As migrant labourers are heading home in a huff, they’re taking away the buzz and business with them leaving scores of local shopkeepers and signposts in a sullen state.
By Syed Burhan
IT’S five in the evening and silence has engulfed a locality near Zahidpora, Hawal. Thousands of non-local migrant labourers call this Srinagar neighbourhood ‘home away from home’.
But amid fear and flight created by targeted killings in Kashmir, the place has now become a ghost town, where from bus after bus is ferrying the migrants out.
The mass departure has unsettled local grocer, Muhammad Yusuf Dar.
Dar’s shop is located at what is locally known as “Manzoor Building”.
Facing the crumbling Kalai—the Mughal era wall—the building houses hundreds of non-local migrant workers every year, and has become one of the noted migrant workforce addresses in Srinagar.
Some days back, Dar’s grocery store was crowded with non-local migrant workers as they would return from work and buy all grocery items from him. But now the story is different.
Most of the migrant workers have vacated the building and the nearby tea stall is also shut. The street chatter has paved way to a palpable silence, while the entire stretch looks desolate.
“All my customers are non-locals,” Dar says, with a straight face. “This building houses around three hundred migrant workers and most of them have left now. For one reason or the other, it’s the same story since 2016.”
Some of the non-local workers who owed Dar money have also left without paying him back.
“Last year workers left at the end of December and my shop remained shut for only 40 days,” the gloomy grocer says. “This year it is going to be a long winter.”
Nearby, Syed Abbas sells blankets at the busy Mirza Kamil Chowk. The familiar bazar buzz and bustle has now paved way to stringent policing. Cops can be seen patrolling the streets, while migrant workers are leaving in the dark of the night.
“All businesses in this locality survive because of these migrants,” Abbas says. “While they’re leaving out of fear, it’s getting hard for us to find customers.”
Voicing the same concern over the migrant movement, Mohammad Raja, who owns a hardware store at Mirza Kamil Chowk, says he has seen a slump in his business since the day migrant workers started leaving the locality.
“We’ve no work compared to what we had few days back,” he said. “This chowk is called Bihari chowk for their sizeable presence here. But now, it’s a Bihari Chowk minus Biharis.”
Amid this anguish, one of the remaining migrants in the neighbourhood, Babloo Kumar, is planning to leave tomorrow.
“We leave in the month of December but local police told us to leave in view of these attacks,” he says. “But despite this fear, we want to stay and earn some bread for our families back home.”
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