Two days after a protest outside Triveni Sugar Mills in Khatauli, in western UP's Muzaffarnagar district, demanding dismissal of Kashmiri people employed there, youths from the Valley have begun to flee the city out of fear.
On Wednesday, mill officials said 34 out of more than 70 Kashmiri men employed in the unit have already left and more are planning to leave in the next few days. Most of them come here during the cane crushing period - between November and April. Triveni is the biggest of Muzaffarnagar's eight sugar mills, employing nearly 700 people, and make up 30 per cent of 6.17 lakh quintal cane crushed in all of them per day, mill authorities said.
Members of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tomar) had protested outside the mill on Tuesday and demanded that Kashmiri workers should be sent back, as "people abuse and throw stones at soldiers in the Valley and come here to take shelter".
On Wednesday morning, Bilal Syed, 22, standing in the middle of a courtyard, which is flanked by two barrack-styled large rooms with wooden beds where the workers sleep, said, "I have no qualms admitting that I am afraid - anything can happen to us (here). There is fear among all of us. We have never been made to feel this way before. We come here to earn an honest living. We have never, and never will, harm others…. It is hard, but we need to go back," Bilal, surrounded by his colleagues, said.
Besides Bilal, who comes from Baniwal in Kashmir, more than 20 people from the Valley plan to take the train back towards home by Thursday. Bilal Ahmad, in his early-twenties, said they come to these areas since there are very few jobs available in Kashmir. "Here, we get good employment during the (cane) crushing period. We work during the winter and then return. But it seems that option is closing now. My parents are afraid and want me back," he said.
Ashok Kumar, vice-president of the mill since 2011, said "several Kashmiris" have been working here, as the mill has been conducive to their employment.
A senior official in Triveni Mills said, "They are leaving out of fear, which is wrong. We will hold discussions with the district administration to come up with a solution. We can provide every level of identification for cooperation. Such a situation never came up before, and we hope it is resolved soon."
Additional District Magistrate Amit Singh said, "We do not have a count of Kashmiris working in (Muzaffarnagar's) mills. So far, we have learnt there are some workers (from Kashmir) in Triveni Mills. We have not received any official complaint from either the police or the mill authorities. We will have talks and take due action if we find any misconduct."
Maintaining that he feels workers from Kashmir should not be harmed, Sanjeev Balyan, the BJP MP from Muzaffarnagar, said, "They are coming here to earn. They are not staying back and indulging in harmful activities. It is wrong, unnecessary politicisation. I will speak to the administration to ensure protection for them."
Reiterating that Kashmiri migrant workers "take refuge in the mill", Vishal Ahlawat of BKU (Tomar), reacting to the contention that the issue can be resolved if they are given identity proofs, said, "Even terrorists have been found with identity cards."