A migrant worker straightens an iron rod at the construction site of a parking lot in Srinagar on Wednesday. Danish Ismail/ Reuters
More than 100 migrant workers from India’s Kashmir will be moved after a spate of killings by suspected separatist militants underlined the threat to outsiders in the restive region.
Senior officials working for the chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, said on Saturday she decided to move the workers out of Kashmir to prevent them from becoming a potential target for militant groups who the government says have intensified attacks on civilians belonging to states except Kashmir.
The migrant workers will be identified and moved by train to eastern states, the officials said.
Last week, suspected militants barged into a house in southern Kashmir, marched out six men who had come to work in the orchards and paddy fields from West Bengal, lined them up and shot them, police said.
Five died, a sixth, who the gunmen had left for dead, survived, to tell the tale that has fanned fears of further attacks on outsiders, officials say.
“We have orders from the state leader to escort all the Bengali labourers out of Kashmir after five Muslim labourers from West Bengal were killed,” said a senior police official in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal.
Migrant workers are a soft target for militants, and during the past few weeks 11 have been killed, including the victims of this latest atrocity, the government said.
Much of Kashmir’s economy is dependent on outside labourers who work in construction, hotels and apple orchards.
None of the militant groups that are fighting Indian rule in Muslim majority Kashmir claimed responsibility for the attack on migrant workers.
The separatist insurgency in Kashmir began three decades ago, but the latest flare up in violence followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision in August to take away the autonomy previously offered to India’s only Muslim majority state.
India is hoping that by opening up property rights in Kashmir to people from outside the region it can reignite economic growth, create jobs and turn the focus away from a militant uprising in which more than 40,000 people have died.
But for the government to have any chance of succeeding, it will have to remove the growing sense of insecurity among Indians who have risked coming to Kashmir to make a living.
Locals in the Kashmiri village where five Indian migrant labourers were killed by gunmen last week say they are living in fear of militant groups as well as the subsequent crackdown by security forces.
In the absence of a separate room for self-isolation in their small huts, seven migrant workers perched themselves on a banyan tree to remain in quarantine.
Three militants and a soldier died early Saturday after troops and police launched a search operation in a village in southern Pulwama district, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesperson. He said troops recovered an assault rifle and two pistols from the slain militants.
Several hours of shooting rocked the Pulwama district, south of Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, after officials said four soldiers, a policeman, three militants and a civilian were killed in the latest clash.
An army major was among the dead, along with three militants from the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group which claimed last week's attack, military and police officials said.
Six senior army men including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel were injured in the hours-long gun battle, a police official told AFP.
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