Jammu & Kashmir

Panic, fear of demographic change engulfs Kashmir over ‘mysterious’ influx of non-locals

Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday recorded the highest single-day surge of Coronavirus cases. In its daily media bulletin, the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) yesterday issued an advisory asking people to move out of their houses only if “absoulutely neccessary.”

The administration has said that it is trying its best to keep the local populace off the roads to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease.

As concerned as the administration might sound in its public advisories, to the contrary, there has been an enhanced influx of non-locals into, and across, Kashmir.

A wave of apprehension and suspicion was triggered yesterday after social media flooded with eye witnesses sharing information about buses loaded with non-locals being ferried on different routes.

Earlier on Sunday, a video of a bus packed with non-locals surfaced on social media.

In the video, a man is heard questioning the non-locals about COVID tests, to which the answer is nahi or no responce. Women and children can also be seen in the bus.

People also questioned why the administration is facilitating the movement of these non-local labourers during the pandemic.

Labour Commissioner, Abdul Rashid War told Free Press Kashmir that 12,000 non-local labourers have arrived in the valley till today and 13,000 more are expected to be brought here in coming 3-4 days. “These labourers are from various states of India like Chattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab and are being brought to work in Brick Kiln factories,” he said.

District Commissioner Anantnag, KK Sidha said, “these labourers are being brought to valley for Brick Kiln owners and they come to Kashmir every year for manufacturing of bricks. 70-80 busses ferry about 2,000-2,500 labourers and we collect samples of all labourers at lower Munda.”

The government revealed the total figures of sampling of the non-local labourers today saying 1,012 samples were collected on July 14, of which, only six samples tested positive while results for remaining 12,990 of the total 14,002 samples collected till today evening are awaited.

Zahoor Ahmed, President of Brick Kiln Association told Free Press Kashmir, “these labourers used to come on their own every year but this time we are bringing them with the help of administration because there is a shortage of Bricks in the valley and the pandemic has affected the production.”

Zahoor told FPK that the labourers are being quaranined inside brick kilns of their respective employers and the owner of the kiln is responsible that they do not leave the kilns and remain under strict quarantine.

However, people have not been taking the offical versions as absolute truth.

Journalist Sameer Yasir questioned officials over the arrival of “Indian labourers” in Kashmir during a pandemic, and why they were not being tested for Covid-19, while the locals are “rightly so staying in quarantine”.

However, the ferrying of non-locals is not limited to roads. Eyewitnesses have said that, the number of non-Kashmiris in flights is far higher than the Kashmiris on board.

On July 17, a local Kashmiri, Fayaz Peer, who identifies himself as a travel blogger sahred that while flying back to Kashmir and finding himself surrounded by the non-Kashmiris, he asked his co-passengers why were they heading to Kashmir amidst the pandemic.

To add to his confusion, most of his fellow travellers answered, “we are here for computer courses.”

The schools, colleges, and various education centres in Kashmir have been shut ever since the outbreak of Coronavirus in Kashmir.

The brick kiln workers, and the mysterious ‘computer course’ non locals are not the only ones turning up.

Residents of Tengpora too have complained that houses in the locality have been filled with non Kashmiri families ‘suspiciously’, ‘mysteriously’ and ‘without purpose’.

One of the residents said, “this house was always vacant. But in this pandemic, familes have come here, about eight non-locals, including women and children are seen resting in the balcony of the house.”

This influx of non-natives into Kashmir at a time when the hospitals and health workers are already overburdened trying to fulfil the medical needs of the local populace can only make the matters worse.

In case of the situation getting worse, which seems iminent, how the administration is going to handle the situation remains a question to be answered.

Many in Kashmir say, that the influx, in the backdrop of changing laws regarding land ownership and citizenship, have fanned the fears of demographic change.


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