Out-of-state workers have long established themselves in these professions
SRINAGAR: Kashmir is losing its traditional businesses because of the disinterest locals today feel in the professions they allow. Though masons, carpenters and labourers are still present in our society today, they share in employment percentage is very low.
Many skilled workers have thus been rendered idle, which, importantly, is affecting the state’s economy.
Works which are now under the state’s hand are now restricted to the preparation of Wazwan, Kashmiri handicraft, etc.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, Noor Mohammad, a carpenter aged 54, said, “My father was also a carpenter. When he died, I adopted our family business, but now my children are not agreed follow in it. I cannot force them because they are educated; how will they now become carpenters?
“This is happening not because non-local workers are taking our business. It is because the people of Kashmir do not want to continue their traditional business,” he added.
The work which used to be locally done is now being taken over by non-locals instead. There are many reasons behind this. “The main reason was the young generation did not adapt to their family businesses,” said Noor Mohmmad.
He goes on to say that many contractors and businessmen now hire non-local workers as they do find any local worker who could meet the demands of the customers.
Mohammad Yousuf, a painter by profession, told Kashmir Reader that non-locals workers have other types of skill. “Some days before, a family approached me for doing piyo pe. I declined the work as I have no knowledge of how it is done. Now that family is compelled to approach non-local workers.”
Over the years, non-local workers have made a strong base in the local labour market, in varied fields such as selling fried eatables by roadsides to cobbling, working in farms and orchards, constructing and repairing homes, collecting garbage, working in gold and copper craft and so on
The impact of non-local workers on our society is such that we hardly see any Kashmir barber in existence in markets now. Wherever you go, you would always find a non-local dressing the locals’ hair. The John International Salon at Dal Gate, for instance, is owned by a Kashmiri but has hairstylists from Bihar.
“We earn Rs 12,000 a month, excluding food and shelter, which we get free from our employer. What else do we ask for?” said Mohammad Younus who has been working at the salon for the past four years.
“There’s no better place than Kashmir,” he went on. “When the situation here wasn’t well in 2016, I had gone to Mumbai, thinking of settling down there permanently. But I was back here in just three months because of many reasons like lower wages, no accommodation etc.”
Most of these workers are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. Some have been doing business here for the last 20 years and have even gone on to bring their families to settle in Kashmir. The main reason behind their influx may be the high wages, the favourable climate conditions and the work opportunities the Valley presents them.
Most non-local workers usually work seasonally, coming up to Kashmir in summer and then migrating to other parts of north India, like Delhi or Punjab, in winter.
Muneer Ahmad, 26, hails from the state of Uttar Pradesh and has been coming to Kashmir for the last nine years now. “I was 18 years old when I came to Kashmir for the first time in search of work. I earn and save more here in Kashmir than what I used to in Uttar Pradesh. The daily expenditure here is less, and wages are higher than what they are back home.
“Due to the harsh winter here, I go back to my state and work there in those months,” Muneer said.
As per the 2011 census, the population of the Kashmir valley has increased to around 70 lakh, and the total population of non-locals in the region is believed to be around five to six lakh. It means that for every 14 locals in Kashmir, the Valley also has one non-local.
One of the fears that the presence of non-local workers entails is that of capital outflow. Research by the Sociology Department of Kashmir University has found that non-locals spend not more than 20 percent of their incomes in the Valley.
Noted economist Professor Nisar Ali told Kashmir Reader that due to the increase in non-local workers, they have not only replaced locals and rendered them jobless but are taking away capital from the state and contributing to their own states instead.