Kashmir Truth Be Told Blog
Yus neereth gassan, pheereth cha yevaano: morda che gassan zinde (Kashmiri saying)

7/3/06

Labor crisis


The helplessness of Kashmiris is evident in the fact that even though people seem to be aware of yet another grave problem facing our society these days, it is not a heated topic of discussion and people just shrug it off hoping it will go away by itself. Unfortunately, this problem is of a kind that grows like a cancer and has a profound effect on the most vulnerable segment of our society--the unskilled and skilled labor force; and the ripple effect of that has far reaching consequences for the rest of us. This is the problem of non-local labour, and inaction on the part of the government will only aggravate this problem even further.

From my understanding, article 370 gives the state government special powers that favor state subjects. In laymans terms, this law means that the state government can make laws that benefit state-subjects over all others. Yet successive governments have opted to turn a blind eye to this grave issue of non-local labor in hopes of pleasing their masters in Delhi.

In my opinion, this issue is not at the forefront of debates because it pertains to the class of society that is the least educated, and least influential. The labour class is also least likely to be involved in the political process, and therefore of least importance or interest to the politicians, since the labourers are not likely to sacrifice a days work to vote.

Many people argue that the Bihari laborers are cheaper, more hard-working, much faster at their work, and demand less rest-time than the local Kashmiri workers; "They dont even demand tea and jajeer" is also a common justification. Therefore, the people further point out, it is justified to favor a Bihari over a local labourer for a job.

Many who make these statements are themselves gainfully employed in government services; content in their belief that their job is secure no matter which political party is in power, or whether there is a government in power at all. This because their job is secure since that is guaranteed by our constitution. They also look forward to the day when a "hartal" (a crippling strike when everything comes to a standstill) is called so they can enjoy another day relaxing with family at the Mughal gardens since they have nothing to lose, and at the end of the month they will receive a full-month's pay-cheque.

There is little the government can do becuase the employees have a genuine reason of being subjected to bodily harm should they venture out in a hartal. It is not like the employees have to worry that millions of graduates from Bihar or UP would sacrifice a limb to get an opportunity to enter into the J&K public services should an opportunity ever arise, and who won't even complain about being called to work in a hartal, and will even work on holidays should they be required to. As a bonus, the goverment can curtail the lunch and prayer break, and the Bihari and UP employees will still work efficiently. However, much to the benefit of our "hard-working" Kashmiri government employees, the law favors state-subjects over all others for employment in the J&K public services.

Contrast this sad state of affairs with the treachorous life of a Kashmiri labourer. From highway workers to painters, and from carpenters to roadside corn sellers, non-kashmiri workers have displaced locals. The domino effect is obvios to a keen observer. This take-over by non-locals is already aggravating the misery of local laborers sinking them deeper into poverty. The past 17 years of uprising had already lowered their income considerably becuase of constant crack-downs and curfews. People should understand that laborers have to work to feed their family, and can ill afford to lose a days work. Now that there are fewer crack-downs and curfews, and no sooner had the laborers breathed a sigh of relief, they have to compete with an unending stream of non-local labor.

It is the government's responsibilty to secure the source of income of its subjects from outsiders. It is enshrined in the constitution of J&K. Consider how bizzare it would seem if non-locals were to acquire most of the houseboats in the Dal, and start plying the shikaras. The government would certainly take notice. Then there is no reason for us not to take notice and act accordingly to safeguard the income of our local laborers.

It is not as if Kashmir is the only region in the world to face such an issue. All governments have measures that safeguard the livelihood of their citizens. The only conclusion we can draw from the inaction of our successive governments is that either they are indifferent to the plight of our labourers, or that they are incompetent at devising a strategy of dealing with this crisis. One other logical reason can be that our governemtns are not taking action regarding this becuase they fear being seen as taking action agaisnt indians and being percieved as anti-Indian, thus becoming the object of scorn of the nationalist politicians in Delhi.

Unprovoked killing by the CRPF


Another incident of unprovoked killing by the CRPF yesterday underscores the fact that no matter how sincere the intentions of the politicians in Delhi may be, the decision to harass or not harass, or in yesterdays instance, to kill or not to kill, lies in the hands of the trigger-happy Indian security forces patrolling the streets of Kashmir.

What people on all sides of this conflict fail to realize is that the ripple effect of all these cases of human rights violations is that the whole fabric of society gets torn apart. The current sex scandal, in my opinion, is a direct consequence of oppression by security forces.

There have been in excess of 100,000 deaths since the beginning of the separatist movement; and some tens of thousands are languishing in jails in various parts of India. Many of these victims left behind young families with little or no financial security.

In most poor households in Kashmir, it is the husband or father who is the sole bread-earner in the family, and his unfortunate death or arrest brings devastation to the family. Not only is the next of kin emotionally devastated, but they usually also have little or no economic security, which compounds their grief.

The loss of the husband or father is even more heart-wrenching if he is survived by young daughters or a young wife. No sooner the victim of the security forces is buried or arrested, the women of the household come to realize the enormity of their loss. They have to find work and feed the family. Support from the extended family and friends is usually meager. This is when sharks in the government and police stoop to the lowest a man possibly can; they prey on these innocent victims by promise of class IV jobs, or release from jail of their loved ones, or outright solicitation of prostitution.

The above observation, even though most of us would want to be incorrect, cannot be much deviated from the truth considering the recent arrests of high ranking police officers, administration officials, and politicians.

No one ever predicted that the insurgency would precipitate prostitution as one of its off-shoots. The usual knee-jerk reaction is to blame all those involved for not doing enough to prevent this scourge from rearing its head.

There can be many opinions about who the victims of prostition are, but very few will disagree that it is a consequence of oppression by security forces and indifference by successive state governments toward the next of kin of those victims. Many will also disagree that the girls involved in prostitution are the next of kin of the victims of the Indian security forces, and will argue that they are just opportunistic profiteers, who just want to make a quick hundred rupees rather than working. The insurgency brought with it a record high unemployment to the people of Kashmir, and left very few avenues for earning a decent living.