Killing of non-locals: There is too much fear, say migrant workers
Jammu/Srinagar: “It is the last gift from Kashmir. I will not go there again to earn my livelihood,” said a distraught Mintu Singh, a labourer from Chattisgargh, holding a cricket bat.
Like him, scores of migrant labourers and their families have fled the Valley, saying they have experienced “hell” in the last couple of weeks after militants carried out targeted killings of 11 non-locals.
Many said they may not ever come back to Kashmir again.
Ajay Kumar of Besangoan, Bihar, who fled along with his wife Sarita and two kids from a brick kiln at Pulwama in south Kashmir and reached Jammu railway station, wept bitterly saying his employer refused to pay Rs 27,000 in pending wages.
Several others had the same complaint and appealed to authorities to intervene.
“I am very unhappy leaving the valley. This has become hell. We come here to earn for our families not to get killed on streets,” said Chintu Singh, who had been working for four-five months every year in the Valley for over a decade now.
“I brought this gift (cricket bat) from Kashmir for a friend’s children. It is the last gift from Kashmir. I will not come to Kashmir again to earn livelihood. The situation is very bad due to fear and terror there (as result of killings)”, said Singh, who fled along with a group of 20 Hindu labourers working in a brick kiln in Pulwama district.
Thousands of labourers, mostly Hindus and some Muslims, from different states arrived at railway stations and bus stands in Jammu and Udhampur after leaving the Valley.
While some labourers said that their wages were paid, there were others who complained that they were driven out by employers in the valley forcibly without their wages.
“We had no money. I along with my wife and two children got some money from others and left the valley. The owner forced us out without paying us the remaining wages”, said Ajay Kumar and showed a diary with his wage bill.
Like him, Ram Sharan and Santosh Kumar of Bihar, and Rakesh Dass and Alok Chand Darma (Chattisgarh) also complained about non-payment of wages and urged authorities to facilitate the transfer of their wages from their employers in Kashmir valley.
Chunni Devi from Jharkhand, who reached Jammu railway station in a Tata Sumo vehicle from Kashmir along with her husband and children, said, “We came to Kashmir after getting to know it is paradise of earth. But it is not paradise. It is hell.
“They have shown us pictures of hell. They killed innocent Hindu labourers. We will never come to Kashmir to work again”.
She said that they were living in constant fear after the killings. “Our parents and family in Jharkhand were also anxious for our safety. Now we are in Jammu. There is no fear. We will go to Punjab, Haryana or Delhi to earn our livelihood, but not Kashmir,” she said.
The labourers complained they received little help from the administration and the police.
“Our employer told us (30 labourers) to leave for our home. He told us to go to the police. We spent these days in trauma due to the fear of killings. No one helped us”, Mohammad Jabaar of Bihar said.
Meanwhile, anxious to return home after the spate of killings targeting minorities, non-locals and other civilians in the Valley, about 50 migrant labourers, many of them from Bihar, arrived at the Nowgam railway station late on Monday night from nearby Budgam district where they worked in brick kilns.
“We spent the night in the open but we felt more secure due to the presence of security forces guarding the railway station,” Mithilesh Kumar told PTI at the station on Tuesday.
“We are leaving Kashmir earlier than usual… There is too much fear, “he added.
Trains are the preferred route out of the Valley with many saying they will ensure their safety for the rest of the journey.
Kumar said the group will take a train to Banihal on the other side of the Pir Panjal range and then catch a taxi or bus to Jammu for the onward journey to Bihar.
“Nobody told us to leave but who will be responsible if someone among us gets killed. One moment we are told security will be provided and the next we are on our own,” said Deepak Kumar, a resident of Bihar’s Madhubani district.
On Sunday, two labourers from Bihar were gunned down when militants barged into their accommodation in Kulgam district, taking the number of civilians killed in targeted attacks in Jammu and Kashmir this month to 11. Another labourer sustained bullet injuries.
The killings of civilians have led to many migrant workers making their way back home though many in the city have decided to stay on in the search for work. The money, they said, is better and the local residents are kind.
The workers at Nowgam station, waiting to board a train out, agreed. Many praised the locals and said they ensured the group reached the station safely.
“People of Kashmir are kind but few people do politics and the masses have to suffer,” Deepak Kumar said.
There were also reports of migrant labourers from other parts of the Valley leaving in taxis and buses early in the morning.
However, hundreds could also be seen at major intersections in the city, hoping to be hired for work.
Hawal Chowk, rechristened Bihari Chowk by city dwellers, has not witnessed any significant decrease in the number of migrant workers there.
The first migrant worker — Virender Paswan — was shot dead by militants in Hawal area.
The scenes were no different at Rambagh, less than two kilometres from where prominent Kashmiri Pandit businessman Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead at point blank range in his shop earlier this month.
Lakhs of labourers from different parts of the country come to the Valley every year in early March for skilled and unskilled jobs such as masonry, carpentry, welding and farming, and go back home before the onset of winter in November. This year, however, several are choosing to go back before they had planned to.