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Migrant workers scramble to get out of Kashmir, say night of clampdown was horrific

Thousands of labourers have taken state-owned buses and private vehicles to Jammu, but many more are stuck as confusion reigns in Kashmir.

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Srinagar: Three days after a complete clampdown was enforced in Kashmir ahead of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370, several thousand non-Kashmiri workers and labourers are continuing to assemble at the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) in large groups to get out of the former state.

The labourers, some of whom have worked in Kashmir for more than a decade, are either being packed into state-owned buses or are hiring private vehicles to take them to Jammu, from where they plan to take the next train home.

Until now, the Valley had a massive number of non-Kashmiri residents — from different parts of the country like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal — who worked as painters, masons and even artisans.

Drivers Mohammad Rafiq and Altaf Ahmad, who have been ferrying passengers between Srinagar and Jammu, said they didn’t have the exact count of how many labourers had left the Valley until now, but said the number must easily be in the thousands.

“People from across Kashmir are trying to get to the TRC. In places where traffic movement is allowed, the workers are taking lifts. Those in villages are requesting cabs to drop them to locations from where they can walk to reach here. Others are simply walking with all their luggage. There is complete chaos in Kashmir at this time,” said Rafiq.


Also read: Kashmir’s population of 8 million incarcerated like never before, says Shah Faesal


‘Horrific’ night

Speaking to ThePrint in Lal Chowk, many labourers said they were panic-stricken when their phones were blocked by the government Sunday night. The labourers decided to leave the Valley as soon as news spread that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had been bifurcated into two Union Territories, and its special status removed.

“Since last week there was talk that this situation here will become bad, but we didn’t fully comprehend why. Suddenly, our phones were blocked. The night was horrific and we kept wondering what has happened,” said Mukhtar Alam from West Bengal.

Alam has been working in the Valley for eight years, and said it was a soldier who finally confirmed to him what had happened.

“The fauji said Article 370 has been removed and suggested that we get back to safety, so we decided to go back home,” said Alam, who was travelling with a group of five other labourers.

“My family must be extremely worried about me. Also, what is the point of staying here if you can’t earn wages?” he added.

Mohammad Rauf, who worked as a mason in Srinagar for more than five years, said he had never thought of leaving the Valley even during the 2016 unrest, but this time, the situation seemed to be more tense.

“Even though there hasn’t been violence, I think there is a lot of anger among the people. We can feel it,” he said.

Both Rauf and Alam said they would earn Rs 800-900 per day, a major part of which they would send back home. “We didn’t have even have food to eat. And if we stayed here for a few more days, neither would our families back home,” Rauf said.

Why didn’t govt inform before?

Roommates Meenu, 25, and Shakeela, in her 60s, residents of Jammu’s Narwal area, were waiting for government-owned buses, given that private vehicles to Jammu were more expensive. The two lived in the Rambagh area of Srinagar with three other women.

“The government buses are charging us Rs 900, while private vehicles are charging Rs 1,400. We are not sure how will we be able to go back home from the bus stand, as someone here told me there is a curfew in Jammu too,” said Meenu.

Shakeela said the government should have informed them beforehand. “Shouldn’t we have been told in advance to make arrangements? We earn Rs 4,000-5,000 a month. Some of us don’t have even have money to go back home,” she said.

Dharmendra Singh, a resident of Bihar, has stayed in Kashmir for more than a decade. He had similar complaints about the state administration, as well as the central government.

“I had to walk from my home in Natipora to reach TRC. What I see is that there are no arrangements the government has made for us to go back home. I don’t fully understand what the government has done, or why it has done it, but why should our livelihood be snatched away?”

Doubts about return

Most workers said they weren’t aware of the political developments leading up to the day Article 370 was abrogated, nor did they make much of the security build-up that took place in the Valley.

The workers also said they did not fully understand why Amarnath pilgrims and tourists were asked to go back home.

Asked if they would return to work in the Valley, the workers said they would if the situation normalised.


Also read:Pakistan Army says will go to ‘any extent’ against India’s Kashmir move


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. This yet again shows that the BJP leaders are basically very low on human content. They just lack humanity or insaniyat. It is a very dangerous for such people to have control on nuclear button. They have time and again shown that human suffering means nothing to them. Remember the Demonetization. The NRC exercise that’s going on in some parts. Now in the present case, what was such a tearing hurry to ask everyone to vacate almost within 24 hours. Again the poor migrant workers are suffering. They couldn’t have left before collecting their dues. The world community should take serious note of a lack of even rudimentary human content in these BJP leaders. They are OK as long as they are scared for whatever reason. If they have reasons to not feel scared, they can pretend to be bold to unrealistic levels, and while doing so might turn horribly cruel.

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