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Food, shelter, healthcare: Kashmir sets example in taking care of distressed non-locals

Srinagar:  A small earning from stitching people’s clothes in Ludhiana did not suffice tailor-master Ajay’s needs back home.

Hoping to double his earnings, Ajay decided to change his profession and assist his brother Vijay in whitewashing people’s homes in Kashmir.

Ajay’s arrival in Kashmir, however, was not as pleasant as he had thought of.  Coronavirus had started spreading tentacles and a strict lockdown was announced to flatten the curve.

For the first two weeks, Ajay spent whatever money he had brought from home. And soon he started running out of money to meet his daily expenses.  Sensing his plight, local Muslim neighbours at Pattan in Baramulla went into a huddle and decided to take care of two brothers.

“I haven’t gone to bed empty stomach despite not have a penny in my pocket. Many locals and organizations have been supplying ration as well as cooked food,” he said.

Ajay is not an isolated case. Kashmir has set a new example of compassion, brotherhood, and pluralism unlike other parts of the country where Muslims were singled out for their beliefs.

No non-local has complained of being left to starve or fend for himself. Rather the migrant labourers have been adequately looked after.  This is in sharp contrast to the untold miseries of the labourers across the country. Heartbreaking pictures and narratives of migrants struggling with starvation, exhaustion, and dire neglect have emerged all over the country. 

Official figures reveal that as many as 20,000 non- local labourers are putting up in Kashmir. The 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.

Sample this: An eerie silence had enveloped the city when 18-year-old Rahul, a non-local labourer from Bihar started groaning with pain last month. Stranded due to the lockdown, Rahul had been putting up in a rented accommodation in the Habak area on the Srinagar outskirts.

Unable to see Rahul groaning with pain, his fellow worker gathered the courage to call his Muslim neighbours. Without wasting a second, local neighbours arranged a vehicle and took Rahul to SKIMS for treatment.  

“I remember someone had posted on social media about the requirement of blood to a non -local labourer. People kept calling me continuously for the entire day. They were willing to donate blood for Rahul,” Dr Showkat Shah, who treated Rahul, told The Kashmir Monitor.

Bashir Nadvi, chairman of ‘Athrout’ said non- locals were immediately identified and helped by local charities and people in general during the lockdown. “We went to areas like Batamaloo, Bemina, and other places where some non- locals required help. We donated food kits and continue to assist the migrant labourers in Kashmir,” he said.

File photo: KM/Umar Ganie

 Moreover, the administration too has helped the non-locals during lockdown by offering essentials and accommodation. Many non-locals have been accommodated at Government Degree College, Sopore.

 “I leave for work early morning and return by evening. Though I have a rented accommodation, I am not being allowed to stay there,” said Mohammad Hanief, a labourer staying at the College.

What has come like a whiff of fresh air is the government’s decision to allow industrial units to resume operation. Nearly, 12,264 migrant labourers who struggled during lockdown have been engaged in 2,184 industrial units mostly bat manufacturing factories, sawmills, cement factories, and others.

  Scores of the labourers have now given up the idea of returning home before the onset of winter.

“We are getting work as well as the care of the people. So, we won’t be returning home as of now,” said Shahid Ahmad a migrant labourer from Bihar.

Joint director, Labour, and Employment department, Ahmed Hussain said the government was in a process to ensure the safe return of migrant labourers to the native places.

“The district administration took care of non- locals by arranging food and other essentials for them. Many are not now willing to return since the work season has started again in Kashmir. We are still making a list of those willing to return homes. We are ready to facilitate their return soon,” he said.