The administration has stepped up police presence and security in areas inhabited by migrant labourers in Kashmir, though their sheer size and spread in the unorganised sector and lack of certainty on the network targeting them are making their job difficult.
Several people said daily wage labourers are being encouraged to leave. On Sunday, a worried administration had corralled them into government schools and colleges in vulnerable districts. By Tuesday all of them had either left the Valley or joined work in secure locations.
“Police have been asking labourers to leave for the past few days, but many were not leaving as their payments were stuck. On Sunday night over a hundred labourers were brought here and housed in the government school. They all left by Monday evening,” a shop-owner in Baramulla’s Choora tehsil said. His shop is opposite the government school where labourers were sheltered on Sunday.
The Sopore Superintendent of Police, Sudhanshu Verma, however, denied anyone was being asked to leave. “We tried to provide in situ security. We increased patrolling in areas where labourers were working, and increased police presence. We gave them our numbers so that they can call us in case of an emergency,” he said.
Mohammed Salman, a barber from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, runs a saloon in the Choora market. “Police were rounding up only casual labourers. We have been here for over a decade and live here with our families. We don’t plan to leave. But yes police have asked us to shut shop by 5.30 pm because of the killings,” said Salman.
His brother Abad, who arrived in Kashmir this year, said this new deadline was bad for business. “During the day people are busy with work. They either come to the saloon in the morning or in the evening,” he said.
In Sopore town, locals said, they saw hundreds of labourers being brought to the Government Degree College carrying their belongings on their heads till late into Sunday night.
“In the morning when I saw so many people there — there must have been at least a thousand — I carried a few cartons of biscuits to them. They tore open the cartons as if they hadn’t eaten for days. They kept asking when they would get food. They were in a really pitiable condition. Later locals provided some food to them,” Junaid, who runs a grocery store opposite the college, said.
Another shop-owner, who runs a photocopier shop in the market opposite the college, said the administration had got Aadhaar cards of the labourers photocopied and then allowed them to leave.
“The labourers had been brought there only for the night as there was some risk. It was not meant to be a permanent accommodation. Not all of them left for home. A lot of them went back to where they work. Only those who had already booked tickets left for home. On Sunday, because of a spate of incidents back to back, the security situation was a bit more sensitive,” SP Verma said.
An official in the district administration admitted the situation became a bit chaotic because of the rapidly unfolding situation. “The entire thing was managed by police on Sunday night. But you must understand that even in a wedding, which is pre-planned, if 500 guests arrive, there is chaos. Add to that the problem of the administration not having data on how many labourers are working where. We only have detailed data on labourers in the organised sector, which is much smaller,” he said.
Javed Bhatt, President of the Sopore Industrial Estate, said locals have been trying to provide whatever help possible to the labourers. “Those kept in the government college must have suffered through the night. Imagine, I sleep under two blankets, they must have slept on a cold floor. But it is only casual labour who are leaving. It is also the onset of winter, so many leave at this time anyway. Not a single labourer engaged in the industrial estate here has left. Those working in homes as domestic help or in shops are also staying back,” he said.
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