Worried locals ask non-Kashmiris to vacate valley

Migrant workers crowd outside the government transport yard to buy bus tickets to leave the region, during curfew in Srinagar. (AP/PTI File Photo)

Srinagar resident Bashir Khan is considering doing something that he never did even during the height of militancy in Kashmir: ask non-local tenants to move out of his properties.

“We always treated people from outside Kashmir well and never harassed them even during the peak of militancy,” says Khan, who has rented out several properties to non-locals.

“But this step (to ask them to vacate) is necessary keeping in view New Delhi’s intention to settle outsiders here and change the demography of Muslim majority Kashmir Valley.” 

Khan’s disturbing view is one of the unexpected fallouts of the Modi government’s decision to scrap the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, where a deadly cocktail of fear, anger and paranoia is threatening to upend the state’s economy.

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With the special status gone, thousands of skilled and semi-skilled non-local labourers are vacating their homes in the Valley after having been told to do so by their Kashmiri landlords.

Locals worry that non-locals may colonise rented accommodations, as the erstwhile state no more enjoys special privileges under Article 370. In this backdrop, people across the Valley have started asking non-locals, who were living and carrying out their business in rented accommodations, to immediately vacate.

A few lakh skilled and semi-skilled labourers, mainly from Punjab, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan, used to come to Kashmir every year. Some of them used to remain in Kashmir through the year, while the rest would leave during the harsh winters.

Their sudden departure will have a huge impact on Kashmir’s economy.

“Without non-local labour force, not only construction activities will come to a standstill, but agriculture sector, too, will suffer. Ninety per cent of labour jobs were being done by the non-locals and it will be impossible to fill that,” says Shah, another Srinagar resident.

At most of his sites, which include government hospitals, work was being carried out by non-local labourers.

“Where from I will get skilled labour now and how will I complete the pending projects? All my payments are blocked and I will suffer huge losses if the situation doesn’t improve immediately,” he says.

Apart from construction and other related activities, harvesting too was being carried out by non-locals. The biggest problem in the coming days will be the shortage of barbers, as 95% of the saloons are being run by people from Bijnoor district of UP.

Mohammad Younis, who was running his parlour in Ahmad Nagar suburb of Srinagar, had to leave along with his family after the landlord asked him to vacate. Younis had come to Kashmir in 1994 when insurgency was at its peak and had been living with his family.

“The volatile situation in Kashmir demands that I go back to my home,” says Younis.

“Even during the 90s, we were never harassed by the locals and Kashmir would always welcome outsiders. But this time we have been asked politely to leave as locals fear we may occupy their properties after the abrogation of Article 370.” 

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