Security huddle on J&K, migrants begin to leave

Terrorists have killed 11 civilians, including five labourers from outside Kashmir, this month, and multiple gunfights have broken out during operations by security forces to find those responsible for the attacks
Migrant workers waiting to board a train in Srinagar on Monday. (HT Photo)
Migrant workers waiting to board a train in Srinagar on Monday. (HT Photo)
Updated on Oct 19, 2021 12:14 AM IST
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ByMir Ehsan, Srinagar

The Jammu & Kashmir administration moved thousands of non-local workers to “safer areas” overnight and through the day, while hundreds others left the Valley after a string of targeted attacks on minorities and civilians, including those from outside the Union Territory, officials said on Monday.

Terrorists have killed 11 civilians, including five labourers from outside Kashmir, this month, and multiple gunfights have broken out during operations by security forces to find those responsible for the attacks. The wave of violence prompted deliberations at a security huddle in New Delhi, where Union home minister Amit Shah directed top officials to deal with the flare-up on priority as a multi-agency pan-Indian effort was underway to neutralise Pakistan-linked threats in the region.

On Monday, inside Srinagar’s main railway station in Nowgam, dozens of people, mostly workers from other states, could be seen anxiously waiting for a train that would take them to Banihal in the Jammu division. One of those waiting was Jitendra (who gave only one name). Jitendra, from Bihar, made a living by selling ice cream from a cart in Habba Kadal in Srinagar’s old city, but following the targeted killings, he decided to leave. He left his rented accommodation early in the morning along with six other men to catch the train to Banihal, the first leg of their journey out of the UT.

Cabs, buses, trains, workers from outside the UT jumped onto whatever mode of transport was available on Monday, after another targeted attack on some workers at Wanpoh in Kulgam district on Sunday night that left two dead and another grievously injured.

Many spent the night in camps set up by security forces or in police stations.

The targeting of minorities and outsiders in the Kashmir valley came up during the National Security Strategy Conference (NSSC) meeting chaired by the Union home minister on Monday. During the meeting, attended by police chiefs of all the states and UTs as well as directors general of central paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies, Shah asked the security officials to deal with the targeted violence in Jammu & Kashmir with a firm hand, an official familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

“We moved thousands of workers to secure places and are facilitating their return home,” a senior police official told Reuters, asking not to be named. A government spokesperson in Srinagar declined to comment on the movement of migrant workers.

Many workers, however, also chose to stay back, a matter of livelihoods mattering more than lives. Handlers from across the border have orchestrated targeted attacks on civilians, either from minority communities such as the Pandits or the Sikhs, or outsiders, in an effort to disrupt the peace, and play on the UT’s Muslim majority’s fear of a demographic re-engineering, and to force an exodus out of the Valley.

Zahir ul Islam, from Malda district in West Bengal, said they received a call from the police last night and were asked to reached the police station in Ganderbal: “We were 20 people staying in four rooms at Ganderbal; after noting down our details, we all were taken to the nearby camp at Dignibal where more than 500 non-local workers were already assembled.”

He added: “Only few hundred people were given food, rest remained hungry. In the afternoon, we were allowed to go. The police officers asked us whether we wanted to go home and many of us declined.”

At Sopore, non-local workers were called to the local police station late on Sunday and then kept in a school building on the national highway and in a college hostel.

“When we reached police station, we were taken to a school building close to the army and police camps. Some of our colleagues left for homes early by taking cabs. We are still in the school building,” said Dalip Paswan, a labourer from Bihar. “I will stay here for some more days and will leave by mid-November.”

Most of those leaving said they hoped to be back.

“I did not want to go back before January, but attacks on non-locals have left all of us scared. I have been coming to this place for the past two decades, but we are worried. If things improve, I will be back but only after winter,” said Darmendra from Bihar.

He added that everything was fine till the killings started. Officials were tight-lipped about the departures.

This is not the first time that migrant workers have found themselves in the crosshairs of terrorists. In October 2019, soon after the imposition of governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, six migrant workers were killed in South Kashmir, in a single attack at Katersoo Kulgam, while another worker from Bihar was killed in Kulgam in September. After each attack, some migrant workers left the Valley fearing for their lives, only to return the following season. Workers are hard to find in a UT where many of the locals avoid manual labour.

The Jammu & Kashmir labour department says approximately 140,000 migrant workers come to Jammu and Kashmir each year, and most return once winter sets in, only to return next year. Others say the number is easily three times that.

The migrant workers mostly hail from Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab and work at construction sites, paddy fields, and apple orchards. Some small roadside kiosks and many are engaged as barbers, masons, jewellers or work in residents’ homes.

As part of the coordinated crackdown, central agencies including the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB), and the anti-terror and intelligence units of states will continuously share inputs about outfits such as The Resistance Front (TRF) and Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), while police forces will track and arrest sleeper cell members, overground workers and financiers of terror groups operating from Kashmir and other parts of the country, the people added. TRF is believed to be front for the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is already probing a larger conspiracy in the targeted killings and has arrested nine persons and raided over two dozen places linked with TRF. Its investigations reveal that the targeted killings are part of a well-hatched conspiracy from across the border to create an atmosphere of fear in the Valley and derail the government’s efforts to increase industrial activities there, a senior counter-terrorism official said on the condition of anonymity.

“Pakistan based handlers of proscribed terror outfit LeT and their associates based in J&K had conspired to cause extensive terror activities for harming general public. They had planned that responsibility for the terrorist acts so committed would be taken by the pseudo-acronym TRF so as to maintain plausible deniability and evade law enforcement agencies,” NIA said last week in a statement.

During Monday’s meeting, Shah, who has been closely monitoring the situation in J&K, and the police and security officials also discussed strategies to deal with terrorism, left wing extremism, cyber-terrorism, narco-terrorism, the radicalisation of young people and the general law and order issues in various states.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022