A total of 138 labourers working in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir arrived in Kolkata on Monday, 4 November, by Jammu Tawi Express, an official said.
“Out Of the 138 labourers, five are from Assam,” he said, reported PTI.
The labourers were received by Kolkata mayor and minister Firhad Hakim at the Kolkata railway station. Of the returnees, 112 are from Kushmandi, while others hail from Birbhum and Coochbehar districts of the state.
The West Bengal government had arranged for a special coach for the workers, mostly from the state (five are from Assam), who expressed their desire to return from Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the brutal killing of labourers on 29 October, the official said.
Kolkata’s mayor Hakim also reassured the workers that the government will help them find jobs at their home town, reported The Telegraph.
The killing of the labourers had also prompted the J&K administration to prohibit the entry of 'outsider trucks' into the Shopian district on Sunday, 3 November, according to The Economic Times.
Arrangements Were Made For Them to go Home From Kolkata
Five state-run buses have been pressed into service to take the labourers to their respective hometowns — most of them being residents of Birbhum, Jalpaiguri and Dakshin Dinajpur districts, he said.
“Arrangements were also being made to send the Assam labourers home,” the official added, reported PTI.
The men were given refreshments after deboarding the train around 5.15 pm by state government officials at the Kolkata Station.
Kolkata’s Mayor Hakim was among the officials present to oversee the arrangements.
The group boarded state-run buses that would take them to the nearest towns of Balurghat, Raiganj, Coochbehar and Birbhum, from where they would travel to their villages.
On 29 October, five men from Bahalnagar village in West Bengal's Murshidabad district were gunned down by terrorists in Kulgam district of the Valley.
The bodies of the five labourers who were killed by terrorists in Kulgam, Jamm and Kashmir, on 29 October, were handed over to their families in Murshidabad, West Bengal, on Thursday, 31 October, ANI reported.
TMC Demands Probe Into Kulgam Attack
The Trinamool Congress on Monday, 4 November, took out a candle light march in Kolkata to protest against killing of the labourers.
Senior TMC leaders Sashi Panja and Santanu Sen participated in the march from Birla Planetarium to Gandhi statue at Mayo road, demanding an impartial inquiry into the matter.
“We want an impartial inquiry. The party would stand by the family members of the five victims and extend all possible support to them,” Sen said.
Carrying posters and placards, the TMC activists criticised the Centre for its "faulty policies" regarding Kashmir.
Responding to the TMC rally, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the state government should take steps to generate employment in order to stop migration.
“Instead of blaming the Union government for the Kashmir incident, the TMC leaders should ask themselves as to why labourers have to leave the state and migrate to far off places like Kashmir. This shows the ground reality of the employment situation in Bengal,” Ghosh told reporters.
West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had strongly condemned killing of the workers and demanded a "strong investigation" to find out the "real truth". Her government provided a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the victims' families.
‘Little Option But to go Back to the Valley For Work’
Majority of the labourers who returned to the city said they will eventually have to make their way back to the Valley for making ends meet.
Alighting from a single coach that accommodated all of them, the workers – employed mainly in plyboard factories, apple orchards – said they will keenly follow the developments in newly-formed union territory, and wait for the right time to return for employment again.
An elderly person from the team that comprised of mostly young men, said he worked for 20 years in a plyboard factory in Kashmir.
“There has been tension in the Valley earlier as well, but we have never had to come back like this,”Abul Kalam, 46-year-old worker from Kushmandi in Dakshin Dinajpur district, told PTI.
Kalam said security forces arranged for their travel to Jammu station from their respective workplaces.
Walking barefoot on the platform and managing a smile despite the long journey, Kalam said he was asked to go back to his native place by his employers.
"Despite the risks involved, we will have to go back to the Valley for earning a livelihood," he said.
Some, however, said they were against returning to their former work place, and would try to eke out a living back home.
The labourers working in plyboard factories drew a salary ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 depending on their skill.
Many of the workers are as young as 17 or 18 and unwilling to share much about their lives in the Valley.
Although these workers seem apprehensive, they have been assured by the Mayor that he will help them find jobs, reported The Telegraph.
“There is no security in that zone (Kashmir). Political leaders have been arrested. We will help all of you find jobs in this state.”Firhad Hakim, Kolkata mayor and minister
(With inputs from PTI, Economic Times & The Telegraph)