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Kashmir Civilian Killings: Bihari Migrants Leave In Tears

Migrant workers leaving Kashmir on 18 October 2020 from the Nowgam Railway station in Srinagar. Credit: Yawar Shafi.

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir – Sixty-year-old Dinesh Mondal and his ice cream cart have been a fixture on the streets of Srinagar for decades. We caught up with him on the morning of 18 October, just before he boarded a train to Banihal in Jammu from where he would continue his journey to Bhagalpur in Bihar. 

The last few hours had been sad and frightening for Mondal, who told us that he was in tears when he had phoned his family to tell them that two more Biharis had been shot dead in Kashmir on Sunday. “I told them that I don’t want to stay here now. I have been here at the times when the situation was worse, but I still felt safer than this.’” 

Mondal, who had worked in Kashmir since the 1980s, said, “I am a small vendor, who knows who will come and shoot me down in the evening.”

Eleven people including a Sikh school principal, a Kashmiri pandit chemist, a Hindu school teacher from Jammu, Hindu migrant workers from Bihar, a Muslim carpenter from UP, and Kashmiri Muslims have been gunned down in October in what is one of the worst sprees of civilian killings in recent memory. 

For some, it has triggered memories of the start of the militancy three decades ago when Kashmiri pandits were targeted and killed by militants, following which there was the mass exodus of the pandits from their homeland. 

After some Kashmiri pandit families left Kashmir, the authorities have come under fire for failing to provide security, two years after the Narendra Modi government abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and changed it from a state to a Union Territory. 

Jitender Kumar said that he had lived through many days of violence and curfews in Kashmir in the past five years, but he had never thought of himself as a target.

Now Kumar believes that “Bihari Migrants” are the target. 

Kumar told us that he was overwhelmed by worries about feeding his family in the coming months. But as he boarded the train to Banihal, he said, “Jaan hai to jahan hai.” (If you have life, you have everything).

Chatees Kumar, a 45-year-old street vendor from Bihar, said, “Earlier the confrontation was between the gunmen and the security forces. Now, the public has become a target and that is what is making the labourers leave.”

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The migrant workers from Bihar said that they could no longer bring themselves to go to Mirza Kamil Chowk, the gathering and pickup point for labourers in Srinagar, also known as Bihari Chowk. 

The Resistance Force (TRF), an offshoot of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, is behind the attacks, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

Even if these killings had not occurred, some of the migrant workers that we spoke with said that they would have made their way back home before the harsh winter in Kashmir set in. The killings have hastened their migration and made them rethink whether they would return next year. Some said that they may if the situation improves.

Around 70 non-locals in Sopore were shifted by the J&K Police following the killings in Kulgam on Sunday. 

The killings in Kulgam have worsened fear gripping Kashmir. After word spread non-local migrants were to be brought to police/CRPF and army establishments on Monday, the IG of police Vijay Kumar termed it as a fake order. 

READ: Kashmir Civilian Killings: ‘Humble And Humane’ — Family And Colleagues Mourn Teacher Slain In Srinagar

ALSO READ: Remembering Makhan Lal Bindroo, Kashmir’s Beloved Chemist

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