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‘Don’t know who will attack and when’: Migrant workers start leaving Pulwama

Over the past 20 days, seven migrant workers have been shot at and left injured in Kashmir — all the attacks happening in the southern district of Pulwama.

Over the past 20 days, seven migrant workers have been shot at and left injured in Kashmir — all the attacks happening in the southern district of Pulwama.

On the roadside in Pruchoo village of Pulwama, Dheeraj Kumar keeps an eye on passersby as he prepares mortar for construction of a house, his nerves on edge every time a stranger approaches. “I know, they (the militants) are targeting people from outside Kashmir. But what else can we do?” says Kumar, who is from Bagaha in Bihar. “We will die either way. If I don’t work here, what do I feed my family back home? I am just taking precautions and hope nothing happens.”

Over the past 20 days, seven migrant workers have been shot at and left injured in Kashmir — all the attacks happening in the southern district of Pulwama. Authorities have made little progress in finding the suspects, and amidst the fear and uncertainty, many migrant workers have left for either their home towns or other parts of the Valley.

The attacks come five months after militants carried out a similar series of attacks on non-locals, leaving five dead in October. This time, they appear to be taking care to not kill, aiming for limbs, but for the daily wagers who can’t afford losing work, that is of little consolation.

The first attack in the latest round of shootings was on March 19 when suspected militants shot at Mohammad Akram, a carpenter from Uttar Pradesh. The last was on April 7, when Sonu Sharma, a labourer from Pathankot in Punjab, was attacked at Yader village of Pulwama. On March 21, a labourer from Bihar, Biswajeet Kumar, was injured, while on April 3, suspected militants shot at a driver and a conductor, Surinder and Dheeraj Dutt, from Pathankot. On April 4, two labourers from Bihar, Patlashwar Kumar and Jakku Choudhary, were attacked.

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A senior police officer said: “Currently there would be around 6,000-6,500 migrant workers in Pulwama. It is just the beginning of the (work) season (with summer making temperatures manageable for the migrants), but still the numbers are far less. In a normal season, we would have around 20,000-30,000 migrant workers at this time.”

According to official estimates, around 3 lakh migrant workers — mostly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Jharkhand — come to Kashmir every year for work. Many from Bihar are known to refer to Kashmir as the “Dubai of India”, due to the daily wages in the Valley compared to what they get back home — Rs 500-700, compared to Rs 200. While some of them come for the year, others are here during the warmer March to November months. They are mostly employed in the construction sector.

The migrant workers had come under militant attacks following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. There were a series of attacks in militant-hit Shopian in south Kashmir, followed by hits in October last year in Srinagar and other parts. The recent spurt has coincided with Union Home Minister Amit Shah telling Parliament that 30 people from outside J&K have purchased immoveable property in the Union Territory — a touchy issue in the Valley.

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While political parties including the BJP have issued customary statements condemning the attacks, no political party has reached out to the migrant workers.

About who could be behind the Pulwama attacks, police admit they are groping in the dark. “We have no leads as of now,” a police officer in Pulwama said.

“All we know from eyewitness accounts is that these are masked young boys with pistols who are carrying out the shootings. We have picked up over 50 boys from Pulwama but we are yet to make a breakthrough.”

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Officers are also puzzled about the attackers taking care not to cause fatal injuries. “It seems, their aim is to disturb peace and create fear,” said an officer.

No militant outfit has taken claim so far, and police believe the attackers may be lone wolves. “What we know from previous experience is that these are most likely individuals directly run by their handlers. They are unaware of each other and don’t follow a strict command structure,” the police officer said. “Before activating a militant, an organisation or handler gives a test to check their loyalty. These attacks could well be part of that loyalty test.”

Police have intensified patrols following the attacks, especially at night. Kumar, who shares an accommodation with eight other workers in Pulwama, says they have stopped stepping out after dark. “Police have assured us of safety. Let’s hope all this stops and we go back to how it was.”

But Tinku Singh, a carpenter from Gurdaspur in Punjab, is not taking a chance. He was in Pulwama for just five days before leaving for Srinagar. Singh says he has many contacts for work in Pulwama, from years of coming to the district, and would have to start from scratch in Srinagar. However, he says: “There is a lot of fear. You don’t know who will hit you and when. It is better to live and earn without fear.”

First published on: 13-04-2022 at 02:57 IST
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