Srinagar: It was cold under the open skies but the group of migrant workers at the station here bore the chill autumn winds with stoicism through the night, the presence of security forces dispelling somewhat the fear that was propelling them to leave Kashmir ahead of schedule.
Anxious to return home after the spate of killings targeting minorities, non-locals, and other civilians in the Valley, about 50 migrant laborers, many of them from Bihar, arrived at the Nowgam railway station late on Monday night from nearby Budgam district where they worked in brick kilns.
”We spent the night in the open but we felt more secure due to the presence of security forces guarding the railway station,” Mithilesh Kumar told PTI at the station on Tuesday. ”We are leaving Kashmir earlier than usual… There is too much fear, ” he added.
Trains are the preferred route out of the Valley with many saying they will ensure their safety for the rest of the journey. Kumar said the group will take a train to Banihal on the other side of the Pir Panjal range and then catch a taxi or bus to Jammu for the onward journey to Bihar.
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”Nobody told us to leave but who will be responsible if someone among us gets killed. One moment we are told security will be provided and the next we are on our own,” said Deepak Kumar, a resident of Bihar’s Madhubani district.
On Sunday, two laborers from Bihar were gunned down when terrorists barged into their accommodation in Kulgam district, taking the number of civilians killed in targeted attacks in Jammu and Kashmir this month to 11. Another laborer sustained bullet injuries.
The killings of civilians have led to many migrant workers making their way back home though many in the city have decided to stay on in the search for work. The money, they said, is better and the local residents are kind.
The workers at Nowgam station, waiting to board a train out, agreed. Many praised the locals and said they ensured the group reached the station safely. ”People of Kashmir are kind but few people do politics and the masses have to suffer,” Deepak Kumar said.
There were also reports of migrant laborers from other parts of the Valley leaving in taxis and buses early in the morning. However, hundreds could also be seen at major intersections in the city, hoping to be hired for work.
Hawal Chowk, rechristened Bihari Chowk by city dwellers, has not witnessed any significant decrease in the number of migrant workers there.
The first migrant worker — Virender Paswan — was shot dead by militants in the Hawal area. The scenes were no different at Rambagh, less than two kilometers from where prominent Kashmiri Pandit businessman Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead at point-blank range in his shop earlier this month.
Lakhs of laborers from different parts of the country come to the Valley every year in early March for skilled and unskilled jobs such as masonry, carpentry, welding, and farming, and go back home before the onset of winter in November. This year, however, several are choosing to go back before they had planned to.
On Monday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar condemned the targeted killing of Bihari migrant workers in Jammu and Kashmir and said the incidents had created an ”environment of fear”. He also spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and said senior Bihar officials are in touch with their counterparts in the union territory.