Despite civilian killings in Valley, migrant workers refuse to give in to fear

Published on Oct 15, 2021 02:10 AM IST

There has been a spate of civilian killings in the Valley; among those killed were Virender Paswan, a street food vendor from Bhagalpur in Bihar, which has disturbed migrant workers

The Jammu and Kashmir labour department says approximately 1.4 lakh migrant workers come to Jammu and Kashmir each year, and most return once winter sets in, only to return next year. Most workers in the Valley cannot understand why the civilian killings are taking place. (Waseem Andrabi/HT)
The Jammu and Kashmir labour department says approximately 1.4 lakh migrant workers come to Jammu and Kashmir each year, and most return once winter sets in, only to return next year. Most workers in the Valley cannot understand why the civilian killings are taking place. (Waseem Andrabi/HT)
ByMir Ehsan, Srinagar

Ten days ago, Virender Paswan, a street food vendor from Bhagalpur in Bihar, became a victim of targeted killing when he was shot dead by militants in the busy Alamgiri Bazaar in the Zadibal area of Srinagar. His killing, one in a spate of attacks on civilians, sent shivers down the spine of fellow migrant workers in the Valley, but despite their apprehensions most continue to go about their work as usual.

This is not the first time that migrant workers have found themselves in the crosshairs of militants. In October 2019, soon after the imposition of governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, six migrant workers had been killed in South Kashmir, in a single attack at Katersoo Kulgam, while another worker from Bihar had been killed in Kulgam in September. After each attack, some migrant workers leave the Valley fearing for their lives, only to return in the next season.

Say Kashmir is like home

“When the situation is normal, Kashmir feels like Kashmir, but whenever a migrant worker is killed, we cannot help but worry,” says Sonu Singh, who works as a labourer in Natipora.

“I have been coming to the Valley for five years with my neighbours. We spend our summers in Kashmir, but return in winters. Whenever an attack takes place, I get calls from friends and relatives asking me to return. However, I tell them things are not so bad.”

The Jammu and Kashmir labour department says approximately 1.4 lakh migrant workers come to Jammu and Kashmir each year, and most return once winter sets in, only to return next year. They mostly hail from Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab and work at construction sites, road works, paddy fields, and apple orchards. Many have setup small roadside kiosks and many are engaged as barbers, masons, jewellers or work in residents’ homes.

The migrant workers did not stop coming to the Valley even at the heights of militancy. After the 2014 floods, the number of migrant workers increased in the Valley due to hectic construction activities.

Sawan, a worker from Chhattisgarh, says, “I had also heard about the killing of a street vendor but my employer assured me that it was an odd incident. Besides, I work at a local resident’s house and do not venture out.”

A recruiter, who brings migrant workers to the Valley, on condition of anonymity, said, none of the migrant workers have been harassed or have asked to return home. “Every time there is a killing, our employees feel insecure and we assure them of their safety and apprise them of the standard operating procedure to be followed if the situation turns bad,” he said.

Focus on earning before winter sets in’

After the spate of killing, the government has asked local police stations to ensure places frequented by migrant workers are secure. Mostly the workers stay in groups at private accommodations.

A cobbler, Munna Lal of Rajasthan, has been coming Kashmir for 15 to 20 years and has set shop at the busy Khayam chowk in the Old City. Asked about plans to leave the Valley, he says, “People are leaving as winter has set in and it is their usual time to leave. There are many migrant workers here. What is there to fear? Death is in the hands of God. I will not be going. I will leave in my own time when winter completely sets in.”

He says he cannot understand why the vendor was killed last week. “Most people here are good. The vendor who was killed had come here to earn money for his family like all of us,” Lal said.

Another migrant worker, who hails from Rajasthan and polishes shoes for a living, requested anonymity fearing reprisal, and said, “People are afraid after the Golgappa vendor was killed. Many people have left earlier than usual. My uncle who also works here is also forcing me to leave,” he said.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2022
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