Labourers leave valley with heavy heart, promise to return once situation improves

JAMMU, Jul 20: Lack of work opportunities due to ongoing unrest and curfew in Kashmir has forced thousands of migrant labourers to leave valley in search of livelihood in other parts of the country.

Minutes after sundown every day, hundreds of labourers– who come from different states in north and east of the country–make their way to Tourist Reception Centre here to catch the first available bus or taxi heading to Jammu.

“We have had no work for the last 15 days due to the ongoing turmoil in Kashmir which was preceded by two days of Eid holidays,” Vijay Kumar from Bihar said that as he waited to board a bus to Jammu last night.  Kumar, who was putting up in a rented accommodation at Rambagh in the civil lines of the area of the city, said while he and his room-mates faced no problems from the locals, lack of work opportunities forced them to leave the valley.

“There is limited working season in Kashmir and we come here to earn money to feed our families back home. We are not able to find any work due to the prevailing situation,” Sitaram, Kumar’s room-mate, said. An estimated five lakh migrant labourers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab come to Kashmir every spring for work and return to their homes with the onset of winter, when the working season ends.

“We get good wages in Kashmir which is the main reason why so many young workers from my state (Bihar) come here every year. But it seems that the situation is not going to normalise anytime soon,” Narayan, a carpenter, said. The labourers were unanimous that they did not face any problems during the past 12 days of unrest in the valley.

“We have been coming here every year. So far, we have not encountered any problems with locals. We are not into politics… We just come to work,” Narayan said. A similar situation was witnessed in the wake of 2010 summer agitation when the migrant labourers fled the valley to look for work in other parts of the country. “We will try to find work in Jammu, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

Although the wages are low, something is better than earning nothing,” Siraj-ud-din Ahmad, a mason hailing from West Bengal, said. The fleeing labourers, however, are unhappy with the high fares charged by the taxi drivers for the Srinagar-Jammu journey. “Normally, we used to pay Rs 800 per person for travel between Srinagar and Jammu but now they are charging Rs 1500. The authorities should look into it,” the labourers said.

The taxi drivers on their part expressed helplessness, saying it was not possible for them to operate at the pre-turmoil rates. “No doubt it seems exorbitant but please try to understand that we do not get any passengers for the return leg of journey from Jammu to Srinagar. We have to cover those expenses as well,” Bashir Ahmad, a taxi driver, said.

He said in addition to this, the cab drivers also have to make provisions for any damages to their vehicles in case they get caught in clashes along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway. Kashmir valley has been on the boil since killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces on July 8. As many as 42 people have been killed and over 3400 persons injured in the ensuing clashes.


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