The labourers repeatedly spoke about the general environment being bad for them
Slowly, but steadily, migrant workers are exiting the Kashmir Valley. “Mahaul theek nahin hai”, (the environment is not good), a bunch of workers from Uttar Pradesh say in unison outside their makeshift tents at Narbal on the outskirts of Srinagar.
More detailed conversations with the 70-odd workers on Friday morning revealed that fear, the cold, and lack of work were leading them to return to their homes in the Gorakhpur and Basti districts of Uttar Pradesh.
On the road to Handwara in North Kashmir, on the crossroads at Narbal, in a bunch of blue and white tents, men, women, and some children are huddled together.
“We are waiting for transport to take us home. We are hoping that a truck will come and pick us up this evening and take us to Jammu,” Ikram, who hails from Gorakhpur district, said.
“It’s really cold and we have not been able to get any work on account of the frequent shutdowns. So, we have no option but to return home,” he added. These workers were previously engaged in construction activity and fruit-picking.
On Friday evening, a couple of Tata Sumo vehicles were being loaded with the meagre belongings of the workers, all of them Muslims, who were headed homewards.
Without access to television, the workers seemed unaware of the killing of migrant workers on Wednesday in Kulgam, South Kashmir, or the earlier killing of truckers, but repeatedly spoke about the general environment being bad for them.
No security personnel were stationed around the workers’ tents though there were armed central paramilitary men deployed almost every kilometre along the 70-km drive from Srinagar to Handwara.
In Srinagar, too, there were a few migrant workers at construction sites. Ramzan, from Katihar in Bihar, said he had been living with his family for the last 15 years in Srinagar, but had fled after Kashmir’s special status was ended on August 6 by Parliament.
“I came back without my family a few days back,” Ramzan told this reporter on Thursday while he was busy straightening an iron rod in the heart of Srinagar. Pointing to his friends, Ramzan said he was scared to return to the Valley, but the daily income of ₹500-600 a day was an attractive proposition.