Why West Bengal’s Murshidabad shivers in Kashmir’s chilling trail of blood

Terrorists are now targeting migrant workers from the town who are engaged as masons, carpenters or agricultural labourers in the Valley

October 30, 2019 10:37 pm | Updated 10:37 pm IST - Kolkata

Uprooted lives: Migrant labourers breaking down near the site of a shooting which killed six of their co-workers at Katrasoo village, south of Srinagar, on Wednesday.

Uprooted lives: Migrant labourers breaking down near the site of a shooting which killed six of their co-workers at Katrasoo village, south of Srinagar, on Wednesday.

It was a sad day for Nursalam Mondal, a 45-year-old farmer with a little over two acres of land. He was the employer of Mursalin Sekh, 30, one of the six workers gunned down in south Kashmir.

“I knew him from childhood,” said a sobbing Mr. Mondal of Bahalnagar, a medium-sized village in Sagardighi block of Murshidabad district in West Bengal.

He said that Mursalin and the others killed — Rafique, Kamruddin and Naimuddin Sekh, Rafikul Ahmed and Jahiruddin — “all belonged to Bahalnagar”. Mursalin, a landless agricultural labourer, used to work for three to four months in Kashmir during the apple-plucking season. He had five members in his family, with two children in middle school.

“The family will be under massive stress as Mursalin’s father is unwell,” Mr. Mondal said. The State government has announced a compensation of ₹5 lakh each for the families of those killed.

The family members have had no idea when the bodies would arrive. “Please talk to the officials… the entire village is waiting,” Mr. Mondal said.

Samirul Islam, president of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a migrant workers’ organisation, said they were trying to find out about other Bengali workers in Kashmir.

At least four more workers from Bahalnagar are “still stuck in Kulgam”, Mr. Islam said.

Bakar Sekh is one of them. His neighbour in Kulgam told The Hindu on the phone that Bakar has been “taken to a local police station”.

Another man who survived the attack is Basharul Sekh. He spoke to his mother, Nurunneha Sekh, after the incident. He “survived by luck, while the rest fell to bullets”, he told his mother.

Non-governmental organisations estimate that about half a million migrant workers are engaged as masons, carpenters or agricultural labourers in Kashmir. Top government officials in charge of security in Kashmir had told The Hindu earlier that local people were “hugely dependent” on migrant workers and thus “Kashmiris cannot stave off migrant workers for long.”

About 2.4 million of West Bengal’s workers work in other States, according to an estimated based on the 2011 census.

Changes in four laws

At the core of the crisis are changes in four State laws, as explained by a barber, Bilal Ahmed of Hyderpora, earlier to this correspondent. Mr. Ahmed, who hails from Bijnor in north Uttar Pradesh, said: “We fear that we may get targeted as we are settled here for many years.”

This fear, he explains, stems from his “landlord’s insecurity that Kashmiris may lose the right to property rented to outsiders.”

Mr Ahmed sent his father, a Kashmir resident for 35 years, back home to Bijnor, fearing a backlash. “The Valley is in a state of fear,” he said.

The fear originates from the withdrawal of various sections and sub-sections of four key State laws.

The laws provided protection to Kashmiris by preventing outsiders from buying land in Kashmir, which was withdrawn through the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.

The Act “omitted” multiple sections and sub-section in J&K Alienation of Land Act, 1995, Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 2007, J&K Land Grants Act, 1960 and Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976. The Acts noted that transfer of land in favour of any person who is not a State subject “is prohibited” and no land shall be granted [on lease] “to anyone who is not a permanent resident of the State.”

“Omission of such sections removed the protection to Kashmiris which they are not used to,” said a senior official of Kashmir police.

The Reorganisation Act will come into effect from Friday.

Tuesday’s attack thus is “a clear threat to workers from other States,” said Lutfur Rehman, a mason from Malda in central Bengal.

Mr. Rehman usually spends the summer in Kashmir as the “earning is higher”. But he has made his last trip to the valley, he said. “Our well wishers, who want us to stay, cannot provide us security any more,” he concluded.

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