Ahmedabad-based voluntary organisation Drishti has introduced a rare film, “Kharai Camels: An Amazing Cattle Breed of India”, based on spot surveys in remote areas of Kutch district, following deep interaction with camel breeders Amadbhai Jat, Ismail Amad Jat and Aghakhan Salvani, Sahjeevan Trust activists Dr Sabyasachi Das, Dr Shersinh, and Ramesh Bhatti, scientist Dr DN Rank and Gujarat animal husbandry director Dr AJ Kachhiyapatel. Directed by Debarun Dutta, the film goes a long way to underline why it is necessary for the government to declare the kharai camel as an endangered species. An interview with Debarun Dutta:
Q. What inspired you to make the film?
A: The inspiration comes from the Sahjeevan team, the NGO which has been working relentlessly on this issue for over a decade in the Kutch district of Gujarat. The life of the cattle breeders in this very harsh landscape, their immense knowledge about the breed, livestock, their simple and sustainable way of living with nature – all this moved me to make the film.
Q: What makes kharai camels a rare species? Has it been officially declared rare? If not, why? What do officials you talked to say?
A: The kharai camels differ from the Kutchi camels in lots of ways. Physical features like head size, ears, shorter chest pat, medium sized gently padded feet are all adapted for wet sandy land of the coasts. Genetic research also proves that they are a different breed. However, it hasn’t been officially declared a rare species yet. Sahjeevan and Kutch Unt Ucherak Maldhari Sangathan are in the process of registering it. Having done the requisite research and approached the Gujarat Animal Husbandry department, they would now formally submit the registration claim with the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources. The film will become part of the evidence, along with other documents, supporting the claim. Officials in the Animal Husbandry department, Gujarat, also support the claim. All credits go to Sahjeevan for having ensured the support of the government’s wing in this matter.
Q. How many Jats/Rabaris rear these camels? Is the number of those taking care of the kharai camels dwindling because the younger generation may not be interested in continuing with the traditional job?
A: There are only about 72 camel breeders spread across the four blocks of Abdasa, Bundra, Lakhpat and Bachau, and the total camel population is about 2,000. Many members of the camel breeding community have turned to wage labour as a means of supplementing family income. The cost of basic living has gone up in the last decade, forcing the new generation to look for alternative livelihood options. Camel milk and other products have also not been promoted enough till date, thus the opportunities of earning from their livestock has also been limited. Diseases and their inadequate remedial services have also resulted in depletion of the camel population. But above all this the biggest danger to this species comes from the unplanned and unsustainable industrialisation that is happening along the Kutch coastline.
Q. What makes kharai camels, in your perception, a threatened species? What is the threat you observed during your survey while preparing the film?
A: As mentioned above, the biggest threat comes from industrialisation. In the name of development, new ports, mining and cement factories have been set-up at a heavy cost to the environment, and particularly the mangrove ecosystem. Large tracts of mangrove forest have been cut down, thus reducing the grazing area of the kharai camels, which in turn results in the decline of the breed population.
Q: While talking with government officials, could you see any alternative ways to ensure that the species doesn’t extinct because of dwindling number of persons who rear them?
A: The dwindling number of pastoralists has to do with the decreasing economic value of the camel. Camels are no longer in use for transportation, army, etc. Thus, it is imperative that other economic opportunities like camel milk product, camel wool product, etc. are leveraged. The government along with these organisations has started the initiative of linking them to dairies, but much more needs to be done to ensure that rearing camels becomes a viable option. Marketing camel products and branding it needs to be taken up proactively.
Q: What are the livelihood options of people who rear kharai camels? Can tourism become an important livelihood option for the breeding communities?
A: Livelihood options of the camel breeding communities are very limited. With the coming up of few cement factories and ports some family members are engaged in labour work in the factories. Some of these areas along the mangrove coasts are beautiful in their natural beauty and bio-diversity, yet no tourism efforts have been thought of for this region. Even if there is ultimately a thrust for tourism activities, it is important that it is taken up responsibly, or else it will turn into another menace for the local habitat and culture.
Q. What is the level of education among those who rear the kharai camels? Do girls go to school? What about the status of women?
A: I don’t have valid data about the status of education among the camel breeders, but curiously while shooting I realised that with schools having become a reality in every village, the level of education is probably increasing. The elders we interacted with, most of them have not received formal education. I presume girls are married off at a very early age. It remains a considerably closed society where women are expected to do heavy work in the household, from getting water from far off wells, to taking care of the animal, building houses, cooking etc.
Q: Are health facilities accessible to the community?
A: Health facilities are few and far off. Conditions are very harsh, with very little tree cover, and temperatures reach up to 50 degrees centigade in summer, and sub zero during winter. But, amidst all these challenges, interestingly, they still find time to weave one of the most fascinating embroidery works.