Suhail A Shah
Anantnag: Amidst the harvest season in Kashmir, farmers and orchardists are facing an acute shortage of workforce, most of which used to come from outside Jammu and Kashmir.
Thousands of labourers migrate to Kashmir at the beginning of spring and apart from working at construction sites, they were hired by growers to work in their fields. They worked in paddy and apple orchards in particular, taking the workload off the land owners and getting paid decently in return.
However, in August this year, a few days before government of India revoked Article 370 the government advisory asking tourists to leave the state created panic among migrant labour. This prompted all non-locals, including laborers, to depart the Kashmir to their destinations.
“Like many others, we would hire laborers from Bihar and other places to harvest paddy in our small chunk of farm,” said Asif Ahmad, a farmer in Batengoo area of Anantnag district.
He said that he has been looking for labourers for three days in vain.
Same is the case with apple orchard owners, who would hire non-local labourers for plucking and packing of apple boxes. “We paid them well and fed them well because they shared our workload. But it is hard to find any help now,” said Zahid Ahmad, an apple grower from Kulgam district of south Kashmir.
The absence of these labourers has increased demand for local workforce. As such many people irrespective of their trade including cab drivers, shopkeepers, hawkers etc sitting idle due to prevailing lockdown are working in orchards and fields.
“I would sell fruits on road to sustain my family. The last two months my family, afraid of the consequences, has not allowed me to do the work. It is distressing.
But for a week now, I have been working in paddy fields of people. I have been able to earn livelihood for my family,” Zubair Bhat, a hawker from Wanpoh area of Kulgam district told Kashmir Reader.
He said that he will subsequently work in apple orchards to sustain his family if the lockdown prolongs.
Despite the local workforce swelling and ready to lay their hands on any work available, the dearth continues to pinch the farmers and orchardists. But many farmers who were not able to find any help had to take all their family members to work in fields.
Amid the uncertainty, the good news for the farmers, however, is that some of non-local labourers are trickling. Kashmir Reader caught up with a few of them in south Kashmir and they maintained that they have been unable to find any work after they left the Valley.
“Even if there is a threat perception, I am going to stay here and work. I need to feed my family and if it costs me my life, so be it,” said Nand Kishore, a labourer from Champaran area of Bihar.
He said that the floods have wrecked havoc in his home state and it was difficult to find any work there. “I have been here a few days and I have managed to earn some money and send back home,” Kishore said.