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With Struggle Of Livelihood, Migrant Workers Refuse To Leave Kashmir Valley Despite Targeted Killings

The killings have not stopped working at the brick kilns in the area. While some labourers have left, many others are continuing with their daily struggles -- but they no longer speak to people who they don't consider to be 'their own'.

Scores of Kashmiri Pandit families and migrant workers staged protests in Kashmir Valley after targeted killings.
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It was a routine evening at several brick kilns after the day’s hard work at Magraypora village in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

Some laborers were lying down, some were busy with their phones and some were preparing for dinner inside an isolated mud shelter facing a brick kiln across the road. Seven labourers lived in the shelter, while many others were at the rear side of the brick kiln, not visible to people passing on the road.

That evening, June 3, militants believed to be two in number appeared near this mud shelter. They brandished a handgun, aiming at Dilkhush Kumar, and shot at him. The 17-year-old labourer from Bihar died on the spot while his room partner was wounded. Son of Narayan Rishidev, Kumar was a resident of Ladugarh in Purina, Bihar.

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They brandished a handgun, aiming at Dilkhush Kumar, and shot at him

The gunshots disturbed everything and turned a routine day into grief. No one can say in Kashmir when would a normal day turn into a tragedy and grief.

It took a while for the labourers and locals to reach the spot as the noise created by the heavy dumpers plying on the road made it hard for the screams to travel through.

All the six labourers have left the Valley leaving behind a pair of shoes in one room and a hand glove in another. Kumar’s body was flown to his home village in Bihar. Someone has placed tin sheets at the entrance of the shed marking it as closed.

The killing has not stopped work at the brick kilns in the area. While some labourers have left, many others are continuing with their daily struggles --- but they no longer speak to people who they don't consider to be "their own".

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Picture of mud-brick shelter where migrant labourer was killed on June 3 evening

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The latest wave of targeted attacks began last month. On May 12, a revenue official, Rahul Bhat, was shot dead inside the office premises in Chadoora village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. On June 1, a militant walked near a school entrance in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district and killed a 36-year-old teacher from Jammu Rajni Bala. Two days later on June 3, a masked armed militant killed a non-Kashmiri bank manager Vijay Kumar inside his office. On the same day, Dilkhush Kumar, a migrant worker at a brick kiln, was killed in Magraypora village in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

Targeted killings have taken place amid the daily encounters and the huge rush of tourists. This year around 88 militants, most of them local Kashmiris, have been killed in encounters. At the same time, the government says half a million tourists have visited the Valley since January this year. Though the targeted killings have unnerved the government, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has been saying that the government is committed to establishing peace

in Jammu and Kashmir instead of the “past practice of buying it”. “We will not buy peace. We will establish peace (in Jammu and Kashmir). The era has gone when peace was being bought in Jammu and Kashmir. We will establish it,” Sinha says adding “terrorists are attacking soft targets out of frustration, but it is being taken care of.”

The police said they killed the militants involved in the target killings, including two Pakistani militants responsible for the killing of Rahul Bhat. The police have also arrested the brick kiln owner Mohammad Yousuf Mir, a resident of Chattergam, citing "negligence and non-compliance of administrative orders thereby endangering life and safety of labourers". The police said they have asked the brick kiln owners and managers to "strictly follow the guidelines issued by government/administration to ensure the safety of the labourers working in their respective units".

"In case of non-compliance or any negligence strict action is warranted under law,” the police added.

Some brick kiln owners emphasise that safety of labourers is their priority. “We are as helpless as these labourers. Now they have asked us to install CCTV, we are doing it,” says a brick kiln owner, who refused to identify himself. The brick kiln owners say they bring these labourers from Bihar and UP and pay them regular wages in advance. “It is because of them we are able to run our brick kilns. If they will move out from the valley I don’t think anyone will be able to run his brick kiln. Their safety is our safety.”

Every year, according to rough estimates, around three lakh labourers come to Kashmir, with most of them from the Araria, Supaul, Samastipur, and West Champaran districts of Bihar. According to a senior government official, if the labourers stop coming to the Valley, most of the construction works will stop, including the government’s developmental works. All industries are functioning because of the labour coming from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

In the past two years when the government imposed restrictions on the movement of people due to Covid-19, brick kiln owners transported thousands of labourers from Bihar and UP to the Valley at their own expense. Later the government also relaxed the rules and allowed 2000 labourers to enter the Valley on a daily basis despite the pandemic. In July 2020, dozens of tractors of local brick kiln operators were caught ferrying non-local labourers in the Budgam district of the Valley.

Awal Mian, a labourer from West Bengal, 45, says he was working in the Pampore area for long, and began working at brick kilns only a week ago. He is fearful of the situation but says he is not going to leave the Valley before the winter. “I have five children. We come here with families to work. I earn Rs 600 a day. Why should I leave this place,” he says. “Besides, all of us have to die someday and it is in the fate that wherever you have to die you will die there. So if I had to die here I will,” he says.

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Adjacent to the brick kilns is a colony of the rag pickers. They were unconcerned about anything. Listening to Radio songs and talking with each other, they say they are not afraid of anything. “Yes, there has been killing. These things happen,” says Mohammad Jamal. Jamal says he hails from Bangladesh and has been in Kashmir for the past ten years. "If I move out, where will I go," he says.

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Mohammad Jamal, a rag picker, from Bangladesh outside his makeshift tent house. 

In Chattergam village, the construction is going on the four-laning of a ring road. The Ring Road project, also called Srinagar Semi Ring Road, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019.

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This alternative highway will connect Pampore with Ganderbal through Budgam and will help decongest the traffic of Srinagar and other major towns of Kashmir valley. Scores of trucks are bringing soil from the nearby uplands for the road. The work has not stopped since the killing of a migrant worker.

Bhupinder alias Chhota (27) came from Saharanpur just a week ago to work as a labourer. Sitting on a generator, he says, he heard about the killing. “I haven’t even got a call from home. And I also didn’t tell my family anything,” he says. He lives with four of his other colleagues in a room in Magray Mohalla itself. There is no security for him and no one has informed him about any security protocol. “The work on the road ends at 7 p.m. and then we move towards our rented places and stay there,” said the man, who refused to be photographed.

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