Dangerous Contacts

People of Kashmir are today sharing space with a heavy military apparatus, huge tourist arrivals and lakhs of migrant laborers. How do these ‘mass contacts’ dictate terms to how people live in the valley, Bilal Handoo reports.

05kashmir6Last year, Kashmir valley hosted above 14 lakh tourists, apart from 6.2 lakh Amarnath Yatris. Besides, the influx of four to five lakh migrant laborers annually into the Himalayan region where more than 700,000 military personnel have been deployed, has affected the way people of Kashmir live today.

 Of late, the reluctant interaction with ‘mass contacts’ has given birth to number of issues. “Only a few years ago, consumption of Gutkha (chewing tobacco) was unheard of in Kashmir. But due to the huge rush of migrant laborers, local started imitating them,” says an elderly man, Abdul Rehman, who lives in Srinagar city.

Every year, as temperature begins to soar in Indian plains, a number of migrant laborers turn to valley. From March till November when the climate is generally pleasant, most of the construction work takes place in Kashmir. These laborers have taken over most of unskilled and skilled labor segment in Kashmir valley and make their living by working for contractors.

These migrant workers mostly hails from UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttranchal and Punjab. “They are omnipresent in Kashmir,” says Jibran Malik, a 2nd year BSc student of Srinagar’s SP College. “Like soldiers, migrant laborers form common sight in Kashmir.”

As their numbers swell, their influence also increased over the locals. Very recently, migrant labours came on the roads in north Kashmir’s Sopore and forced police to arrest a local. A day later, they fought daylong pitched battles with the locals in Baramulla that eventually left as many as 14 persons wounded.

Over the years the labour wages have not increased, the main reason being the availability of migrant labour in the state. “Ours is the labour shortage economy. The local labour opts to remain unemployed at a given wage rate while the non-local labor accepts the low-wage employment,” Prof Nisar Ali, a noted economist of the state says. “They are simply taking away capital from the state and are contributing to their own states’ economies.”

Over the years, the migrant laborers have improved their skills; be it running a plough on agricultural lands or plucking and packing apples, they are everywhere! Many say there is a danger that the migrant laborers would dominate locals by becoming contractors and eventually dictate the pace of local economy.

“Natives take other jobs in place of traditional jobs from the past few decades because education has provided them with upward social mobility. This in turn has created a void in form of functional necessities which lay ground for non-locals to approach in valley for work,” Dr Bashir Ahmad Dabla, a noted sociologist of valley, says.

Dr Dabla believes the long term implications will be negative, “The money meant for natives is taken by others and the extensive patterns that we have studied reveal that non-locals spent not more than 20 per cent of their incomes in valley.”

Apart from migrant labour force, Kashmir has a huge concentration of military and paramilitary forces that are high risk groups for infections, as media reports have suggested. Some time back, a majority of HIV infections detected at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and SMHS Hospital in Srinagar were among the Border Security Forces (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force.

“These were found during routine tests of security personnel. The BSF has now started conducting workshops on HIV/AIDS at the basic unit level and in the Northern Command Hospital to educate officers, jawans and their families. It has also introduced a bi-annual health check-up for its doctors,” Anju Munshi, an activist from Kashmir who writes on conflict displacement, especially in connection with J&K, says.

‘On The Brink’, a 28-page report on “Climate Changes and its Impact on Kashmir” published by ActionAid International, an NGO working in over 40 countries says that the heavy presence of Indian troops in some highland pastures was playing havoc with livelihood of Kashmiris.

“Besides heavy militarization, the military vehicles and convoys were also responsible for producing a high level of greenhouse gases. Many glaciers including Najwan Akal feeding Indus River have completely vanished and in Chenab basin surface area of glaciers has reduced by 21 per cent,” Arjimand Hussain Talib, the author of the report, says. “Over 300 convoys and other paramilitary vehicles ply daily in Kashmir. They are outside the purview of the agencies enforcing pollution control.”

As per Census 2011, Kashmir valley’s population has risen to around 70 lakh as the state’s total population is pegged at 1.25 crore. With the phased addition of 700,000 troops, the population in Kashmir has soared to over 13 million, thus changing the demographics. For every 20 citizens, there is one Indian soldier.

Though there are no confirmed reports that the army officials are entering into matrimonial relations with the local girls but with the army camps all over the state, the contacts between the local population and the army rank and file cannot be ruled out.

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