It's blood, sweat and tears for 500 Kashmiri Pandit refugees

Feb 08, 2012, 09:11 IST | Nivedita Dargalkar

Artisans who came to the city last December are returning home after trading their weaving skills for hard labour and their blood for money

They say Mumbai is the city of dreams, the city that will make you or break you and for 500-odd Kashmiri Pandits, the latter proved to be true.

Still homeless: The refugee camp for Kashmiri Pandits at Bandra has
provided them with dismal living conditions, ultimately forcing many to
return to the strife-torn Valley. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Hoping to turn their fate around from living in refugee camps in Jammu, weaving pashmina shawls, a group of artisans came to Mumbai in the last week of December last year.

However, they are now returning home to the cold hills, penniless, on March 1.

Suffering in the biting cold and from lack of employment opportunities owing to a dip in tourism in Jammu, the artisans had migrated with their families to the city to find jobs and, perhaps, a place to call home. However, now residing at Bandra in a transit camp -- where health and sanitation facilities are almost non-existent -- the unfortunate lot are returning home.

Griping of the abject conditions that they endure in the city, a refugee Anand Kher said, "We went to various handloom manufacturing units to find a job. However, all potential employers asked us to provide them with a guarantee as we don't reside in the city or have proof of residence."

Seeing no way of surviving, the skilled hands turned to hard labour. They started taking on jobs as off-loaders in order to feed their starving families. And while some of them took to begging for alms, food and blankets from nearby residential complexes, some took to donating their blood in return for money to make ends meet. 

"On an average , we earn Rs 500 every day working as off-loaders. However, most of that is used up in our sustenance. With no other options, I had to donate my blood twice to make extra money to support my six sisters and one brother," added Kher.

"Back at our refugee camps in Jammu, we used to make a living weaving pashmina shawls and other handicrafts. But owing to the extreme cold, the number of tourists dwindled, forcing us to come to Mumbai," said Hussein Mohammed (name changed on request) who has seven mouths to feed.

But it's not all a picture of gloom for these artisan refugees.

"Sometimes, moved by our plight, people show kindness to us and offer us money and food. On some occasions, people have donated money for us so we may return home," added Kher.

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