12 December 2014

Historic Strike by West Bengal Tea Garden Workers

On 11-12 November, tea garden workers in West Bengal registered a militant protest demanding minimum wages and other workers’ rights. They held a 48-hours strike in the entire tea sector of North Bengal, and a 12-hour general strike in three tea intensive districts and 2 sub-divisions. It is a well-known fact that tea garden workers in Bengal, who produce tea which is enjoyed across the world, work under abominable conditions and are paid extremely paltry amounts for their hard labour. The fact of the matter is that the wage paid to tea workers is less than the wage given to agricultural labours under MNREGA, which is Rs 167 per day in West Bengal. As a result of the persistent denial of rights, there have been several deaths due to malnutrition and illness in the tea gardens of north Bengal. On 11-12 November, lakhs of workers in nearly 300 tea gardens in Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a strike demanding the declaration of minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a meagre wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day. There was absolutely no work in 103 tea gardens in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration as the workers supported the strike. The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions operating in the tea gardens, including AICCTU. CPI(ML) CC member Comrade...

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Shah Chand as people remembered him

A loving spouse Jameela Khatun speaking about her husband, said: “We got married after he became mukhiya. At our wedding, the song for the groom went, “Our unmarried mukhiya, our beloved mukhiya” – at that time it was very unusual for such a young, unmarried man to become mukhiya. Even when he was mukhiya, he earned nothing. And as a party activist he would often go away for 10 days at a time, and then return with a large number of comrades. We would make them all welcome. Many a time the police would come to raid the house, threatening to kill us, terrorising the little children. I would say, “Kill us, but we don’t know where he is, and so we can’t tell you.” The knock of the police on the door was something we would always expect and fear. Even when we were short of money, I would never ask him. I would say to those who asked, that he doesn’t have money, that’s why he can’t give us any. He’s in jail, and must be worrying anyway, we won’t add to his worries. He was always deeply committed to people and to the party, and would always tell us to be with the party.” His efforts for peace Shah Chand was very well known and respected for his efforts towards promoting peace between communities. In 1982,...

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Comrade Shah Chand: Epitome of Human Warmth and Communist Commitment

Comrade Shah Chand is no more. The soft-spoken, warm-hearted CPI(ML) leader known for his inexhaustible human compassion and unshakable communist commitment breathed his last in Patna Medical College and Hospital at 12 noon on 2 November. Sentenced to life imprisonment by a TADA Court in Jahanabad in 2003, Comrade Shah Chand spent the last twelve years of his life in Bihar jails. The harshness of jail life and persistent lack of medical care took a heavy toll, and by the time Comrade Shah Chand was transferred to PMCH in October 2014 he had already suffered irreversible multiple damages following a cerebral stroke. Shah Chand came from a well-to-do landed family in Bhadasi village in Arwal. When he finished his graduation from BN College in Patna in the late 1960s, he could see all around him the quest for social transformation. On the other side of river Sone, the oppressed people in Bhojpur were rising in revolt against centuries of social oppression and bondage. The revolutionary battle launched by Comrades Jagdish Mahato, Ramnaresh Ram and Rameswar Yadav at Ekwari became the new folklore of emancipation of the downtrodden. Shah Chand dedicated his life to the uplift and emancipation of his fellow people. The people of Bhadasi also reposed their trust in him and elected him the ‘mukhiya’ of the panchayat in 1978. He is still fondly remembered by the people...

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Remembering Geeta Das # Red Salute to Minakshi Sen

Remembering Geeta Das I first met Geeta Das when I was a student in the 1990s. A small, feisty, lively woman, who moved busily, like a bird. A face full of warmth and feeling. And speaking to her, I never felt the distance of age between us. For me, a JNU student, she felt like a kindred spirit, whose sensibilities matched mine and that of so many women much younger than her. I especially miss Geeta Di in the times we’re in, when the Hindutva fundamentalists are resurgent and are openly attacking women’s freedoms. With what energy Geeta Di did battle with those self-declared ‘custodians’ of ‘Indian culture’ and ‘Indian women’! Age did not stall or stale Geeta Di’s fighting spirit, even as her body became increasingly frail. I recall the last time I heard her speak in public – at the AIPWA West Bengal Conference in 2010. She spoke about the situation of under-paid and over-worked working women, and peasant women resisting land grab in the State. She said, ‘Some say I am a feminist. Well, I am, indeed, a feminist! Shouldn’t we all be, as long as injustice against women remains a reality?’ Geeta Di, your courage in your own life, your spirited presence in women’s movements and the Left movement, will always inspire us. I hope there will always be a bit of you, alive and...

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The Personal Is Political

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” – Che Guevara The Making of a Communist Leader of Women’s Movement Kolkata, 2010. A lively discussion on unpaid domestic work was going on in a study class of women comrades. Geetadi was seated by my side. “I have read so little of such theoretical works”, she murmured. “I don’t think that’s a big issue”, I replied without a moment’s thought, “for your life itself is a text on the struggle for women’s liberation – a book which is for us to read and reread.” On 24 October 2014, that book was concluded. Che’s words on love and revolution crossed my desolate mind like a gentle breeze. An indomitable urge for freedom and boundless love for fellow people were the two basic impulses that moved Geetadi forward to become a protester, a fighter, a communist revolutionary. In the story of her life one finds the legacies of Satyabati-Subarnalata-Bakul rolled into one. There was one crucial difference though. With Gitadi, that legacy rose to a qualitatively higher plane by integrating itself with the communist movement. Naturally, the transition was not an easy one. In the out and out feudal-patriarchal settings of the Bengali bhadralok community, a woman has...

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TRIBUTE : Red Salute to Comrade Geeta Das!

Veteran revolutionary women’s leader of the party Comrade Geeta Das breathed her last on 24 October at her daughter’s house in Santoshpur, West Bengal. Comrade Geeta Das, popularly known among her comrades as ‘Geetadi’ was 78 years old and was suffering from several age related ailments. Geetadi hailed from Kotalipara in Faridpore district of East Bengal, presently Bangladesh. She studied till class VIII in the face of tremendous poverty and completed the Matric degree after marriage. Her unswerving courage and dedication towards studies was evident from her completion of basic teachers’ training with the distinction of being first class first even as she was raising her child and living in a hostel. She joined the Calcutta Corporation School as a teacher and retired from her job in 1996. Geetadi came from a family where many members were associated with the Left movement. From the time when the undivided Communist Party of India worked in Bengal, many Left activists used to visit to her house and she grew up inculcating values of the Left from an early age. She also married a Left activist Dilip Das. During the Naxalbari movement, when the entire state and national politics was reeling under the spring thunder, her four siblings joined the movement and she continued to support the struggle steadfastly inspired by the spirit of revolution. In the 70s she used to act...

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West Bengal Blast Probe

Witch-hunt by Investigative Agencies Ever since the Burdwan bomb blast, there has been a new phase of witch hunt of minorities in West Bengal. Corporate media houses have been running kangaroo trails based on half baked information and misleading facts. Two men were killed in the blast – Shakil Ahmed and Sovan Mandal. The police, and later the NIA and NSG too, zeroed in on the theory that the perpetrators were associates of Shakil Ahmad, ignoring Sovan Mandal largely. The story of two young workers, Zulfikar Ali (35) and Haider Ali (34), victims of the witch-hunt is a harrowing one. It underlines how due process and civil liberties are blithely crushed underfoot by investigative agencies. After three weeks of incarceration, torture and humiliation Zulfikar Ali and Haider Ali(34) were released by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on 30th October evening. Zulfikaar and Haider were picked up by Jammu and Kashmir Police from their rented home in Kanshipura Gausia of Baramula district on 6th and 8th October respectively. After retrieving their id cards from the police, they boarded a home bound train on 2nd November and reached on 4th November. They held a press conference on 5th November at Rampurhat. Comrade Malay Tewari and Comrade Pradyot Mukherji of CPI(ML) were present at that press conference. For several years Haider had been going to Kashmir to work as a mason. Zulfikar...

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Working Women’s Workshop in West Bengal

Close on the heels of the working women’s workshop held successfully in Hooghly on 9 November, a state level workshop was held jointly by AICCTU and AIPWA on Nov. 16 in Kolkata. This workshop was also aimed at concretizing women workers’ specific demands to be raised during the upcoming united workers’ rally and congregation organized by AICCTU on Rani Rashmani Road on the coming 8th December. Trade Union leaders as well as working women comrades from various sectors such as Asha, Anganwari, Mid-day Meal, Domestic Work etc. took part. Some salient points that came up in the workshop paper (presented by comrade Atanu Chakravarti) and the ensuing discussions are- 1. The demand for conducting an extensive ‘labour census’ of women workers in the state must be constantly raised and popularised. 2. Rights won on the question of sexual harrasment at the workplace, along with the current legal understanding of the ‘workplace’ as the ‘world of work’ (including not just the confines of the workplace but also all spaces involving commutes and travels related to the work) must be disseminated widely through awareness programmes. 3. Equal rights, Dignity, Equal wages, Social security are the overarching slogans for the massive contingent of women workers. 4. Social security (including rights to health, pension, children’s education) is either completely absent or grossly inadequate. While 5 types of schemes exist for organised workers, there...

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Conditions of Women Workers in the Tailoring Industry of Tamilnadu

An AICCTU team investigated the conditions of women workers in the tailoring industry in Ambattur and Karur. The team comprised State secretaries Comrades Mohan and Munusami in Ambattur, and State Council members Comrades Ramachandran, Chandrasekar, Paulraj, Ponnuthurai, Bhuvana along with party comrades in Karur. Later, the team plans to investigate the industry in Mahindra City and Tirupur for a comparative analysis. The findings of the investigation are below. Minimum Wages World apparel export, at a moderate rate of growth, is expected to reach US $640 bn by 2015. Of this India’s share will be US $18 bn according to Vision 2015 of Apparel Exports Promotion Council. From 2014 April to September, the garment exports of the country reached US $8.3 bn. This is an increase of 17.6% than that of the same period in the last fiscal year. Increasing labour cost in China and non-compliance of large number of factories in Bangladesh have provided India a big opportunity in view of its relative advantage, noted the AEPC Chairperson. AEPC sets a target of 6% share from the present 2.8% share which means India’s share will be US $34 bn by 2015. For this, an additional 18,44,444 machines and 1.5 person for a machine i.e., 27 lakh workers are needed as estimated by AEPC. Such is going to be the huge size of workers in this industry in the days...

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Special Feature : Resolve for Change

The survey reveals the scale of acute mass deprivation in Bihar. But if we take a closer look, it also reflects the intensity of the people’s quest for a life of dignity and fulfilment of basic needs and aspirations. The key to Bihar’s development lies in resolving the contradiction between the aspirations and efforts of the people on one hand and the systematic suppression and denial of people’s rights on the other. We can see this contradiction in every sphere of social life and economic development – be it the agrarian economy, non-agricultural employment, housing, education, healthcare or various other basic amenities. More than 90 per cent of the households surveyed are effectively landless. Yet decades of land reforms have hardly touched them and governments today are busy evicting the poor from whatever meagre land they have managed to secure through their struggles. But when it comes to agriculture, it is the poor who are willing to commit all their energies and whatever limited resources they can marshal to agricultural activities while the more resourceful who have alternative livelihood options or sources of income increasingly prefer to avoid agriculture. Bihar’s agriculture today rests primarily on poor and middle peasants whether they till their own land or pay high rents to lease in some land for their subsistence. But the so-called agricultural road maps or assistance programmes of the government...

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Special Feature : Survey: An Overall View

SURVEY AT A GLANCE Total number of families surveyed —– 206740Rural families —– 200106Urban families —– 6634Names missed out in voter list —– 134098 (23.09%)Total villages —– 1314Panchayats —– 826Blocks —– 168Districts —– 23Total wards —– 45Nagar Nigam areas —– 3Nagar parishad —– 1Nagar panchayat areas —– 4 Social Structure of Surveyed Families Dalit/mahadalit/tribal —– 92409 (44.6%)Very backward —– 50254 (24.31%)Backward —– 32589 (15.76%)Minorities —– 23671 (11.45%0Others —– 7817 (3.78%) Survey period – July-September 2014 This survey was conducted between July and September 2014 in 1314 villages of 826 panchayats of 168 blocks of 23 districts in Bihar. The survey was done basically among the poor, as is clear from the social structure of the surveyed families. Of the 2.106 lakh families, dalit-mahadalit-tribal families are 44.9%, extreme backward, backward, minorities and others are 24.46%, 15.89%, 10.81% and 3.82% respectively. 6634 families were also surveyed in 45 wards of 6 districts in urban areas; even this was basically amongst the urban poor. The survey report is based primarily on data collected from rural areas, and findings from urban areas have been presented in a separate chapter. The broad picture of deprivation is however quite similar among both rural and urban poor. Of the 200,106 rural families surveyed, 60.74% are landless families. This landlessness is on the basis of agricultural land; i.e. these families do not own any land for farming....

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Special Feature : Today’s Bihar : Development Hype and Ground Reality

[Excerpts from a comprehensive survey report prepared and released by the Bihar State Committee of the CPI(ML)] Preface Development is the biggest buzzword of contemporary politics in India. The more official policies are dedicated to promoting privatisation and inviting FDI and the more soaring prices and all-pervasive corruption define our everyday reality, the louder becomes the cacophony of development. In Bihar the official rhetoric of development is always tempered with the slogan of justice. Lalu Prasad ruled for fifteen years ,talking of social justice; Nitish Kumar has been more specific in promising development with justice to ‘mahadalits’, ‘atipichhdas’ and ‘pasmanda’ Muslims even as he shared power with the BJP, dismantled the Amir Das commission and dumped the reports of Bandyopadhya and Muchkund Dubey commissions recommending land reforms and the common school system. The promises are accompanied by tall claims. Bihar government has been claiming unprecedented growth rates in recent years. The growth, we are told, has not only led to improved infrastructure but also resulted in a decline in poverty and migration and increased access to education and healthcare. As long as the BJP shared power in Bihar, Sushil Modi served as the Finance Minister and chief statistical propagandist for the BJP-JDU government. Now that the BJP is out of power, it has begun disputing the claims of the JDU government. The RJD and Congress which were earlier seen...

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Sterilization Deaths Are Medical Homicide

As told to Devjyot Ghoshal for Quartz – www.qz.com. In 2004, we performed a census of Chhattisgarh’s public hospitals that were equipped to perform caesarian sections routinely, and found that there were only three such government hospitals in the entire state. There were, of course, many more in the private sector, where people could go if they paid, but they were not accessible to the majority of the population. I travelled all across Chhattisgarh with a particular focus on public health facilities. There was inadequate clean water to drink. There was a lack of food and nourishment. There was a total lack of even very ordinary healthcare facilities for conducting a safe delivery on a routine basis. So all together, it was an absolutely abysmal situation. That is the context for this incident. The surgeon who has performed these operations is someone who has been awarded by the state government for performing a huge number of sterilization operations. He is not some fly-by-night operator. This whole business of setting targets for female laparoscopic sterilizations is a well-established government practice in many state “family welfare” programmes. These operations were conducted in hospitals where the physical infrastructure was absolutely abysmal. This is also routine. People are made to lie down on the ground. There is no place for them to lie down with dignity and care in a clean facility. And...

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DFID, the Gates Foundation and Neoliberal population control policies Fuelling sterilization atrocities

The horrifying deaths of at least fourteen women after undergoing surgery at sterilisation camps in Chhattisgarh highlight the ongoing violence of global population control policies which the British government is at the forefront of promoting. Far from giving poor women in the global South much-needed access to safe contraception which they can control, these policies dehumanize them as ‘excessively reproductive’ and set ‘targets’ which make atrocities like those of Chhattisgarh possible. And while these policies are rooted in deeply imperialist, racist and patriarchal ideas they are now implemented in the name of women’s reproductive rights and ‘choices’. Two years ago, on World Population Day, July 11 2012, the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been instrumental in influencing Britain to take the lead on population issues, hosted the London Family Planning Summit. Along with USAID, UNFPA and other international organisations, they announced a $2.6 billion family planning strategy to get 120m more girls and women in the poorest countries to use ‘voluntary family planning’ by 2020. A few months later Britain’s Development Secretary Justine Greening announced ‘determined UK action on family planning’, including the increased distribution of contraceptive implants. Despite its insistence that it opposes coercion, it had already been revealed that Department for International Development(DfID) aid was helping fund forcible sterilisations in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in which, as at the Chhattisgarh sterilisation...

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Chhattisgarh Sterilization Massacre

The deaths of 15 women in a sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh are an indictment of the criminal complicity of the Chhattisgarh Government in a corrupt and callous healthcare regime. They are also a wake-up call for the entire country, about the grievous violence done to women’s bodies by the ‘population control’ policies pushed by international funding agencies and the Indian State. The Chhattisgarh Government simply cannot wash off its responsibility for the deaths of the poor women who were killed. The emerging evidence shows that the immediate cause of the deaths could be either polluted drugs or due to sepsis from rusty or infected instruments used during the surgery. The drugs administered apparently showed traces of toxic substances. The State Government must answer why it continued to procure drugs from the Mahawar Pharma company even after it was charged with selling sub-standard drugs two years back? In March 2012, the Health Minister Amar Agarwal himself had informed the State Assembly that a case had been registered against this company for selling duplicate generic drugs. Seven medicines supplied by this company had been banned by the State Government at different points in time. The sterilization camps in the Health Minister’s own constituency (one of them a short distance from his own home) had abysmal standards of basic hygiene. Operations were done on the floor, women were piled on to beds,...

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