Migrant Workers in Kashmir

An early morning phone call can be an antipathy, it usually irks people when it is a Sunday morning and all you planned before going to sleep is to wake up late the next morning pertaining to an off from a busy schedule. However, if it is a dear friend calling to meetup in the early hours of dawn, it might be enchanting. This is what I thought until I sat on the rear seat of my friend’s bike, adorning the cold air when it strikes with your face and when I asked my friend the reasons for our early morning contingency I came to know that we were going to Hawal Chowk to get some non-local Laborers, commonly called as  “Bihaeer” in Kashmir. Till we reached Hawal Chowk, hardly had I ever noticed the rising presence of the migrant workers in Kashmir. As we reached the famous Hawal Chowk I saw a plethora of these so-called Bihaeeris waiting for some locals to hire them for work. Some 20 to 25 of them soon started to pounce on us, one pushing the other aside as they saw our receding motorcycle approaching the Hawal Chowk. Eventually, the leader of one group and my friend negotiated on some terms and we took six of them to construct a washroom in the backyard of my friend’s house.

While coming back I asked my friend for vindication against hiring any local Laborers and his justification came just promptly, that Kashmiri Laborers, be it skilled or unskilled, are too comatose while on work. With days I began to being conscious about the presence of “Bihaeeris” where ever I would go and to my consternation I found them everywhere. This spurred in me a new vehemence of finding locals for all of my daily chores. Hence, I began with Barbers and literally to my great dismay I found not even one Kashmiri barber in my colony and not even in the neighboring areas. I visited few areas in downtown and saw just a few of them and that too in a bad shape. In “Fateh Kadal” Abdul Samad who is among a very few local barbers says ” only a few old friends of mine come to to my shop. The younger people prefer the non-local barber who are usually from UP and Bihar.” He further adds ” this business has gone down the drain now, no young local boys are taking this and that is the main reason these Bihari barbers have flourished here”.

Similarly, walking down near Batmaloo area I could find not even one local selling what we call in Kashmiri as “Kar’e” however, I did notice a few locals selling “carry bags” for 5 RS per piece near Amira Kadal. If we visit to any of the uptown areas like HMT , Chanapora, Hyderpora etc. you can actually have a hunch of the influx of migrant workers in Kashmir and the loss of work for local daily wage, skilled and unskilled, laborers. All these areas are undergoing massive construction works and all the laborers be it masons, carpenters or laborers are the migrants. I asked few of their employers for the reasons and the most of them replied that migrants are easy to find as they are huge in number, they do not take too many rests in between and that they are cheaper than the Locals.

However, this brings us to a conjuncture where our Labor class is getting poorer day by day and the benefits of our development are taken by the migrants, which is proportionally increasing the number of local beggars.  When I left Kashmir in 2007  for studies I remember migrants as scant workers found here and there but now I see them grown into a population, present everywhere. Some have even come with their families and are living throughout the year.On the contrary, there were very few local beggars then and they have grown phenomenally now.  I remember even then in 2007 a three member committee including Superintendent of Police, Assistant Labour Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner was set up to start the Registration Process of migrants and monitor their number in Kashmir  but how-far the actual work has been done by the committee till now remains a question.

This rouses our society to look for the melioration for our Labor class so that they are not left far too behind. And for that we need to galvanize our efforts to bring awareness in our society and among our Labour class, and make them understand the consequences of their lethargic behavior at work. Furthermore, we as fellow Kashmiris should change our preferences while hiring laborers according to the societal values as we all are aware of the vexatious consequences of unemployment and begging.

Published By KashmirWalla on October 8, 2012


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Researcher in Chromatin Biology. Science/Politics. Words for @ForeignPolicy @etribune @GreaterKashmir

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