Mukesh, a labourer from Uttar Pradesh, was shot dead by terrorists in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Monday. This shooting took place in less than 24 hours after a police inspector was shot at and critically wounded in Eidgah area of Srinagar. The common thread in the two incidents was that terrorists made no distinction between their targets - a local police official who is struggling for his life in a hospital, and a migrant labourer who came all the way from U.P. to earn his livelihood. But, it was the killing of the man from UP that made a bigger news, and there are reasons for that, which need a fresh analysis.
These incidents are taking place at time when the optics of normalcy are well recognized as a prelude to the real time peace and faith of the people in themselves within and outside of Jammu and Kashmir. The migrant labourers whether while they work in the Valley or go home are far more effective narrators than other sections, perhaps even more than tourists about the state of affairs in Kashmir. They are semi-permanent part of Kashmir’s economy and polity. So the whole thing deserves a fresh consideration how to help them stay safe and not fall victim to terrorists’ designs.
The killing of migrant labourers is often seen , and that is a mistake , in a triangle – labourers , terrorists and police action . The leaders condemn but the real stake holders stay silent . The manufactured optics of candlelight marches and rallies have paid not paid substantial dividends , except for feeding the self-serving media , which ahs lost the credibility in the eyes of the people.
There is a plausible explanation for such terror attacks- Pakistan is unrelenting in instigating the local youth to commit acts of violence which create fear and spread a message that there are holes in the official claims of normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir. However, when terrorists strike at migrant labourers, they deliver a different kind of message – that they are acting as pure Kashmiris defending their land and people from “outsiders.”
Terrorists have developed different theories as unspoken explanation for targeting the migrant labourers. Their acts of violence in 1990s against the Hindu population in Kashmir, had an underlined meaning for all, including the migrant labourers, backbone of the agriculture and horticulture, and construction sectors in Kashmir. With the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990s, the migrant labourers also shifted to their home states. They were scared as the violence peaked. But they started returning in late 1990s as the thirst for livelihood overtook other concerns of theirs.
Migrant labourers are soft targets> they are available all across the Valley, as they are engaged by orchardists, farmers, house builders, kiln owners and even the local tourist operators. They are inseparable part of the Kashmir economy. Good wages serve as an incentive for them, and also brings respite to them from harsh summer of plains. They come from all places in the country. They belong to all communities- Hindus and Muslims, mostly from UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha.
Terrorists know that killing and making them flee will harm Kashmir economy, but they also know that the migrant labourers once back to their home states give traction to the narrative that Kashmir is unsafe place for them. This works two ways, one it counters the government narrative that things are normal in Kashmir. It claims, which has an irrefutable validity, that tourists have started coming in large numbers, is countered by terrorists in this manner by targeting the migrant labourers. Second, the kin and friends of the victims become narrators that peace in Kashmir is fragile. Their narration gets rooted in the communities in their home states, which projects an alternate image of Kashmir in the eyes of their people, which seeks to rip apart the official claims.
In early 2000s, terrorists would kill labourers in large numbers – sometimes more than a dozen at places. On the intervening night of July 31 and August 1 2000, terrorists had massacred nearly 60 bilk kiln labourers in Kashmir. Thereafter, they have been targeting them in regular basis, though the number of targeted killings came down. Terrorists started shooting migrant labourers in ones, twos, threes, but the message remained the same that “outsiders” were unwelcome in Kashmir.
The non-local tag carries a different definition and connotation. It has sharpened over the years, especially after the abrogation of Article 370. Unlike other states/ UTs, the migrant labourers are having more than an ethnic identity. They are profiled in political as the people who can tilt ethnic balance and undermine peculiar political identity of Kashmir. After delimitation and frequent change in the rules, under which non-J&K residents could acquire domicile certificates and enroll themselves as voters, they are viewed with suspicion in Kashmir. Political parties’ narrative that the “outsiders” were being enlisted as voters to change the political landscape and electoral outcome” have added to the suspicion of the local population. It is this context that terrorists exploit to hit migrant labourers.
This challenge can be neutralized by organizing public interaction and filling the gaps in the narratives by involving the public representatives, moving beyond the self-prescribed administrative limits. It requires a fresh attitude and approach, even if the government is unable to spell out a firm date for polls, it is imperative to take low and middle-rung workers of the traditional parties on board, as also the sections having stakes in economy and image of Kashmir as a land of peace. These voices should be allowed to speak on their own, not as part of the ecosystem of the administration.
(Arun Joshi is author of “Eyewitness Kashmir; Teetering on Nuclear War and senior journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir, writes on South Asian affairs)
Disclaimer: This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.