Autumn (Harud) is the season of transition from a warm and dry climate to a cold and wet climate. Withered foliage, crimson clouds and red fiery Chinars mark the advent of the season. People gear up to welcome the harsh winter by shopping for warm clothes, dried foods (Houkhe Sunn) and other essentials.
This season brings an extra incentive for farmers, as the Kharif crop paddy is ready to be harvested in this season. Non-local labourers sense it as an opportunity to earn some extra bucks. The utilization of non-local labourers, referred to as “Bihari” in local parlance, for agriculture related practices is not a healthy sign.
These days, if you are on the lookout for a labourer for construction and other allied work, then it may prove to be an arduous task. The over dependence of contemporary farmers on non-local labourers is a cause of concern.
Whereas, agricultural land has shrunk to a considerable extent but at the same time the demand for non-local labourers has increased drastically.
Growing population, rapid urbanization, industrialization, conversion of arable land into habitable land, acquisition of land for railways, roads etc has brought down the farmland under use to an appreciable extent, but surprisingly the demand for non-local labourers for agricultural activities has witnessed a sharp rise.
Whereas, a number of reasons can be attributed to this disturbing trend, reluctance of younger generations to take up these practices is a major contributing factor. The migrant labourers are assigned the tasks of broadcasting, transplanting, harvesting, threshing, winnowing and transporting the yield to the granaries. Earlier, the harvesting time would last for a prolonged duration but now the process is consummated in super quick time.
For Showkat, a non-local labourer from Uttar Pradesh, harvesting season in Kashmir brings windfall for him and his associates as besides earning extra money than he usually would, he is being served with lunch, tea and other eatables.
Surprisingly, many non-local carpenters, masons and painters too present themselves as labourers to work in the fields. Gone are the days when Kashmiri farmers would be seen working in the fields in huge numbers.
People cutting across the barriers of age and sex would toil in the farms from dawn to dusk. They would sing in choirs and enjoy the harvesting season like a festival.
The good old barter system resurfaced in autumn as fruit vendors would visit the fields and sell their fruits in exchange for a suitable volume of threshed paddy.
The mushroom growth of non-local workmen in the valley is nothing new. Every morning we can see hundreds of migrant workers squatting on the streets. Hordes of non-local labourers can be seen in and around Bemina Bye-pass, Chanapora, Hawal, Alamgiri Bazaar and other areas.
These migrant workers arrive in the valley with the onset of spring and leave the state in late autumn. These are called “Bihari’s” in local language irrespective of the fact that whether they are from U.P, Bengal, M.P or any other state.
According to the 2011 census, an estimated six lakh skilled and unskilled migrant labourers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orrisa, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab are engaged in different vocations in Kashmir.
Better wages and better employment opportunities have been the driving force for the migrant labourers to throng Kashmir. A walk through the Nasrullahpora area of central Kashmirs Budgam district on Fridays will take you by surprise. The presence of non-local labourers in huge numbers will give you the feeling that you are walking through Bihar or some other state.
On Fridays the area remains so congested that you cannot manoeuvre your car through the busy market with ease. Non local workers have taken up every profession that one may think of. From carpenters to painters, from masons to hawkers, from domestic helps to barbers non-local workmen can be found everywhere.
Traditional Kashmiri snacks (Tille – mounjii), the preparation of which once used to have a Kashmiri patent over them are now being prepared and sold by non-locals in large numbers.
Whereas some will argue that non local labourers are preferred over the locals because the later idle away their time in useless things while working and charge more than the migrant labourers but one must understand that this migrant incursion will have more serious ramifications than the positive outcomes.
The overdependence on migrant workers is definitely hurting our economy.In an agrarian state like J&K, wherein agricultural sector contributes 27 per cent to the state Gross Domestic Product, the use of non-local workforce is gradually becoming a menace.
The utilization of less experienced migrant labourers may have counterproductive implications in the form of less labour-intensive cropping pattern and lower productivity level. This unhealthy practice is also having a deleterious effect on the cultural fabric of the valley.
During paddy harvest, the fields used to present a festive look with farmers mingling with each other and helping each other.
We need to revisit our past and mark the difference that has crept in our social fabric owing to migrant explosion and at the same time we need to weigh down the pros and cons of this migrant influx in the valley.