Late autumn in Kashmir, and the foliage of the Chinar trees, standing singly and in clumps, turn a flaming orange for a few blazingly brilliant days. Then, as if in response to a signal, they are shed—a moulting that gives the landscape a forlorn air. For non-local labourers working in Kashmir, it is the time for the month-long preparation to leave the Valley. Typically, in November they collect dues from contractors, shop a bit and spend a week meeting friends. Before leaving, they would clean their rented rooms. But this year is different. It hasn’t followed the established script.
In Wanpoh and adjoining areas along the Srinagar-Jammu highway in Anantnag district, non-local labourers have disappeared. For the past two decades, around 30,000 to 50,000 labourers, mostly from Bihar, live and work in Wanpoh from March to November, earning the place the moniker Chhota Bihar.