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Threats or no threats non locals flee Kashmir

Shahnawaz Khan

Srinagar, August 01, 2007:

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Non-Kashmiri labourers continue to flee Kashmir despite threat revocation by guerrillas and assurance by the hardliner separatist leaders that only criminal elements need to leave the Valley.

A beeline of non-Kashmir labourers waiting to board outstation buses was seen at the State Road Transport Corporation office in city centre Wednesday.

“We haven’t had a sigh of relief for the week. The process in unending,” an SRTC official said referring to the long queue to people seeking tickets.

Tens of thousands of outsider labourers have left Kashmir since hardliner separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani first asked them to leave Kashmir last week after police revealed that two non Kashmiri labourers were involved in the gang rape and murder of a minor girl in Handwara in north Kashmir.

Fourteen-year-old Tabinda Gani was raped and killed June 20, when she was returning from her school. Police investigations revealed that four men including two non-Kashmiri labourers were involved in the crime.

The incident created uproar in the region with ire directed at non-Kashmiri labourers. People forced out non-Kashmiris first from north Kashmir.

Chairman of the hardline faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani polarised the situation when he called for the exit of outsiders stating that large number of criminal elements were being infiltrated into Kashmir “under a conspiracy”.

A statement from the frontline guerrilla group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which was later endorsed by Jaish e Mohammed, appeared in newspapers asking non-Kashmiris to leave Kashmir within a week.

The statements triggered panic among non local labourers who started to flee Kashmir.

The guerrilla group later denied that it had issued any statement and asked non-Kashmiri labourers to stay without any fear.

Geelani also diluted his call stating that only criminal elements among outsiders need to leave.

A large number of skilled and unskilled labourers come to Kashmir mostly from Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan to earn their livelihood.

Despite the revocation and assurances from guerrillas and hardliner the exodus of non-Kashmiris has not stopped.

Suresh Kumar, a carpenter from Bihar has been putting up in Kashmir for the last two years.

He waited for a few days after the calls for exit came up last week. Finally he decided to leave.

“Wherever we go people ask us why we haven’t left. Some of us were beaten up by people asking us to leave, so why should we stay put,” Kumar said.

“Our landlord asked us to vacate the house, so we are leaving.”

Kumar had bought a ticket for Jammu and has to wait overnight to board the bus. He decided to wait at the bus stand along with scores of others waiting for their turn to leave.

The transport officials said they had pressed in more buses, but the number was not enough.

“We have using 18 buses daily in place of the usual 10,” an official at the SRTC said.

Om Prakash Thakur, a painter from Bihar has been coming to Kashmir for the last seven years.

“The situation has changed suddenly. Now it is impossible to live here,” Thakur said.

There have also been reports of police asking landlords to be responsible for the safety and conduct of non-locals that has made them apprehensive. “If anything happens to non local tenants, the landlord feels that he will never be able to get free of security hassles” said a local. “So he is asking them to leave” he further adds.

However police denied such reports.

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