Kolkata: A majority of the 138 labourers who returned to the city on Monday from Jammu and Kashmir after a 46-hour train journey said they will eventually have to make their way back to the Valley to make ends meet.
Alighting from a single coach that accommodated all of them, the workers, employed mainly in plyboard factories, apple orchards, said they will keenly follow the developments in the newly-formed Union Territory, and wait for the right time to return for employment again.
The group, hailing from West Bengal and Assam, was brought back by the Jammu Tawi Express at the initiative of the West Bengal government after five labourers from the state were gunned down in a terror attack in Kulgam last month.
An elderly person from the team that comprised mostly young men said he'd worked for 20 years in a plyboard factory in Kashmir. "There has been tension in the Valley earlier as well, but we have never had to come back like this," 46-year-old Abul Kalam from Kushmandi in Dakshin Dinajpur district, told PTI.
Kalam said security forces arranged for their travel to Jammu station from their respective workplaces. Walking barefoot on the platform and managing a smile despite the long journey, Kalam said he was asked to go back to his native place by his employers.
"Despite the risks involved, we will have to go back to the Valley for earning a livelihood," he said. Some, however, said they were against returning to their former workplace, and would try to eke out a living back home.
The five migrant labourers from West Bengal were shot dead and another was injured by terrorists in Kulgam district of south Kashmir on 29 October. "We come from poor families and have very little land at home. I will go back when the situation normalises," said
Shahabuddin Sheikh, who also belongs to Kushmandi. Shahabuddin used to work in one of the several plyboard factories in Kashmir and earned Rs 18,000 per month. "I cannot earn that much in my native village," the 27-year old, who has parents, wife and two children to take care of, said.
Herded together in a general compartment, the 133 natives of West Bengal and five of Assam travelled traversed nearly 2,000 kilometres over two days. Of the returnees, 112 are from Kushmandi, while others hail from Birbhum and Coochbehar districts of the state, Shahabuddin said.
The labourers working in plyboard factories drew a salary ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 depending on their skill. Azizul, who hails from Dhubri in Assam, was a daily wage labourer earning Rs 500 to 600 a day on the outskirts of Srinagar.
"I was asked by my employers to go back home since the situation was tense," he said. Many of the workers are as young as 17 or 18 and unwilling to share much about their lives in the Valley. The men were given refreshments after deboarding the train around 5.15 pm by state government officials at the Kolkata Station.
State urban development minister and Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim was among the officials present to oversee the arrangements. The group boarded state-run buses that would take them to the nearest towns of Balurghat, Raiganj, Coochbehar and Birbhum, from where they would travel to their villages.
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Updated Date: Nov 05, 2019 16:13:56 IST