Kashmiri refugees eke out livelihood in Kolkata
About 50 Kashmiri families have for the past two months put up tents near Dakshineshwar temple in the northern outskirts of Kolkata.
A big plot of vacant land at Rajabagan, meant for an Expressway, has become the temporary address for 350 to 400 Kashmiri refugees, most of whom are form Baramulla, Badaun and adjoining areas of the strife-torn Kashmir valley.
The flock comprises mostly tangawalaas and fruit vendors from places like Pahelgam, Patnitop and whose livelihood depends largely on tourism.
The members of the group talking to The Indian Express said that since June last year, strikes, curfews and shut-downs have made it difficult for them to manage two-square meals a day. Hundred of these families first flocked to Jammu station and from there set out for different locations.
“We have found a shelter here,” said Riyaz Ahmed, one of the camp inmates. Riyaz is MA in education from Kashmir university.
“At Dakshineshwar railway station, we saw this abandoned land and decided to set up camps here. The locals are helping us with food and other necessities,” said Rashid Ahmed, 23, who is a graduate.
While West Bengal Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh denied any knowledge of the new group of refugees in the northern outskirts of the city, the additional director general of Intelligence Branch, West Bengal police, Banibrata Basu, said police teams were sent to inquire about them. Their addresses in Kashmir were verified and found to be true. And on humanitarian grounds, they were allowed to stay, said Basu. The open space where Kashmiri refugees have set up camps, belong to the National Highway Authority.
An official of Belghoria police station under which the land falls said: “Initially we objected but when we came to know about their circumstances, we allowed them to stay. They get water from the nearby municipal taps and from Kishore Sangha, a local club. Food is often provided by Gurudwara Singh Sabha of Baranagar, a few NGOs and a few local mosques. The male members of the group earn some money by doing odd jobs like pulling rickshaws and working as daily labourers.
The living conditions are highly unhygienic. “If we fail to get food and lead a peaceful life, we will go back. We will ask our government to make arrangements for us,” said Mohammad Shafaq, another inmate of the camp.
When contacted on phone, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed his ignorance about the refugees. He said he will inquire about it.