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Migrant Labour: Massacres at Imoo and Katren

KS Correspondent

August 16-September 15, 2000

Before the onset of fundamentalist insurgency for the predominantly Bihari labourers working at different brick-kilns, Kashmir was their `Gulf'. Compared to stark poverty with poorwages in their hame state these labourers got reasonably good wages from brick-kiln owners. Their Kashmiri masters had to be`extra-kind', for Kashmir faced acute shortage of local labour to do the toughest of the jobs. The phenomenal affluence that Kashmir has reaped due to extra munificence by the centre led both to spurt in construction work and high wages due to shortage of labour manpower. Massive influx of predominantly Bihari labourers, unlike Punjab, was mostly the result of construction boom in 1975-1990.

There were also other Biharis who simply came to teach hatred and fundamentalism to Kashmiris. But that is another story.Initially victims of the Kashmiri separatists' ethnic-cleansing campaign were native Kashmiri Pandits and non-ethnic Kashmiri Hindus. Other vulnerable groups believed, as during Nazi rule, that ethnic-cleansing campaign had a very restricted agenda. Targeting of Sikhs, Shias, migrant labourers in recent massacres belies all this. Every variant of separatism in Kashmir, local or alien smacks of sectarian hatred. If there is any difference it is only of degree and expediency of the situation. If JKLF today talks of`Gandhisim', how can it be erased from the exiled Pandits' mind that this group initiated their killings and ethnic-cleansing campaign, a process carried to its culmination by Hizbul Mujahideen and mercenary outfits. Expediency, rather than change of heart and mind explains the dilemma faced by the separatist outfits with `localflavour'.

Last year, when fifteen brick-kiln Bihari labourers were massacred in Anantnag on June 20, 1999 by local militants, the migrant labourer community woke up in disbelief. Didn't they keep these kilnsgoing on despite every adversity? What did their `kind-masters' do toprotect them from any eventuality? The State government as usual, instead of providing security to them, allowed the situation to drift. Wiser ones took the cue and preferred poverty to safety of their families and themselves. Even after this massacre five thousand labourers stayed put, just like 1216 Kashmiri Pandit families and 5400 Sikh families.

At 9 PM, hardly three hours after the massacre of 31 yatris at Pahalgam on August 1, a group of six terrorists, three of them wearing ferans (Kashmiri gown) and sporting long beards appeared at Imoo (Sondhu). This is the same place where above-mentioned massacre had taken place. The terrorists, as per one report, fired few warning shots. The labourers, whose identity was well-known to the terrorists, were working at the kiln of Haji Hamza Dar of Brakpora.

They tried to run for safety, but were chased by the gunmen who fired indiscriminately at them, killing seven and injuring another six. The victims belonged to UP and MP. Another version said they were called out of their jhuggis, lined up and shot.The Qazigund-Achhabal belt, abounds in brick-kilns. 50 brick-kilns housed here, employ hundreds of migrant labourers. Given the concentrated character of their settlement, it was not difficult for the State government to ensure fool-proof security to them. The govts. of the states, to which these labourers belonged-Bihar, UP and MP also failed to discharge their responsibility of impressing upon the State government and the Centre to take due care of their safety.

The massacre, which took place 1½ hr later, at 10:30 PM, third in
3½ hrs in the same district with heaviest security cover is even more glaring. This incident took place, where five non-Muslim truck drivers were killed by terrorists on, February 29 last and which was just at stone's throw from the FCI godown, guarded round the clock by CRPF.

Katren village of Qazigund, is 500 yards away from the National Highway on Mirbazar-Akhran road. Two labourers, Jaipal of Bothdi Chapajangir (MP) and Jagdish of Rai Bareili (UP) survived to tell the world `Aankho Dekhi' of what goes on in Kashmir in the name of "freedom movement".

Four terrorists in army uniform appeared at their jhuggis and asked the male folk to help them out in taking out their vehicle, which had skidded off the road. 27 labourers, who fell in the trap were lined up in a queue. The terrorists, displaying sadist instinct took the headcount and opened indiscriminate fire. Seventeen people fell dead on the ground, whereas two others succumbed to injuries later. Out of the five injured, one had nine hits of bullets. Three lucky ones, which included Jaipal and Jagdish fell in a drain. They feigned as dead until the gunmen escaped from the spot. Gunmen withdrew only after being sure that all their victims were either dead or injured critically.

In the past five years, Katren massacre was the fifty one involving the migrant labourers. Earlier ones had taken place at Lasjan, 1 km away from Badami Bagh Cantonment, besides Handwara and Sondhu (Achabal).

This time, the migrant labour community looked so harassed and terrified that they did not even wait for the cremation of dead bodies at Imoo and Katren. Nearly 730 labourers left in ten SRTC buses for their future destinations after these two massacres.
These labourers, like other `soft targets', would be lessbothered about the `postmortems' and puerile analyses which will follow. For
instance whether terrorists were local or alien or were these simply acts of `desperation'. The truth lies some where else. Themighty Indian state and its political leadership, has utterly failed `totie the rakhi to the nation', to borrow the latest cliche from the venerable Prime Minister Vajpayee.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

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