Women Celebrating IWD Centenary Arrested in UP
Women at many places in Uttar Pradesh were forced to celebrate International Women’s Day in jail! UP has seen a spate of incidents of violence on women, with ruling BSP MLAs involved in several such incidents of rape, abduction and murder of women. Women from poor and oppressed communities in particular have been at the receiving end of these incidents. On 8 March this year, the UP Administration once again underlined its hostility to women’s assertion and demands for equality, by arresting women who had gathered to celebrate the International Women’s Day Centenary!
Women across the State were prevented and denied by the police from holding Women’s Day demonstrations under the pretext that Section 144 had been imposed across the state in view of the Samajwati Party’s state-wide agitation. Women pointed out that Women’s Day had nothing to do with the SP agitation but to no avail.
In Pilibhit, when AIPWA members, mainly poor agricultural women labourers gathered near the District Headquarters to hold a demonstration they were manhandled by the police. CPI(ML) leader Comrade Afroz Alam who came to argue out the matter with the police was beaten up. Many lawyers and Bar Council members who were on the premises came out and protested the action. But the police picked up Comrade Afroz, took him to the thana and beat him up brutally after tying his hands behind his back. All the while they jeered at Women’s Day, saying they would beat him so much that they would ‘turn him into a woman.’ Meanwhile the women including the elected Zila Panchayat member Rama Gairola were arrested and booked under IPC Sections 341, 342 and 353, and told that failure to pay bail of Rs 15000 each would mean jail.
In Deoria too, a large number of AIPWA activists including AIPWA State Secretary Premlata Pandey were arrested holding Women’s Day demonstration. At Lakhimpur Khiri, the AIPWA procession led by CPI(ML) CCM Krishna Adhikari and AIPWA State President Vidya Rajwar had to contend with the police for a long time before completing the march.
Earlier on 25 February, the CPI(ML) had held a large march to the Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow to protest against growing violence on women and the state government’s complicity with the perpetrators. AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan, Vice President Tahira Hasan, CPI(ML) State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav and CCM Krishna Adhikari were among the main speakers at the rally.
The IWD Centenary was observed by AIPWA all over the country. In Delhi women workers and students held a march and Public Meeting at Jantar Mantar (Parliament Street), where students also performed a street play. Working women including sanitation workers at a central TB Hospital and domestic workers as well as students from various universities in Delhi had addressed the March. Ironically on Women’s Day itself, a woman student of a DU college was shot dead, allegedly by a stalker, in broad daylight in a crowded locality, underlining how unsafe and unfriendly the national capital is for women. Women in Delhi are reluctant to complain of harassment to the police because of their routinely insensitive response.
Shockingly, the Delhi CM brushed off her responsibility for this incident by blaming ‘civil society’ for not coming to the girl’s aid! Less than 10 days later, however, when a DU woman teacher and AIPWA activist Uma Gupta faced harassment by a group of hooligans a few days before Holi, the police arrived half an hour late after her repeated calls, and then arrested those students and friends who had come to her aid! The hooligans had felt bold enough to make obscene gestures and threats to her even in the presence of the police, and the police chastised her for acting to protect herself. Only after determined assertion could an FIR be lodged and the miscreants arrested, though they were promptly released on bail. Even in the presence of the police, influential local people were given a free rein by the police to try and pressurise her into withdrawing her complaint. On 22 March, AISA and AIPWA joined a large number of students and teachers from various DU colleges and women's groups in a Protest March all over the DU North Campus, protesting the police attitude towards crimes on women.
First AIKM State Conference in Uttarakhand
The first Uttarakhand State Conference of All India Kisan Mahasabha (AIKM) was held on 9-10 March at Almora. The conference venue was named after Comrade Ram Naresh Ram and the venue gate was named after Comrade Chandra Singh Garhwali, the hero of the Peshawar rebellion. About 85 delegates participated in the Conference.
Comrade Raja Ram Singh, General Secretary of AIKM, addressing the conference as the main speaker said that small-scale and marginal farmers are being constantly thrown out of agriculture by making it unrewarding. Governments are acquiring agricultural lands for corporate SEZs, hydropower projects etc by evicting the poor from their land.
Uttarakhand's Party incharge Comrade Raja Bahuguna inaugurated the Conference and stressed on creating a new wave of peasant struggles. Comrade Purushottam Sharma presented the discussion paper and noted that anti-farmer policies of successive governments in the State has resulted in shrinkage of agriculture sector spending to less than 10 %. The paper was passed unanimously after enthusiastic debate. The summing up remarks of the two-day Conference was presented by CPI(ML) CC member Comrade Rajendra Pratholi.
The Conference resolved to spread the AIKM to all 13 districts of Uttarakhand in next two years and raise the membership to fifty thousand from the present ten thousand. The Conference also elected 27 member State Council and 7 member State Executive. Comrades Purushottam Sharma and Jagat Martoliya were elected State President and Secretary of AIKM respectively. Comrades Indresh Maikhuri and Ghulam Nabi were elected Vice Presidents. Other Executive members are comrades Anand Singh Negi, Man Singh Pal and Surendra Brajwal.
From Sompeta to Kakarapalli : Bloodshed and Bold Resistance
[On 28 February, villagers protesting a thermal power plant in Kakarapalli, Andhra Pradesh, faced severe repression and police firing in which two were killed and many injured. On 2 March, a CPI(ML) team comprising N Murthy, D Harinath, B Vasudevarao, R Nagamani, T Sanyasirao, M Ramarao P Kameswarrao, K Dushyanth, P Sundaramma and others visited the affected people of the concerned villages. A report follows.]
The people of Kakarapalli, Vadditandra, Akasalakkavaram, Seerapuvanipeta of Santha Bommali mandal of Srikakulam district had been waging a determined struggle against a proposed thermal power plant by the East Coast Energy Pvt Ltd, which enjoyed strong political backing. East Coast Energy, promoter of a thermal power plant with an investment of Rs 11, 500 crores with the target of 660 MW production in the first phase, claimed to have acquired 2550 acres waste land from the government and initiated work on the plant three years back. Initially the people of the area were promised development, reasonable compensation and employment opportunities. Resolutions were passed in panchayats in favour of the factory by managing representatives of the local of bodies. It was claimed that all necessary clearances had been procured in favour of the plant. But the realities are quite otherwise.
Devastation of Nature and Agriculture
A village named Thene Neelapuram, very close to the plant site, houses a bird sanctuary visited by migratory birds from Siberia. The acquired area of 2550 acres government lands by the plant authorities is illegal because the said lands were under the lease of nearly 100 fishermen’s societies right from 1948 till the present. Now the government is refusing to renew the lease of those lands. Actually these lands are called Thampara Bhoomulu (wetlands created by seven streams including the Vamsadhara river which flow to join the Bay of Bengal) by local people and are breeding ground for a rare variety of tortoise and some types of fish. These are the lands which provide livelihood for nearly 800 families. Forest and environmental Acts and laws are being grossly violated. A detailed report by the Forest department objecting to the project was discarded.
As the level of the construction site is raised and a long wall constructed, water flow to the sea gets obstructed due to which 3000 acres of paddy lands were drowned and the crop of 10000 acres partly affected. The livelihood of thousands of peasants was affected as a result.
Resistance and Repression
The bloodstains at the Beela lands in Sompeta are yet to fade, where the people of Sompeta fought a heroic battle to protect lands, livelihood and environment from the Nagarjuna Construction Company and the government. Fisherfolk had played a leading role in that struggle which involved prolonged hunger strikes of 570 days. Even at the cost of severe repression and bloodshed the people there continue to struggle. Thus Sompeta showed the way to Kakarapalli.
On 15th August 2010 people of 20 panchayats affected by the thermal power plant formed a struggle committee and a camp was opened for hunger fasts. People started participating in the hunger fasts en masse with a festive mood demanding that the government cancel the plant. A village named Vaddithandra is the centre of the struggle and hosted the hunger fast camp for 196 days. Alongside the hunger fast, construction work at the plant was stopped by a road blockade. Determined to suppress the movement, the Government mobilised around 2000 police to seize the entire area, not allowing the people to leave the villages even for medical emergencies. Even school and college students were not allowed to move. The police destroyed the hunger fast camp and arrested the people. They raided the villages and arrested the people including women.
People’s resistance to this police repression caused a police firing on 25 February in which many were injured with rubber bullets. Even this repression couldn’t sway the people to take back their struggle.
The police then began raiding the villages to arrest the leader of the movement named Ramireddy who is also a sarpanch of Akasalakkavaram village. On 27 February people involved in the resistance faced indiscriminate firing by the police, in which two people died and number of people got injured. Police fired tear gas shells on the villages in which 27 houses were burnt and paddy crop of 100 acres was destroyed by the fire. After the police firing, police raided the villages, beat up people and arrested them. Even old women were not spared and all were implicated in many false cases.
Even in the face of severe repression and bloodshed, people of the area continue to be determined to continue the struggle until the thermal power plant is lifted from their area. After the police firing when leaders of the ruling parties arrived in the villages to console the people, they were heckled and questioned by the people. When a Congress minister, Pardhasaradhi visited the villages he was gheraoed by the people. Even Chandrababu Naidu, ex-chief minister of TDP was not spared by the people. People demanded that Chandrababu expel TDP leader Yerram Naidu who has stakes in the factory and is a strong supporter of the thermal plant.
People have already reopened the hunger fast camp.
Srikakulam has been earmarked for 6 thermal power plants and 1 atomic power plant. People of Sompeta and Kakarapalli have shown that people will reject these destructive projects in Srikakulam and the rest of AP.
Suspected Child Sacrifice in TN Village
A fact finding team of PUCL, AIPWA and AISA visited the village Katchaikatti in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu on 26 January to investigate the brutal murder of a four and a half year old girl child
Rajalakshmi. The child, daughter of a dalit couple Mr. Thottan and Annakili, had disappeared on 1st January 2011, and her body was found the following day, with the body drained of every drop of blood and no signs of blood at the site where the body was found.
The team intervened after the police could not make any headway even after 25 days. The team included PUCL’s Vice President Dr. R Murali (and Professor of Philosophy in Madurai College), Prof. Mohan Kalyana Sundaram, former Principal, Saraswathi Narayan College, Madurai, Usha, State Secretary, AIPWA, Divya, AISA, Prof. R Govindarajan, Dept. of Chemistry, Madurai
College, Prof. Periyasamy Raja, Dept. of Tamil, VHNSN College, Virudhunagar, Mr. Hameed, media activist, Marupakkam and Mr.Balaraman, Research Scholar,Vadipatti.
The team found that the throat of the child was slit and a portion of flesh taken off near its right eye. The body was first spotted in close proximity to a well. The murder was committed in a fashion similar to sacrificing a goat or chicken for its blood and was executed on Amavasya (new moon) which is considered auspicious day for black magic. It was therefore suspected that the child was sacrificed.
Subsequently, a father and son were arrested who confessed to have committed the murder to meet the demand of some person who had asked for a human sacrifice. Two local DMK leaders Ayoobkhan and P M Mannan who are constructing a school nearby acted to try and delay the arrest of these suspects, leading to the suspicion that they had commissioned the sacrifice.
Subsequently the two arrested died under suspicious circumstances – the father died in police custody while the son, who had bitten off his tongue to avoid custody and had therefore been hospitalised, allegedly jumped off the first floor of the hospital and succumbed to a head injury. The CPI(ML) has alleged that these deaths are likely to be murders, to prevent these men from revealing which powerful person had commissioned the sacrifice. The party has demanded a CBI enquiry into the case, action against the concerned police officials and compensation for the child’s family.
Attack on Dalits in Madurai
On 13 February, there was an attack on Dalits in Parali Pudur village near Madurai but which is part of Dindigul District. The police and administration failed to act for the next 10 days. On 22 February a fact finding team of CPIML led by its State Secretary met the Dalits in their hamlet. The team members were: Comrades Jayaveeran (Secretary Dindigul District), Thenmozhi (AIPWA State President), Usha (SCM), Manivel (AICCTU, Dindigul), Divya (AISA State Committee), Ramachandiran (District Secretary, Karur) and Mathivanan (Member, District Leading Team, Madurai)
The team found that the attack was well planned and deliberate. The village is dominated by the backward caste Mutharaiyars who are known as Valaiyars. They are landed kulaks and had encroached lands issued to Dalits under the 2 acre scheme of the DMK government. They had also taken away the 'Holy Land' of dalits 40 years ago and still continue to use it though the Government claims to have restored it to Dalits. They have encroached common lands of the village and are denying access to Dalits. They could not tolerate the independent Dalits, and fear the growing economic power of the Dalits who are settled in cities and are starting to buy lands with their savings so that they can settle in their own village after retirement.
The attack took place on 23 February when the Mutharaiyars assembled to erect a statue. They claimed that 'their flag was dishonoured by the Dalits' – a charge denied by the Dalits. Bikes, bicycles and other assets were burnt down. Food grains and clothes are set on fire. Shops and new extensions of houses were destroyed or pulled down. Tiles of houses were damaged with stone boulders.
Though the attack was reported in the press, the District Collector took three days to visit the village. The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) led by the MP Thirumavalavan, who claims to champion the Dalit cause discouraged his party from intervening. AIADMK party functionaries used this opportunity to show case their anti Dalit stand. The ruling DMK played down the issue.
The CPI(ML) organised a press meet following the team visit and invited local people to participate in it. People under the leadership of local youth Karthick readily came forward. On 23 February State Secretary Comrade Balasundaram and Com Usha (SCM) addressed the press in Dindigul and asked for action against the Collector and SP. Comrades Jayaveeran (District Secretary) and Manivel (AICCTU) were present. More than 15 people from Parli Pudur met the press and recorded their sufferings and the lukewarm approach of the district administration. We demanded that the masterminds of the attack be identified and prosecuted under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, providing the names of some of the leaders of the attack. We asked for confiscation of common land encroached by Muthathariar kulaks and redistribution of it to the landless irrespective of caste, and also asked for a Special Camp by the Collector to reissue certificates burnt by the hooligans. The Government reacted following this and met the people.
On 25 February a delegation of the affected people along with CPI(ML) comrades Jayaveeran, Usha and Mathivanan met the collector along with more than 40 victims, who after much argument agreed to hold a Special Camp at Parali Pudur and to invoke the provisions of the POA Act. The team also met the SP who agreed to take action against the kulaks who were the real culprits if people were ready to file an affidavit. We promised to do so if the police officials came to village. In a few days he was transferred.
The VCK meanwhile tried to maintain its hold over Dalits, even blocking vans used to transport people to meet the Collector. Finally in one of the village meetings the people told the VCK that they did not want them and asked them to leave.
The District Administration provided rice and groceries for ten days, dug two bore wells and provided effective lighting. They also provided utensils and some other essentials. The Dalits have been approached for a compromise but have refused. A protest was then held at the District headquarters on 17 March, and affidavits too are being prepared towards arrest of the leaders of the attack.
Campaign for a Just Wage for N Bengal Tea Plantation Workers
With 1692 registered tea producers and nine auction centers, the tea industry sees an annual turnover of over Rs. 9000 crores. North Bengal has about 450 gardens spread out in the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars region that are registered as sellers in the Siliguri tea Auction Centre with about 3.5 lakh permanent workers. It is estimated that more than 25, 00,000 people are dependent on the tea industry in the region. The last 10 years has seen many changes within the tea industry of the region.
Closed and Abandoned gardens
In the last decade or so the region saw large number of tea gardens closing down. More than 50 gardens had closed during this period affecting a huge section of the work force. 4 gardens continue to be abandoned. Interestingly, despite the crisis, till 2007 the tea industry in West Bengal saw only 8 workers’ strikes as against 202 lockouts! Of about 14 tea gardens abandoned by their owners, few were run by the Operative Management Committees (OMC) - a committee initiated and formed with the workers of the garden to keep the plucking of tea leaves going so as to provide subsistence to the workers of the garden. Most of these have now reopened with the Special Tea Fund released in 2007 by the Ministry of Finance of the Government of India but are functioning under the constant shadow of closure.
During this same period the region also saw a large number of starvation deaths. Nearly 1500 workers from the closed gardens died of starvation during this same period. Studies show that 70% of the people of closed tea gardens are in the Chronic Energy Deficiency III stage. The Central government announced the Financial Assistance to the Workers in Locked-out Industrial units scheme (FAWLOI) for providing financial assistance to every worker of closed gardens, but it did not extend the same benefit to the bigha or casual workers whose ratio to the permanent workers is now almost at 1:3 and is ever increasing with the managements moving towards more induction of casual workers especially in the cases of plucking for the inferior CTC tea.
The Supreme Court in its order in August 2010 had directed the Central Government to invoke the Tea Act 1953 to take over the gardens that are closed within six months. The Central Government has not only failed to stop closures in the industry, it has also failed to implement the Supreme Court order.
Labour Rights Violations
The tea gardens have been violating the basic provisions of the Tea Plantation Labour Act with impunity. Provisions of crèche, medical facilities, ambulance, and house repair have all become things of the past. Moreover, many tea gardens of the region have also not deposited the provident fund dues of the workers amounting to over Rs. 77 crores while the state government has provided full support to the garden owners by being silent observers.
Further, a system of productivity linked wages was forced by the management and the Government of West Bengal in 2005 during a very low ebb in the workers movement which led to the introduction of a pro-rata system of wages that entails plantation workers to deliver a pre-agreed productivity level to earn their basic daily wage. In case they fail to achieve this target, there is a cut in the daily wage. However, extra productivity is also awarded with incentives. This productivity-linked pro rata system of wage setting that is contingent on the collective bargaining power of negotiating trade unions is always fraught with the high possibility of huge losses in wage depending on the bargaining strength of the trade unions. Given that the wages in the tea industry are abysmally low, even lower than the statutory agricultural minimum wage in the state, this system has actually perpetuated a system that can amount to payment of a wage lower than the minimum wage which according to the Supreme Court amounts to ‘forced labour’. This system has also re-introduced child labour into the tea gardens. To meet the production targets, women workers are forced to bring their children to supplement their work.
Towards a Just Wage
Wages in the tea plantation sector have always been set through tripartite agreements which have been infrequent and skewed in favour of the plantation owners. With the sustained crisis in the plantations and the recent Supreme Court directive for invoking the Tea Act and the upcoming elections, the state government has felt the pressure to propose a minimum wage for the tea plantations last year below which no wage can fall.
The government proposal of minimum wage for the plantation workers falls short of providing the basic needs of a worker as proposed by the 15th ILC norms and subsequent Supreme Court orders supplementing it. It is therefore time to build an alliance with all progressive trade unions to campaign for a minimum wage linked to dearness allowance with 100% neutralization that will not just provide the subsistence needs of workers but also ensure that there can be no productivity linked wage cuts.
In taking this demand forward, Darjeeling Terai Dooars Chia Kaman Union, Pashchim Banga Cha Sramik Karmachari Union, Terai Sangrami Cha Sramik Union and the All West Bengal Tea Garden Labour Union have come together to launch a joint campaign on minimum wage of Rs. 245 per day for the tea plantation workers as per 15th ILC norms and subsequent Supreme Court orders. The joint trade union initiative will also campaign for the implementation of the Plantation Labour Act and in case of sick and closed plantations demand the implementation of the Supreme Court directive of 2010.
Updates from Punjab AICCTU
The main base of AICCTU in Sangrur district is the brick kiln workers. They work most of the time as bonded labour; they get advance payments at the start of the season, on account of which they are deprived of negotiation capacity and forced to accept all the harsh working conditions. The old unions associated to CITU and AITUC rarely went beyond organizing customary type of strikes and then negotiating over a few percent of increase in the wages. The issue of the maintaining record of workmen by the brick kiln owners, registering them with the Provident Fund department, ESI, Group Insurance etc., getting uniforms, fixing of work hours, abolition or regulation of the piece rate payments etc. were always pushed back.
So AICCTU this time submitted a demand notice to the brick kiln owners union and raised all the basic demands. The owners joined the conciliatory process and an agreement was finally signed which secured the victory of workmen over the PF question apart from an increment of 25% in the wages above the minimum wages and many other demands. Similarly in Barnala district, we secured a victory over the above demands after a brief strike and an indefinite dharna in front of the DC office. Victory rallies in both these districts were attended by hundreds of workers.
The main base of AICCTU in Chandigarh is contract workers working in different government hospitals, university hostels, and the municipal health and sanitation department. These workers are denied basic rights. There had been a virtual ban on rallies, dharnas and demonstrations. AICCTU is the only union which in the recent months organized a 53-day long dharna in one of the VIP areas in front of the PEC University of Technology and won all the demands. Three tools-down strikes over the issues of delayed salaries, illegal termination and one for undue deductions were organized by our Ekta Contractors Union, GMSH-16, in the month of February alone. About 300 workers participated in a Workers’ March to the Labour Secretary at Chandigarh on February 21. Nearly 500 workers participated enthusiastically in the February 24 Workers’ March to Parliament.
AICCTU Chandigarh has reached out to many unions in Chandigarh, getting them affiliated with it – including PEC Mess Workers Union (regd.), Ekta Contract Workers Union GMSH-16 (regd.), PGI Contract Workers Union (regd.), GMCH-32 Contract Workers Union (regd.), Safayi Karamchari (contract) Union (regd.), TBRL Contract Workers Union (regd.).
A dharna was organized despite massive opposition by the police in the city centre at Plaza Sector 17 on 5 March, against the union budget’s anti people proposals.
The mood has spread to workers in many other unions. The Regular Nursing Staff Union and ISBT Sector 43 Safayi Karamchari Union consulted the AICCTU leadership while going on various protests of their own.