Covid tales: In absence of non-local workers, Kashmiris sow paddy crops on their own

Kashmiris plant paddy saplings in a field on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Abid Bashir

Srinagar (NVI): For almost two decades, Kashmiris have been dependent on the non-local work force for a plethora of works especially construction, painting houses and sowing various crop varieties and harvesting the same as well. But this year, Covid has played a spoil sport and has left the Kashmiris with no choice other than to do all these jobs on their own.

Rice across Kashmir is sown in the month of June and today not a single non-local worker is seen working in the fields. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, workers from outside the Union Territory could not come to Kashmir. However, a few who didn’t leave last December continue to stay in the Valley. Their number is too less compared to what it used to be in summers in Kashmir.

“I had been repeatedly calling Ravi, who had been working for us for years now. But he has not been able to book a ticket due to the pandemic. He along with his half-a-dozen friends would sow our rice crops and I would pay them their dues well on time every year,” said Irshad Ahmed, who owns many kanals of paddy land in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

Similarly, Gulab Kumar, who would reach Kashmir in the first week of April, said that he has suffered huge losses this year. “I would lead a group of 30 to 40 people, all from my village in Bihar, to Kashmir every year. Majority of them would work in fields both at the time of sowing paddy crop and at the time of harvest as well,” Kumar told NVI over phone from Bihar. He said that they have tried to travel to Kashmir, but all efforts have failed.

Aijaz Ahmed, a resident of north Kashmir’s Baramulla said he had to invite all his relatives for sowing paddy crop this year. “I used to hire non-locals and would monitor the sowing of paddy crop myself. But this year, my family members including females and the close relatives had to play their bit in sowing paddy crops as no non-local labourer was present in Kashmir to do the job,” said Aijaz, who has over 20 kanals of paddy land.

While on one hand, Kashmiris are themselves busy in the fields, non-locals, who would otherwise do the job, have suffered huge losses as they would earn good money during the month of June and also in the month of September, when paddy crop is ready to harvest.