JAMMU: Hit by a complete security lockdown in Kashmir, hundreds of poor migrant workers have begun fleeing the Himalayan region to return to their far-away villages in northern and eastern India.
Some complained on Wednesday that their Kashmiri employers didn’t pay them any salary as security forces began imposing tight travel restrictions over the weekend and asked them to leave their jobs.
Authorities in India clamped a complete shutdown on Kashmir as they scrapped the state’s special status, including exclusive hereditary rights and a separate constitution, and divided it into two territories.
On Wednesday, workers crowded the railroad station at Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, as they waited for trains bound for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. They carried their belongings on their heads and under their arms, tied in bedsheets.
Jagdish Mathur, a worker, said many people walked for kilometres on a highway and hitched rides on army trucks and buses from Srinagar to Jammu, a distance of 260 km.
“We haven’t eaten properly for the past four days,” said Mathur, adding that he doesn’t have money to buy a rail ticket to take him to his village in eastern Bihar state. “The government should help me.”
Surjit Singh, a carpenter, told the New Delhi television channel that he was returning home because of Kashmir’s security lockdown.
Every year, tens of thousands of people travel to Kashmir from various Indian states looking for work, mainly masonry, carpentry and agriculture. Whenever the security situation deteriorates, they return homes.
Protester dies, dozens held in Kashmir amid clampdown
A protester died after being chased by police and more than 100 people were arrested during a curfew in Kashmir’s main city after the region’s autonomy was scrapped by India, officials said on Wednesday.
The death was confirmed by police after the government passed a presidential decree on Monday stripping the state of its long-standing semi-autonomous privileges.
Despite a paralysing curfew imposed to head off unrest, sporadic protests have been reported by residents in the main city, Srinagar.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that in one incident a youth being chased by police “jumped into the Jhelum river and died”.
Hotbed of protests
The incident happened in Srinagar’s old town which has become a hotbed of protests during the three-decade insurgency in Kashmir.
A source told AFP that at least six people have been admitted to hospital in Srinagar with gunshot wounds and other injuries from protests.
More than 100 people, included political leaders and activists, have been arrested as part of the lockdown for being a threat to the peace in the Himalayan valley, officials told the Press Trust of India.
Former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, along with regional party leader Sajad Lone, were placed under house arrest at the weekend and then reportedly taken to a guesthouse by authorities.
The reports came as footage of national security adviser Ajit Doval eating and speaking to locals on the streets of Srinagar was shown on Indian television news channels yesterday.
Doval reportedly met with state governor Satya Pal Malik on Tuesday to discuss the security situation.
Indian police insist that Kashmir has been mainly peaceful since the curfew was imposed at midnight Sunday. Officials told PTI the only disturbances were “very few incidents of stone-pelting”. Thousands of security forces kept a lid on protests in Kashmir yesterday, helped by the continued suspension of telephone and internet services after the region’s special status was scrapped this week.
Streets in the region’s main city of Srinagar were deserted for a third day, with almost all shops shut, barring some chemists. Armed federal police manned mobile checkpoints.