir. On a lucky day, he finds one of them has slaughtered a sheep or two. Being a regular customer, he does not return home empty-handed.
But the lucky days have been far and few between. On several occasions, after finding local butcher shops shut, he rode in his old car well into the neighboring rural district of Budgam, 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) away, hoping to find some village butcher selling freshly slaughtered locally bred sheep.
"My family members scold me every time I step outside. It is particularly tough in freezing winters to go out," said Mir, a retired government official who suffers from multiple ailments. For any ailing Kashmiri, mutton soup is the ultimate comfort food.
In November, butchers in Kashmir stopped the sale of mutton to protest the government order asking them to sell it at 420 Indian rupees (around $6) a kilogram against the reigning price of 600 rupees (around $8.5) per kilogram. Several meetings between leaders of mutton dealers and government officials since then have ended in a stalemate, even though the officials raised the price to 515 rupees (around $7) per kilogram.
Mutton is the most widely consumed meat in Kashmir, followed by chicken and beef. It is also the costliest of the three.
Mehrajuddin Ganai, general secretary of the All Kashmir Wholesale Mutton Dealers Association, said Kashmir imports about 2 million sheep a year from several Indian states and estimates the trade is worth $350 million, involving 4,000 to 5,000 retail mutton sellers and others associated with it, like truckers.
Jammu and Kashmir has a sheep population of 3.2 million, according to India's 20th livestock census conducted in 2019, down from 3.4 million in 2012. It ranks sixth in India, but given the demand, it is sufficient for a year and a half.
About 200,000 to 300,000 locally bred sheep are supplied to butchers by pastoral nomads and cattle farmers every year, in addition to 2 million imported from Indian states, Ganai told Anadolu Agency.
- 'Unrealistic assessment' of mutton trade
The region is ripe for an increase in livestock growth, but several factors have hampered it so far. Maroof Shah, a veterinarian who has published a research paper on why the industry could not develop over the years, told Anadolu Agency that nearly all of the livestock trade is still in the unorganized sector, which he said was its biggest undoing.
"Other major factors are the loss of grazing land due to urbanization and the ongoing conflict situation," he said.
However, Ganai believes the current stalemate is the "result of the government's unrealistic assessment" of mutton trade. He said the government is trying to browbeat them to sell mutton to 520 rupees (some $7) per kg without taking into account "the ground realities."
"Let the government officials visit sheep wholesale markets across India, calculate the costs and fix a profit margin for us. They don't want to do the math. Rather, they want us to accept arbitrarily fixed prices," he said.
On Friday, Mohammad Akbar, deputy director of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, told the media that he expected the issue would be resolved by next week. He said it would have been resolved had the dealers agreed to the government's price of 515 rupees (about $7) per kg.
Demand for mutton rises steeply from spring onwards because of Eid, weddings, engagements, and other occasions. Kashmiri weddings are elaborate affairs where the quantity of mutton cooked by professional chefs ranges between 1 and 7 quintals. Most of the items on the menus of local restaurants are made of mutton. Even a meal served on the fourth day of a person's death is mostly mutton.
Wholesale mutton dealers have already started getting calls from anxious parents whose children are getting married in coming months, said Ganai.
The availability of mutton dishes at eateries and restaurants, and the furtive morning sale customers like Mir have gotten used to, however, indicate that smaller quantities of mutton do reach the markets.
"Yes. Where else do the hoteliers and restaurateurs get their supply from? We can't blame the butchers because they have families to feed. We can't rule out black marketing. But this stalemate is only benefitting outsiders," said Ganai.
Disputed Region
Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965, and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989. -



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