Scared, But Not Leaving Kashmir As People Are Kind: Migrant Workers

A migrant labourer with his family at Srinagar inter city bus station on Monday. Some of the labourers are leaving while many stay behind. KO Photo by Abid Bhat

Srinagar: Sanjay Kumar like many migrant labourers from Bihar and other places working in Kashmir are scared following the killing of five non-locals by militants this month, but say they will go nowhere as wages are high and residents are kind.

Labourers from several 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.

''We are scared but we are not going back to Bihar, at least not yet. We go back in the first week of November every year and that is how it will be this time too,'' Shankar Narayan, a 45-year-old labourer from Bihar, said.

Kumar, who like Narayan also hails from Bihar, said he will go back to his native place according to schedule in the first week of November.

Narayan has been coming to Kashmir every March for the past 15 years and works here till the first week of November before returning home. He said he has not faced any problem during his stay in Kashmir.

''People have been helpful. When there was complete shutdown for five months in 2016, we were not harmed even though locals suffered a lot,'' he said.

Kumar and Narayan said they would not have come here if they could have got similar wages anywhere else.

''We would not have come here in the first place but wages back home are not even half of what we get here. Also, people are very kind and generous,'' Kumar said.

The 30-year-old had gone to Malaysia in 2017 but returned to the Valley where he found himself more ''respected''.

''I was in Kuala Lumpur for two years but it was a bad decision. I paid a hefty sum to get a visa and work permit. In the end, I just managed to get back home without incurring a debt, '' he said.

Kumar claimed that workers in construction and services in foreign countries are looked down upon.

Riyaz Ahmad, a carpenter from Uttar Pradesh, has brought his entire family -- wife and three kids -- to Kashmir. ''Life here is better than back home. Me and my wife get work regularly,'' Ahmad said.

The 36-year-old is hoping to save enough to buy his own house in a few years.

''I work as a carpenter and my wife is a house help. The earnings and savings are enough... I should be able to buy my own house in Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh) in two to three years,'' Ahmad said.

Is he scared following the killings? ''Darr to lagta hai par bhook say zyada darr lagta hai (I am scared but i fear hunger more than death),'' he said as he pointed to his kids adding ''back home we won't be able to find two square meals''.

In the latest of the five killings, two non-locals were shot dead by militants in Srinagar and Pulwama districts of Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday.

They were Arvind Kumar Sah from Bihar and Saghir Ahmad from UP.

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