An early morning phone call can be greatly repugnant and usually irks people when it occurs on a blissful Sunday morning, when all you have planned before falling sleep are late mornings and a reprieve from busy schedules. However, if it is a dear friend calling to meet up in the early hours of dawn, the very early, Sunday morning phone call might becomes a blessing. This is what I thought too until I sat on the rear seat of my friend’s bike, feeling the cold Kashmir air as it strikes your face. When I asked my friend the reasons for our early morning contingency, I came to know we were going to Hawal Chowk to hire a few non-local Laborers. Before we reached the Chowk that day, hardly had I ever noticed the rising presence of these migrant workers in Kashmir. As we reached the famous Chowk I saw a plethora of these workers waiting for locals like us to hire them for work. Some twenty to twenty-five of them soon started to pounce on us, one pushing the other aside as they saw our motorcycle approaching. Eventually, the leader of one the groups and my friend negotiated the terms and nature of the work, 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 his defense on the matter of hiring local laborers and his justification came just as promptly that Kashmiri laborers, be they skilled or unskilled, are too comatose while on the job. With the passing of days, I began to gain great consciousness of the presence of “non-local workers” where ever I would go and to my great consternation – I found them everywhere. This spurred in me a new vehemence of finding locals for all of my daily chores. Hence, I began my search with barbers and to my great dismay found not even one Kashmiri barber in my colony or in the neighboring areas. I visited a few areas of downtown and saw just a few of them in a very bad shape. In Fateh Kadal, Abdul Samad who is amongst the few local barbers said, “only a few old friends of mine come to my shop. The younger people prefer the non-local barbers who are usually from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.” He further added, “this business has gone down the drain now, no young local boys are taking it up and that is the main reason these non-local barbers have flourished here.”
Similarly, walking by the Batmaloo area I could find not even one local figure selling what we call in Kashmiri as “Kar’e” (peas). However, I did notice a few locals selling “carry bags” for five rupees a piece near Amira Kadal. If you visit any of the uptown areas like HMT , Chanapora, Hyderpora e.t.c.. you can actually have an accurate idea of the influx of non-local workers in Kashmir and the loss of work for local daily wage laborers, skilled and unskilled. All of those areas are undergoing massive construction works and all the laborers, be they masons, carpenters or laborers, are non-local. I asked a few of their employers for the reasons and most of them replied that non-locals are easy to find as they are large in number, do not slack off at work and are willing to work at cheaper and much reduced wages. However, this brings us to a conjuncture where our labor class is getting poorer day by day and the benefits of our development are reaped by the non-locals, which is proportionally increasing the number of local beggars.
When I left Kashmir in 2007 for my studies, I remember non-locals as scant workers found here and there but now I see them grown into a population present and swarming everywhere. Some have even come with their families and have established themselves year-round. On the contrary, there were very few local beggars back then and they have now grown almost phenomenally. I recall in 2007 a three member committee including the Superintendent of Police, Assistant Labour Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner being set up to start the Registration Process of migrants and monitor their number in Kashmir but how far the work has actually been done by the committee remains a question.
This should serve as a call for our society to seek melioration for our labor class to ensure they are not left too far behind. In order to do this, we need to galvanize our efforts towards raising awareness in our society and among our labour class, and to make them understand the consequences of their lethargic behavior at work. Furthermore, we as fellow Kashmiris should change our preferences while hiring laborers for our work according to broad societal values as we are all well aware of the vexatious consequences of unemployment and begging.
(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)
Photo: Javid Dar/kashmirnewz.com