Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Who Pushed Migrant Labor out of Kashmir? Rising Kashmir Says Jammu Agitation was Responsible for it, but That is not What the Record Shows

Record shows that Ali Shah Geelani's Hurriyat has repeatedly given "ultimatums" to migrant labor to pack up and leave. So why did not the kiln industry speak up then? First, the need for migrant labor, followed by what Mr. Geelani said previously, and now what the government is doing about it (three reports)

Flight of labour tells on valleys construction, brick klin industry

Srinagar: Migrant labourers mostly from Bihar, east Uttar Pradesh and other states who left the valley during the ongoing stir; have pushed the labour intensive activities here on standstill.It is exactly three month before that the migrant labourers, who are employed in various urban jobs, agriculture and construction projects, have left the valley on the account of frequent shut downs and curfews following the economic blockade imposed by rightwing Hindus in Jammu.

“Every year they used to leave the valley on the onset of winter season, but this year they left very early because of the situation that left them jobless,” said Rashid Ahmad, owner of a bakery factory in Srinagar, where he used to have five Bihari labourers as employees.Summer witnesses a lot of commercial activities in Kashmir, which otherwise remains almost cut-off during the acute winter season.However, with no migrant labourers around, a work force vacuum is being felt in all the sectors where the non-state migrants are mostly employed.“There are nearly 350 brick kilns in the valley and each kiln employs more than 200 outside state labourers. Their untimely migration has left most of the kilns totally shut,” said vice-president of Kashmir Brick Kiln Association Shabir Ahmad Sofi. He said the economic blockade coupled with shortage of manpower has witnessed almost 80 percent of the kilns closing their business which has incurred a loss of around Rs 60 crore to this industry.

The labourers, mostly from Bihar, who come to Kashmir in the monsoon, come from the flood- devastated districts of their home state. And as they have little economic activities during these months in their villages in Bihar they migrate to Kashmir and other states.Meanwhile, not only are the brick kiln owners feeling vexed, valley’s giant construction agencies are also bearing the maximum brunt.“The construction industry has suffered tremendous losses during past two months. And with no labourer available, all of the projects are lying standstill,” said President of the Chamber of Infrastructural Development Kashmir (CIDK), Parvaiz Ahmad Dar. Dar said that the magnitude of the manpower is witnessing an all time low which has pushed all the contractors to think on the option of winding up their projects unfinished.“Even if we continue with the projects, we will definitely face cost escalations on all our projects,” President CIDK further added.

All the 25 construction agencies affiliated with the chamber have stopped working on their major projects which include projects of entities like Asian Development Bank (ADB), Indian Railways Construction Company (IRCON), National Highway Authority (NHA) and World Bank.Dar said that almost 500 migrant labourers are employed by each of the construction agency and there were 50 major construction projects in progress when the economic blockade and early migration first began.“If the situation persists, there are bleak chances of getting all the work done within the stipulated time,” Dar added.

Meanwhile, Muzaffar Shah, President IRCON Kashmir, said that the construction companies have informed the groups like Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) which undertakes the ADB projects in the State and others about the uncertainty prevailing in the industry.“It is unnatural that we complete construction plans within the stipulated time. We have informed the agencies for whom we carry out projects about the ambiguity in the valley,” Shah said.Shah said that there are 150 construction agencies in the valley and the economic blockade was already an impediment in furnishing the construction schemes which was followed by acute shortage of man power.

Here is what Mr. Geelani said earlier ...

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman, Huriyat (G), has pressed hard on the issue of removal of all non-resident Kashmiris, mostly working as semi-skilled labourers (like masons, carpenters, barbers, etc). They have been working in Kashmir valley for more than 14 years now. They have gradually replaced their local counterparts because they are more efficient, accept lower wages and put in longer hours.

According to Geelani, these people have acquired a great deal of influence in the daily life of Kashmiris. “These people are everywhere, right from our business establishments to our kitchens”, says he. According to him, these non-resident Kashmiris, who are mostly from Bihar, UP and Punjab play a major role in the day-by-day moral degradation of Kashmir’s conservative and clean society. They have exposed Kashmiris to all the bad things - bad culture, bad language and bad habits. The crime rate in the areas where they live is higher. Liquor consumption is a daily affair. Kidnapping is rampant and disrespect for women is common. Innocent Kashmiris fall prey to the vices that these people have introduced in the valley.

The Government has adopted a middle-of-the road course ....

Srinagar: To defuse the crisis related to ‘outsiders’ staying in the valley, the government has decided to form a committee in every district to deal with the issue.

The committee will comprise of the district commissioner, the superintendent of police and the assistant labour commissioner, official sources said, adding it would assess presence of migrant workforce and possibility of their registration.

Though feasibility of registration of floating migrant labour is anybody's guess, the government believes it will end the crisis sparked by hardliner Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani asking outsiders to leave. Geelani later had toned down his demand and said he wanted all outsiders to be registered and verified by the government, which many believe is almost impossible.
Official sources said the decision to form the committee was taken after soliciting views from all quarters, including the extremists.

However, official sources insisted it would not inconvenience the migrant workers in any way, and they would be under no legal binding.

"I am not sure how we can work it out, but it would be for us to reach out to the outsider workers not for them," a senior police official said, adding it would a difficult exercise as hundreds of migrant workers leave and arrive in the valley every week.

The committee will forward its report to the government for an appropriate decision.

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