16 July 2014

Civic Police Prepare For Historic Battle


July 10, 2014, saw a historic gathering at Rani Rashmoni Road at Kolkata. Over 35,000-40,000 youth gathered there – all members of a new rural working class, all facing unemployment after the Government had promised jobs, all very angry, but determined to fight for their rights.

These 40,000 youth were all part of a newly formed West Bengal Civic Police Association. In 2013 130,000 men and women between the age of 18 and 28 years were recruited by the West Bengal government as “civic police volunteers”. There were many unwritten promises made to them - they would be given a uniform and a torch and a lathi, their wages would be gradually increased to be at par with other Government employees, they would be made permanent police personnel etc. Some of these young people claim to have paid bribes amounting to Rs. 70-80,000 to local political dadas to get this job.



The job ultimately involved 120 days of work during a period of six months and a daily payment of Rs.141.82 (much below the Government’s lowest rate of minimum wage which is Rs.206). Even this was paid irregularly with delays of two to three months being common. In addition, no appointment letters were given, payments were made on muster rolls, No uniform was given in most districts. Worst of all, the young men and women were given risky duties without any training or any legal security. As one young man told us, he was asked by the Officer in Charge of his police station to go and break down illegal hooch dens. The hooch den owners who know the youth well as they are all from the same villages swore to take revenge when his employment was over. There was no protection available for him.

Six of these young people have died while on duty. For example, Saphikul Sheikh of Behrampur Police Station in Murshidabad died when he was thrown down from a bridge by irate lorry drivers when he was trying to control traffic. There has been no compensation paid to any of these people. In fact, if these young people are injured there is no surety of medical treatment for them.

With the help of the Asanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (Struggle Platform for Unorganised Sector Workers), the civic police began self organising in November 2013, with meetings and conventions in many police stations and districts. During the Lok Sabha elections, they were on duty. However by June 30 all of them were thrown out of employment. The young men and women therefore decided to organise a large protest meeting in Kolkata.

 

Despite the heavy rain that day, the gathering of 35-40,000 people showed the spontaneous anger of these youth. A delegation also met the Labour Minister, who immediately passed an order to enrol them under a social security scheme for unorganised sector workers. He also promised to take a month to confer on their other demands (continuation of duty, giving appointment letter, payment of minimum wages, provident fund, gratuity, ESIS coverage, proper training and protection at work) with the Chief Minister. In addition he asked for information of those who had been injured or had died during their duty, so that he could arrange for their compensation and medical treatment. 

After returning to their own areas, the youth have been threatened by their seniors in the police force and by local party leaders. Some of them have been given “official dismissal letters”. Lists are being made of “those who went to the Kolkata gathering”. Newspaper reports quoting senior Government Ministers have also come out, blaming the Association of being backed by the BJP, the CPI(M) and the Naxals.


On the other hand, on July 14, 2014, the CM is said to have said that she was willing to extend the employment of civic police, saying she was not in favour of taking away jobs. However, she put in a rider- the youth must behave themselves and must not be “unruly”.
 
The civic police plan a convention in Kolkata on July 25, 2014, with representatives from all police stations and districts to focus attention on the repression they are facing and to declare their future programme. This is to be preceded by visits by a team of Association members to areas where reports of repression are coming from. The team will meet Officers in Charge of police stations and District Superintendents of Police in these areas.

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