J-K laborers stuck in Shimla run out of money, demand evacuation

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Srinagar: As the country gears up for an extended lockdown till 3 May to curb the spread of coronavirus, two dozen laborers from Jammu and Kashmir stuck in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, fear that they will die of either hunger or the infection from the virus.

Mohammad Yousuf Bhat is among the labourer stuck since March when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown. The 52-year-old, who hails from Banihal, Ramban district, Jammu, had come to the state to find work last December with his son.

“I had saved 20,000 rupees for my family after working hard in woods,” he told The Kashmir Walla. “Now, I can’t find any work here and I’m running out of my saving. No one helped us here.”

Bhat’s only wish is to return his home before Ramzan starts in late-April and spent the holy month with his family. “We pray to God that if we ever did any good deed, please help us in reaching home.”

Also Read: ‘What will we eat?’: Migrant workers in Kashmir’s COVID-19 lockdown

But right now, his concerns roots at the lack of protective equipment, including face masks, that makes him more vulnerable to the infection. However, Himachal Pradesh has only reported eighteen cases of the virus while as the country cross-passed 10,000 mark.

Another labourer in the group, Ishfaq Ahmad Hajjam, a 25-year-old resident of Hanjipora village of Kulgam, south Kashmir, has similar concerns. “We are stranded since the lockdown started and are spending money we had saved for our families,” he said. “They [authorities] didn’t give us ration or helped us in any way here despite many pleas.”

The group is living in makeshift tents – that makes the ideal physical distancing in the current times nearly impossible. “To avoid infection,” says Hajjam demanding evacuation, “we need to return home.”

Earlier in the day, former Chief Minister of J-K, Omar Abdullah said, “Something will have to be done for people stuck in other states. A lot of them don’t have much money and can’t access any more. There is no work available for them to earn off.” Meanwhile, a group of Kashmiris stuck in Himachal Pradesh were beaten merciless forcing police to lodge an FIR yesterday.

Javed Ahmad Dar is another laborer stuck in Shimla. The 42-year-old resident from Manzgam village in Kulgam, south Kashmir, says that there are a lot of people stranded in other districts of Himachal Pradesh as well. “We want to leave from here on foot but the distance is too long [nearly 900 kilometers],” he says. “No one listens to us. Even we don’t have proper accommodation to live in. If we stay here for a few more days in these conditions, we fear that we might die.”

Bhat Burhan is a Multimedia Journalist at The Kashmir Walla.

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