Feature: ‘Nobody forced us to leave’

Meer Irfan/ Mohammed Waseem

It is morning time on a normal autumn day in Kashmir. Leaves are falling from the trees to cover the roads. As the fall grips Kashmir valley, people take to hot food. Many Kashmiris are rushing to the shop of Mohammed Shahzad in the main town of Shopian. Shahzad, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, who migrated to Kashmir nearly two decades ago is making samosas. As the Samosas are ready, the locals rush to the shop to have a bite.

“This is like home to me. I have been here, a part and parcel of the market. People know me and I know them. They love my samosas. They love me,” said Shahzad, who has chosen to stay in Kashmir amid the chaos at railway and bus stations as a result of hundreds of non-local labourers rushing out of Kashmir.

The month of October, 2021 in Jammu Kashmir has brought with itself unfortunate events. In about first 17 days of the month, excluding the encounters and suicides, 13 civilians were targeted by suspected militants, of which 12 lost their lives. And of these 12 deceased civilians, five were migrant laborers.

Immediately after the two killings in Kulgam’s Laram Ganjipora area, the administration along with the local police asked the non-locals to shift to safer locations where the non-locals were provided food and accommodation amid tight security.

The inspector general of Jammu Kashmir Police, Vijay Kumar, instructed his officers to move workers. “I have directed officers to shift the vulnerable urgently,” Reuters quoted him saying.

The next day, the migrants, who had been earning their livelihood in the valley for decades, started fleeing Kashmir fearing for their lives. Many have also termed this fleeing as “Exodus of the Migrant Workers.”

Sections of media and political parties have jumped the guns on the local Muslim population of Kashmir and blamed their “extremism” for the killings. However, the non-locals are dismissive of the narratives created by the mainstream media in India and denied the existence of such things on the ground. In fact, the non-locals we spoke to said that the locals have been asking them to not leave Kashmir.

Mohammed Shahzad has rented a shop in Shopian. He says that he has never received as much warmth back home as he did in Kashmir. “Back home, the condition is worsening with every passing day. We feel very insecure as Muslims there but here we feel safe and secure. The locals always reinstate that we should contact them, in case of any trouble,” Shahzad stated.

In 2016, the streets of Kashmir wore a deserted look and in the years 2008 and 2010, too. But when the shutdown continued for several months, non-local labourers were provided for by the local populace. “In 2016, a local mosque committee provided us weekly ration, soaps, candles, money and all other necessities,” Shahzad said. He said the local youth took special care of us always stating that ‘we were their guests.’

“During the Covid-19 lockdown, my mother tested positive for the deadly disease. A local NGO deputed a special volunteer to take care of her. He took care of my mother, looked after her health, her food and arranged medicines and oxygen supply for her,” Faizan another non-local labourer told The Kashmiriyat. When the condition of Faizan’s mother deteriorated, “a local neighbour, not caring that he might get infected, too, rushed my mother to the nearby hospital in his own car,” Faizan said.

He said that when his mother was initially denied space in the hospital, the locals quarreled with the hospital administration. “They fought with the hospital officials and one of the Covid-19 patients left his bed and availed space for my mother,” Faizan told The Kashmiriyat.

Faizan said that he has grown up in Kashmir and that nowhere had he seen people as giving as in Kashmir. “All my friends are locals. We also felt sad when article 370 was abrogated. We participated in 2016 protests. Nobody ever harassed us. In fact, we have always received warmth and love from the local population,” he said.

A group of migrant labourers who were asked to leave Kashmir spoke to The Kashmiriyat. Talking to The Kashmiriyat, a migrant worker said, “We work here to feed our families. I have been here since the past 40 days, this year. I feel good and safe. I have been working here since some years now. And I think Kashmiris are innocent and honest.”

Denying the manufactured narratives, he said, “No Kashmiri has forced us to leave. The government is responsible for whatever is happening right now,” he said.

We talked to him about the rumors that Kashmiris did not pay the non-local workers, to which he responded by saying, “I have been working here since1997 and I have received every single penny for my work.” He also added that there might be some black sheep in the community but the whole community should not be targeted due to them.

He said that nobody has troubled him since 1997 during any of his stays in Kashmir. “During winters, if I have ever stayed in the valley, the locals would provide for me. They gave me warm clothes, bedding and other requirements,” he said.

Another migrant worker, while talking to us, said, “I am from Bihar and it is my twentieth day, here in Kashmir.” “Killing innocent non-locals is something very unfortunate. It should not happen at all. We come here to work so that we can feed our family. We are not here to create any disastrous situation,” he told The Kashmiriyat.

Shunning the rumors that Kashmiris did not pay the migrant workers, he said, “Kashmiris are honest and I was paid the money for every work day here.” Courtesy The Kashmiriyat