Jammu,India, 9 Aug 2007: Thousands of migrant labourers have fled Kashmir in the past two weeks after threats from militant groups, officials said today.
Around 4,000 of the migrants, who mostly take low paid construction and agricultural work, have left since two of them were accused of raping and killing a teenage girl last month, a home ministry official told Reuters in New Delhi.
That incident provoked militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir to demand that all migrant workers leave the state. Although the Hizbul Mujahideen group has since retracted that threat, others have not.
There are thought to be around 200,000 migrant labourers working in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Some said they had faced growing hostility since the reported rape.
“There was a sudden change in the behaviour of local people after that incident,” said Ram Saran, a mason from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, waiting for work at a labour market in Jammu. “They started hurling invectives and abuse at us wherever we went.”
Rebels have seldom attacked the migrants in the past, but on 8 August suspected militants shot and injured a migrant labourer from West Bengal.
Dozens of workers assemble every day at bus stands and railway stations to leave the state.
“Many of us were not paid our wages,” said Subash Jha, a plumber from Bihar. “Some of them even told us to get lost immediately.”
Kashmir’s Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has warned people not to provoke a backlash against Kashmiris settled in other parts of India.
“Before taking any step, we must think of hundreds of thousands of those Kashmiri students, businessmen and others who are staying in other parts of the country,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Palash Kumar in New Delhi and Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar)