Bahalnagar explores Kerala jobs
Standing on a one-acre plot of agriculture land abutting his three-storey family home on Thursday morning, Rezaul Sheikh, 55, said the farm and the building were his recent acquisitions.
“My sons worked in Kashmir for many years and that’s why we have these,” said Sheikh, a small farmer till a few years ago.
In 2016, Rezaul, along with his sons Asraful, 30, and Ibrahim, 24, had fulfilled a longstanding family dream: building a pucca home. Prior to that, they had been living in a mud structure.
“Ten years’ worth of cumulative savings from my sons through their Kashmir trips — as apple pickers — enabled us to gain the assets,” said Rezaul, sitting on a charpoy outside the freshly painted home at Bahalnagar in the Sagardighi block of Murshidabad.
“But this week has put a firm stop to that. No more Kashmir,” he added. So, young men of Bahalnagar now look towards Kerala to sustain their families. Annual Kashmir trips though would fetch anywhere between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 for young men working as apple pickers for a couple of months.
Forty-eight hours have passed since the news of the deaths of five local youths — Kamruddin Sheikh, Mursalim Sheikh, Rafikul Sheikh, Rafiq Sheikh and Naimuddin Sheikh — in a terror attack in Kashmir reached Bahalnagar.
Bahalnagar, a village of 3,000 people, is homogeneous as a significant majority are poor people, who rely on agriculture and earnings by male members as migrant labourers. Save for 12 Hindu families, all are Muslims.
“In a good year, a single bigha of farmland will yield a profit of just Rs 8,000. So, we have to look for day wage labour,” said Asraful.
Sademan Sheikh, 42, said repeated trips to Kashmir’s orchards since 2011 not only gave his family a proper home, but also surplus money to ensure college education for his daughter Nasima, 19. She is a student of geography honours at Nalhati College in Birbhum.
“There is no way I can sustain this without day wage labour a few months a year. We have decided that we can’t go to Kashmir. People are now talking about Kerala,” said Sademan.
Most men at the village have learnt though the southern state does provide opportunities, they will have to improve their skills to meet higher demand of job in Kerala.
“Kerala is more skill-based. If you are skilled, you can get a wage of Rs 600 to Rs 700 as a mason. Otherwise, it is Rs 300 or less for a helper,” said Sademan, who lived in a mud hut until five years ago.
That’s why the villagers have decided to approach the local panchayat and the district administration to provide training to youngsters so that they can work as masons, electricians, construction workers and carpenters.
“There is only one primary school in the area. So, we never got the opportunity to study. If we can acquire some skills, we can survive,” said Abil Sheikh.