Anantnag: Despite a bright sunny weekened, Mujeeb, a Bihar resident and builder by profession prefered to stay indoor at his rented accomodation in south Kashmir’s Anantanag district.
Unwillingly the 40-year-old non-local skipped the warmness of sun on the terrace for a reason. The locals suspect him and half a dozen labourers staying with him of Covid-19 carrier, forcing them not to even venture out of the rooms to buy essentials.
But according to Mujeeb, he tested negative in Bihar for Covid-19 before coming to Kashmir on March 3- a claim which nobody including his landlord is willing to accept.
Their travel history from Bihar to Kashmir has created doubts in the minds of locals, who look at them as suspects.
Also the canards about the non-locals being the potential carriers of infection in Kashmir valley has rendered them an unwelcomed lot, which is a stark contrast to the warm relations that these non-local workers enjoyed in the past.
“I am struggling to explain to locals that I have tested negative for Covid-19 but no body is willing to accept the fact,” said Mujeeb.
“Unable to move outside in search of work, we have been sitting idle for past many weeks. Even before the authorities ordered lockdown in wake of spike in Covid-19 cases, we were looked as suspects. The irony is we cannot even go back to our homes in prevailing situation,” he added.
Mujeeb and his team is not the only case seen as suspects in the prevailing situation, a large number of non-local workers are stuck in their rented accomodations.
Understandably at least 1.37 billion people in India are in a lockdown for past four days but the irony is most of these non-locals in Kashmir claim that they were afraid to buy essentials fearing they may be singled-out by majority.
Notably there has not been a single case of any harrasment to a non-local in recent years but a sense of insecurity still prevails among these people in the emerging situation.
‘Years long working relation with Kashmir’
Mujeeb has been coming to Kashmir in April every year for construction work and would usually leave in December.
However last year, he left Kashmir in July due to the abrogation of Article 370 on 5th August, which prompted authorities to invoke months long restrictions effective August 5.
This year Mujeeb came a month earlier hoping to cover up the loss incurred last year but finds himself in an awkward position.
Understandably lockdown is something Majeeb cannot do anything about but his fears are that even after the restrictions are lifted, he may not find any work.
“I do not think I will be able to find work here due to unfounded belief among locals that every non-local is a potential carrier of the infection. The only regret is that I have warm relations with locals all these years and now they have suddenly become inhospitable towards non-locals and treat them as untouchables,” said Majeeb.
Mujeeb first came as a labourer in 2003 to south Kashmir’s Shopian district and became a builder over the years. He has a small team of labourers working with him on salary basis.
But for past weeks, instead of taking up construction works, he is sitting in his rented room with his labourers playing cards and smoking bedi in desperation.
The reason this time is not the strikes, encounters, stone-pelting or curfews but the Coronavirus scare.
The fact that Mujeeb has only changed three rooms since he started coming to Kashmir speaks volumes of how warm relations he and his team enjoyed with locals for 17 years.
“Even we have been keeping our belongings at rented accomodation and stay in the same when we come back from home.” Mujeeb said adding but all has changed now as they were seen as suspects.
When Mujeeb reached here on March 3, along with his co-workers, the landlord didn’t even let them in and asked them to do the test first. He didn’t allow them to put their luggage in their room, according to him.
He pleaded before Rafi Ahmad (landlord) that he and his labourers tested negative in Bihar before coming to the valley but Rafi didn’t believe them and asked them to get medically examined again or find a different room.
Mujeeb is not the only to face testing times. Gurmeet – a Sikh carpenter said that he had to swear on ‘Gurugrant Sahab’ to assure his house owner in Pulwama that he tested negative for Covid-19.
Shameer, another non-local who fixes tyre punctures also faced similar situation despite the fact that he has not left Kashmir since July last year.
“It is probably because of my colour that I am seen as a suspect.” said Shameer with a wry smile on his face.
Their (non locals) problems who are stuck in valley in good numbers does not end here. They find it extremely difficult to buy essentials from market.
“We even don’t come out of rooms to see the light of the day. The locals stare at us as if they are confident that we are Covid positive and carry the infection. I send my young daughter in ‘burqa’ to buy essentials. ” said Nisar Ahmad, a tailor, who stays in south Kashmir’s Shopian along with his family.
Qamurudin who has been coming to Kashmir for past 32 years feels disgruntled.
“I worked here during the peak of militancy – 2010 and 2016. I have witnessed worst times in but never did I see any Kashmiri becoming inhospitable and showing mistrust in us. But this time…may be they are right or may be not, I can not say.” he said.
Non-locals who are working as partners with locals in saloons or have their own saloons expressed apprehensions about work even after the restrictions were lifted.
“I don’t know how long these restrictions would last. I am not afraid of restrictions as I have seen such restrictions in the past as well. But my fear is that people will refuse to visit our saloons at least for some time.” Abdul Kadir, a barber said.
Kashmiris are wary of renting their rooms to non-locals. “You don’t know who came from where and who has met whom? I heard that they paid the drivers extra money to take a different route from Jammu to avoid screening. Now under such circumstances, it is difficult to believe on any of them. The irony is our own drivers have risked our lives for money.” Rafi said.
Parents in Kashmir valley are worried about their children who work or study in different countries. With the suspension of all international and domestic flights across the country scores of Kashmiri students studying in Iran and Bangladesh have been left stranded. Last week parents of students stuck in Iran staged a protest in Srinagar. Parents appealed the government to quickly evacuate the students and bring them back to their homes. Those who have returned in recent days have been quarantined or are still underoing quarentine at specific centers.
“On Monday 67 students were put under quarantined after they arrived from Bangladesh. At least 50 among them are from Anantnag and 17 from Kulgam districts,” a government spokesman said.
The government has ordered the lockdown till April 14 to contain the infection spread at an alarming rate across India. Two laboratories have been set up for coronavirus testing in Kashmir- one at SKIMS Soura and other at Government Medical College Srinagar and many other measures adopted to break the infection-chain.