SRINAGAR:   At an isolated roadside nook near the Kani Mazar encounter site, Asraf Ali Sheikh of Assam was sobbing quietly. 

Feeling famished, the 19-year-old migrant laborer had not eaten anything. Short of money, Sheikh was at wits end how to return home in Assam.

A first-timer to Kashmir, he was working at a poultry farm before he was laid off by his employer. Even before he could rack his brain, he was sent to the quarantine center. After testing negative, he was let off but had nowhere to go.

Wandering around, he landed up at Kani Mazar on Wednesday. Seeing the people thronging the donation camp organized by the local Masjid committee to rebuild houses razed during the encounter, Sheikh stood still at the roadside corner with tears rolling down his cheeks.  

“We saw him crying. He was seeking suggestions on how to go back home. But he had no money. He was carrying only a PAN card. He had no phone and nothing else. He had not eaten for some time. He was paid Rs 1500 wages which he had spent. He said he requires Rs 2500. We collected Rs 4000 and arranged an auto-rickshaw. Two of our boys accompanied him to TRC,” said Irshad Ahmad, a resident of Kani Mazar.

Emotions ran high when people forgot their miseries and volunteered to help him. Sheikh broke down when locals offered him food and shelter. “We told him to stay with us. But he was reluctant. So we gave him the money,” said Irshad.

Some people took him to their home and offered tea and snacks before seeing him off. “Before he boarded the auto, a resident took him to his home and offered tea and snacks,” said Mohammad Humayun, a resident.

Official figures reveal that as many as 20,000 non- local laborers are putting up in Kashmir. Lockdown left them without work but not without food and shelter. Dozens of NGOs, Bait-ul-Maals and Mohalla committees worked overtime to ensure help and assistance to the non-locals.

“I have come to Kashmir for the first time. These people helped me a lot. Had I been outside Kashmir, I would have died of hunger,” said Sheikh.

The gesture stands out given the fact that 15 houses were razed and scores of families were rendered homeless on May 19. Two Hizbul Mujahedeen militants were killed in the gunfight. One of the militants was identified as Junaid Ashraf Sahrai, an MBA who left his cushy job to join Hizbul Mujahedeen in 2018. Another slain militant was identified as Tariq Ahmad Sheikh.

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