31 January 2014

Police Attack Activists Asking Justice For Domestic Help Found Hanging

Gurgaon Police on January 30 lathi-charged and arrested women representatives of Gharelu Kamgar Sanghatan – Gurgaon (GKS-G) including Anannya Bhattacharjee, a labour rights activists, when they were demanding a second post-mortem in the case of a death of a 17-year-old domestic help in DLF-Phase 3.

In a shocking incident in Gurgaon yesterday, a 17-year-old domestic help’s body was found hanging in an employer’s house. The incident happened at S-15/19, DLF, Phase 3, Gurgaon, reportedly a residence of Mr Vijay Beri. Family members of the deceased domestic help are certain that she has been raped and murdered and are demanding a thorough inquiry into the incident.

When family members reached the house, police personnel were sitting inside the house in a relaxed manner, having tea and snacks. The family members were offered Rs 3 lakhs to accept it as a suicide case and not to demand an inquiry. The family members said “Hame Insaf Chahiye, Paisa Nahi!” (We want justice, not money). They refused to accept any amount of money and are demanding full justice in this case. Gharelu Kamgar Sanghathan – Gurgaon (GKS-G) has said that the photographs taken by police, which the family members got to see, definitely creates an impression that her body was hanged after her death.

The police had failed to initially register an FIR. It is only on the insistence of GKS-G, the police finally registered an FIR on January 31 under Section 302 and 376 of the IPC. The FIR has named Mr Vijay Beri and his two sons as primary suspects in this case. The GKS-G has said that the post-mortem done by the police is not trustworthy nor believable.

Police instead lathi-charged and arrested the women activists when they with victim’s family members were demanding a second post-mortem to establish the facts of death in this case. The family members are insisting that they will not perform the last rites unless a second post-mortem is performed. The GKS-G is demanding immediate arrest of Mr. Beri and his two sons to prevent them from destruction of any evidences, bribing or threatening the family members of deceased domestic help and from influencing the probe.

Gharelu Kamgar Sanghatan, Gurgaon

Adivasi Leaders Still Under Arrest

There have been some developments in the case regarding the arrests of four Adivasi leaders in North Bengal protesting against the gang rape of a tribal woman in West Bengal.

On 28th January, the Sub-divisional court at Jalpaiguri , while granting bail to all four accused in two cases, denied them bail in a third case and remanded them to 14 days of judicial custody. On the same day, about 1,000 people organised a protest at Nagrakata police station in Jalpaiguri asking for the release of their leaders. The FIRs filed in the cases by the police have been recovered and state that a Government vehicle was destroyed, and swords and other arms were seized during the arrest, but no seizure list or other evidence has been given with the FIRs. Fourteen others have been also falsely listed as accused in these cases. These 14 consist of the entire active leadership amongst the Adivasis in that area. On 30th January, a mass deputation to the District Magistrate Jalpaiguri has been organised to protest the arrests and the arbitrary cases.

The local leadership suspects that the false cases have been filed and arbitrary arrests are being made to suppress all forms of protest from within the Adivasi community, establishing the hegemony of the ruling party as the lone voice that should exist. This is despite the fact that voices from within the Adivasi community condemning the Labhpur gang rape are vital for restoring the comparative safety that Adivasi women have enjoyed within their communities. They also suspect that the action is also aimed at suppressing their struggle for a decent and just wage in the tea plantations.

It is vital that support be extended to the trade unions leaders from the Adivasi community to make both their protest against the atrocities on women and their struggle for a just wage successful. Many of you have written asking for concrete ways in which to protest. We therefore appeal to you to send protest letters /faxes/emails to one/all of the following addresses:

  • Shri MK Naryanan, Governor, State of West Bengal, Tel: 033 2200 1641, Fax: 033 2200 0020, email: governorwb@nic.in     
  • Smt Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, Minister in Charge, Home Affairs and Minister in charge Tribal Development, Tel: 033 2214 5555/ 2214 5588 Fax:2214 5480, email: cm@wb.gov.in. cm@wb.nic.in
  • Shri Gautam Deb, Minister in Charge, North Bengal Development, Tel: 033 2214 5484 Fax: 2254 4582, email: micnbdeb@wb.gov.in
  • Shri Basudeb Banerjee, Home Secretary, Tel: 2214 5656, Fax: 22143001, email: sechome@wb.gov.in
  • Smt Pritha Sarkar, DIstrict Magistrate, Tel: 03561 230127, Fax: 03561-224811, email: dmjpg@wb.nic.in
  • Shri Amit P. Jawalgi, Superintendent of Police, Tel: 03561 230492, Fax: 03561 230140, 230597

Support Group for Tea Workers

29 January 2014

Release Arrested Adivasi Leaders

We strongly condemn the arrest of Kiran Kalindi, Baijnath Naik, Azad Ansari & Wilson Guria from Nagrakata, Jalpaiguri on January 27, 2014. The four persons were peacefully campaigning for a bandh condemning the gruesome sexual torture and rape of the Adivasi girl at Labhpur, Birbhum.  
The police have arrested them with charges under Sections 353, 143,341,332,422,506 of IPC, and Section 25 of the Arms Act. 3 false cases were filed against them by the police – all for incidents on the 27th itself. 

The arrested are trade-union leaders of the tea workers of North Bengal. The four persons from the Adivasi community were arrested from a peaceful demonstration in support of the bandh. Different Adivasi organisations have strongly reacted against the ghastly incident of Labhpur, Birbhum and had decided to voice their dissent through the bandh. Many others have also expressed their solidarity in support of the bandh. They feel that this incident is against the culture of the Adivasi society and are concerned that this incident is being used to condemn their culture as a whole. They have demanded a proper probe into the incident and action thereof.  

It is clearly evident from the arrests and the false charges levied upon the above four at Nagrakata that the police and the administration have acted vindictively to stifle the voices of protest and dissent in the society. 

The following organisations demand:

  • Immediate release of Kiran Kalindi, Baijnath Naik, Azad Ansari & Wilson Guria.
  • Withdrawal of all false charges against the above.
  • A fair and proper probe into the Labhpur incident.
  • A proper trial and the punishment of the accused in the Labhpur incident.

Tarun Sanyal (Shilpi Sanskritik Karmi, Buddhjeebi Mancha)
Sunanda Sanyal (Democratic Citizen’s Forum)
Amitdyuti Kumar (Working President, Association for Protection of Democratic Rights)
Dilip Chakrabarty (Saptaha)
Sujato Bhadra (Manabadhikar Sanghati)
Miratun Nahar(individual, ex-member West Bengal State Women’s Commission)
Meher Engineer (individual)
Swapan Ganguly (Ashanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch)
Dipak Roy (Terai Dooars Progressive Plantation Workers Union)
Loes Hosapurthi (Progressive Tea Workers Union)
Arun Pal & Debjit Dutta (NAPM)
Anuradha Talwar (Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity)
Somanth Ghosh (Hosiery Workers Unity Centre)
Murad Hossain (Hawkers Sangram Committee)
Choton Das (Bandimukti Committee)
Ashish Sengupta (All West Bengal Sales Representative Union)
Rabin Soren (Birbhum Adivasi Gaonta)
Gautam Bandopadhyay (Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chattisgarh)
Madhuri (Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sangathana, Madhya Pradesh)
Pritwish Bose (Shramajeebi Samanway Committee)
Sajal Biswas (Service Doctors Forum)
Dr Swapan Jana (Health Services Association – HSA)
Shiladitya Mondal (Liquor Shop Employees Union)
Bela Adak (Paschim Banga Swarojgari o Radhuni Union)
Sushovan Dhar (IndianOil Petronas Contractors Shramik Union)
Bodhisatwa Ray (Haldia Dock Complex Contractors Shramik Union)
Uttam Burman (Paschim Banga Sericulture Workers Union)
Suktara Khatun (Paschim Banga Chatra Yuba Sangrami Mancha)
Pratip Nag (Sundarban Banadhikar Sangram Committee)
Namita Gayen (Sramajibi Mahila Samity)
Kunal Deb (Uthnau)
Dr. Debal Deb (Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies)
Satish Kar (Paschim Banga Telecom Tower (USO) Union)

Harassing A Good Doctor

10 January 2014

Protest March Against Attacks on Women

Please join the protest march organised on a joint initiative by citizens to protest against the continuous attacks on women in West Bengal and the government's failure to provide security. This march encompasses all individuals and organizations and is not organized under any political banner. Please join and ask your family and friends to join. If we do not build up a resistance against the overt criminalisation of society around us now, it will be too late soon.

Partho Sarothi Ray

06 January 2014

UTWF Press Conference Invitation

The industrial backbone of West Bengal rests on three specific sectors – engineering, jute and tea. The first two sectors are in the doldrums since the last decades for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, the tea industry is among the most profitable and export earning sectors in India. However, it also showcases one of the worst labour conditions in the country. With over a few thousand starvation deaths in the last decade, in West Bengal, tea plantation workers are one of the lowest paid workers in the country. Here, owners reap huge profits at the expense of the basic needs - nutrition, health, education and housing - of the workers and their families.

Systematic ill–payment has trapped workers in the vicious circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill health. Their children also end up in the same ill-paid work as their parents and grandparents.

In West Bengal, wages have been kept at a precariously low level. The last set of agreements, which resulted in wages as low as Rs.80-95 over a three-year period expires on March 31, 2014.  Besides, the owners have been violating the basic provisions of the 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. 100 crores while governments have provided full support to the garden owners by being silent onlookers. Even big corporate owners like the Tata, Duncans, Goodricke, Apeejay and others carry on equally deplorable and unfair labour practices.

It is in this context that various unions representing the largest ethnic groups of workers in the industry – Adivasis and Gurkhas - came forward to launch the United Tea Workers Front (UTWF), primarily to raise the issue of a living wages and related matters in the forthcoming wage negotiations in Darjeeling and North Bengal.

UTWF cordially welcomes you to the press conference on the above issues at the Kolkata Press Club on January 8, 2014.

Anuradha Talwar

02 January 2014

Protest Against Rape And Murder

A number of women's organisations, trade unions, mass organisations and cultural organisations are organising a protest to focus public attention on the horrific gang rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Madhyamgram.  

The protest will start with a march from Badu (Maheswarpur) from 2.30 p.m. and will culminate in a protest in front of the Madhyamgram police station at 3.30 p.m. 

All mass organisations are invited to join the protest with their banners, handbills etc. We would request you, however, not to carry any political party banners.

The protest is open to all. 

So far, some of the organisations that have agreed to participate are (in alphabetical order) All India Students Association, Anjali, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, All West Bengal Sales Representatives Union, Binodini  Shramik Union, Karmajivi Mahila Parishad , Maitree, Paschim Banga Khet  Majoor Samity, Sara Bharat Pragatisheel Mahila Samity, Shramajivi Mahila Samity, Shramajivi Samanvay Committee and Trade Union Centre of India.

You are requested to join us. 

United Tea Workers Front Set Up

The United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) was launched on December 27, 2013, at Siliguri, primarily to raise the issue of a living wages and related matters in the forthcoming wage negotiations in North Bengal. The tea industry, one of the most profitable export earning sectors in India, is also the site of the worst labour conditions in the country. With over 3,500 starvation deaths in the period 2003 to 2008 in West Bengal, tea plantation workers continue to be one of the lowest paid workers in the country, with owners reaping profits at the expense of the basic needs of nutrition, health, education and housing of the workers and their families. As a result of ill payment, plantation workers have been caught in a vicious circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill-health, with children of tea workers ending up in the same ill-paid work as their parents and grandparents before them. 

In West Bengal, wages have been kept at a precariously low level through collective wage bargaining agreements every three years. The last set of agreements, which resulted in wages as low as Rs.80-95 over a three-year period expires on March 31, 2014.  The tea gardens have been violating the basic provisions of the 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 a silent onlooker.

Calculations based on 15th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) norms and the subsequent Supreme Court judgments (Unichoy vs State of Kerala in 1961 and Reptakos Brett Vs Workmen case in 1991) provide for a balanced diet with 2700 calories per day per person and other material needs, giving workers a living wage. Using these norms, the wage per worker in the tea gardens at current market prices should be Rs 322.

The UTWF plans to campaign and raise demands related to the payment of such a living wage before and during the next round of negotiations. The Front demands the payment of a wage that is over and above the wage calculated on the 15th ILC norms and Supreme Court orders. It insists that all wage negotiations take place at Darjeeling for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration and in Siliguri for the Terai and Doars regions, so that negotiations are transparent and democratic, allowing the unions to consult their membership in a regular and realistic manner. Employers and Government must also be transparent about the manner in which calculations and deductions are being made, providing unions with all relevant documents well in time.

UTWF also demands that negotiations must be completed by April 1, 2014, so that the problem of arrears does not arise at all. All payments such as extra leaf payment (ELP), Leave Travel allowance, additional compensation etc. must be price indexed and workers must be paid dearness allowance to compensate for inflation during the term of the next collective bargaining agreement for 2014 to 2017.

As far as bigha workers are concerned, the UTWF demands the extension of all wage and non-wage benefits to such seasonal, casual workers. Further, the UTWF demands that all vacant posts be filled immediately, and that management arrange for trainings so that workers can take on posts requiring special skills such as nursing, factory work etc. In view of the manner in which employers and management continue to flout the law, the UTWF demands that punishment under the law for erring employers be made more stringent and inspection be improved.

The UTWF brings together the Terai Dooars Progressive Plantation Workers Union, Darjeeling Terai Doars Plantation Labour Union, Progressive Tea Workers Union, West Bengal Tea Labour Union, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity and the New Trade Union Initiative.

The UTWF will begin a series of protest and campaign programmes, including deputations to all officials concerned in North Bengal, GTA  and Kolkata and demonstrations in all block and district headquarters, GTA headquarters and the State capital at Kolkata. It also plans to highlight its problems before an internationally acclaimed jury in February 2014.

The UTWF also calls upon all other fraternal unions of tea plantation workers and in other sectors for a coordination to make the collective bargaining agreement of 2014 to 2017 reflect the true aspirations of tea plantation workers.