Srinagar: The killing of non-local workers in a fresh series of attacks by suspected militants have prompted the departure of scores of non-locals from Jammu and Kashmir, amidst rising fear and tension in the region.
A Non local Labourar standing outside railway station Nowgam, waiting for train. Photo by Kamran Yousuf
At least two non-local labourers were killed and another was left injured in South Kashmir’s Wanpoh area of Kulgam on Sunday evening after armed assailants targeted them with indiscriminate firing. The injured were rushed to a hospital. Two of the victims, however, succumbed to their injuries.
The police identified the fatalities as Raja Reshi Dev and Joginder Reshi Dev. Another man, Chun Chun Reshi Dev was admitted to a hospital for treatment. All the victims hailed from the state of Bihar and worked as daily wage labourers in the area.
The attack was condemned by the administration, civil rights groups and political parties who termed the killings as “barbaric.”
“There are no words strong enough to condemn the repeated barbaric attacks on innocent civilians. My heart goes out to their families because they leave the comforts of their homes to earn a dignified livelihood. Terribly sad,” former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted following the killings.
The attack in Wanpoh comes only a day after militants shot dead a non-local street vendor at the Eidgah locality of Srinagar, and a woodcarver in Pulwama area of South Kashmir. The fresh spate of killings has sent shockwaves across the region, which many see as reminiscent of the troubled 1990s when the armed insurgency in Kashmir was at its peak.
The month of October has been worse with over 30 killings reported from the region that includes as many as 12 civilians with at least 11 of them killed by militants as close targets. Amongst those killed included members of minority communities and non-local workers. The total number of civilians killed this year so far has crossed 30, indicating a serious spike in violence against what the government labels as ‘soft targets.’
The situation, according to many (including regional political parties), has worsened in Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019 when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led government abrogated Article 370 and 35A. The region was also stripped of its status as a state and bifurcated into two union territories with the BJP led government arguing that the move would bring stability and development to the region. The regional political parties, however, contested it and warned of far-reaching consequences, while locals expressed fears of “demographic change.” Now many wonder if these fears have fed to the hostility against non-locals in Kashmir.
Ajay Kumar, who has been working in Kashmir valley since 2008, says he did not sleep the entire night after he heard about the killings. He is now heading back to his native village, leaving his work for safety. “I am afraid so I am returning. There is fear, especially during the nighttime. It’s not safe here now but I hope to return when things are better,” he says.
Mathilesh Kumar, who had come to the valley recently, sold snacks to earn his livelihood but after Sunday’s attack, he rushed to Srinagar’s railway station early this morning to leave for home. “The situation is really bad and everyone is leaving, so what will I do here? I am really
scared and am not able to sleep well,” Mathilesh told Newsclick.
Tens of thousands of non-local workers in Kashmir are from states like Bihar, Rajasthan,Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha, who work in Kashmir during the summer months mainly as construction labourers. While many leave with the onset of the winter season as construction work stops due to cold weather, others like those owning tea stalls have stayed back for years. But, none were able to buy any property or settle permanently due to laws guaranteed under 370 and 35 A, now annulled with new laws in place.
The exit of non-local workers comes at a time when authorities have heightened security measures across the region in the wake of fresh militant attacks. The police have killed
over a dozen militants in as many as 9 encounters. These include gunbattles with militants believed to be behind some of the attacks against civilians and policemen.
Arvind Kumar, a street vendor from Bihar feels that the government should increase security
Goverment Forces standing near the cart of the vender Arbind Kumar a Non local vender who was killed by suspected militants at Eidgah Srinagar. Photo by Kamran Yousuf
cover to thwart the situation from turning bad to worse. “If people like us are targeted like this, things can become more violent. When people from outside are targeted here there is a possibility that Kashmiris working outside J&K can also be targeted. So I appeal that the LG government intervene and stop this from happening. No one wins in this situation,” he says.
The UT government led by Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha condemned the killings and said that there will be a “befitting reply” from the security forces against the incidents.
“I pay my heartfelt tributes to the martyred civilians and condolences to the bereaved families. We will hunt down terrorists, their sympathisers and avenge every drop of innocent civilian’s blood”, the Lt. Governor said.