26 November 2020

PBKMS observes Nationwide General Strike

PBKMS rises up against the anti-people policies of the central government from the tea gardens of North Bengal to the rice fields of South Bengal

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) organizes protest marches and peaceful demonstrations to mark 26th November, 2020 as the day of the general strike. Central trade unions had given a call to observe a Nationwide General Strike and PBKMS on complete solidarity with the cause, mobilizes its members across the districts of West Bengal. The recent pro-capital legislations on trade of agricultural produce and labour welfare, apathy of the central government towards the woes of the working class and the penchant to formulate policies in favour of the bourgeoise class warrant a mass show of dissent to communicate the general discontent on the governance model adopted by the political leadership. We are also advocating for reforms in the Public Distribution System and strengthening of NREGA (the public works programme) to address distress amongst the vulnerable population owing to the unplanned nationwide lockdown and the pandemic induced slowdown in the economy. Comrades were stopped in some places from continuing with their rallies and we were even prevented by the police administration from beginning our march in Puncha, Purulia. Still we could mobilize our members and complete quite a number of peaceful demonstrations and rallies and a few glimpses of our activities during the day are being shared below:
Rallies taken out by our block committees in the district of Purulia
Our comrades marching with sloganeering in Purulia Town

Members in a rally in Puncha block, Purulia

Our members in a an early morning march in Purulia Sadar, Purulia

Demonstration in front of the Panchayat Samity Office in Nadia

Our plantation workers of Torsa Tea Garden  in a rally 

Madhu Tea Garden workers beginning a rally from the 'lines' (residential areas of workers)

Chuniajhora Tea Garden workers in solidarity with the nationwide general strike

We demand the following measures to be implemented immediately by the central government:
  • Extension of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana for at least one year
  • Provision of work for at least 200 days for a household in a financial year under NREGA
  • Minimum daily wage of ₹600 for every workers, including those working under the NREGA
  • Rollback of all the recently ratified farm and labour legislations, which have been found to be against the welfare of farmers and workers.

PBKMS members  in North Bengal in districts like Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri also supported the general strike by taking out rallies and protest meetings. In Raimatang, Torsha, Madh tea gardens of Kalchini block; Chuniajhora and Kohinoor of Alipurduar 1 block; and in Hantapara, Dumchipara, Ramjhora, Birpara’s Jateshwar division, Garganda and Bandapani of Madarihat block of Alipurduar district, tea garden workers  supported the strike by not going to work and organizing peaceful protest marches and rallies. Banners and posters were also distributed by PBKMS members with demand for tea garden workers. The members of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity also organized public meetings to raise awareness among the tea garden workers about their rights regarding land and wages. The demands put forwarded by the tea garden workers are:

  1. Declaration of a decent minimum wage for tea garden workers immediately.
  2. The tea garden workers should be given land rights.
  3. Provision of work for at least 200 days for a household in a financial year under NREGA.
  4. Extension of free food grains Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana(PMGKAY) for at least one year.
  5. Rollback of all the recently ratified farm and labour legislations.
Our women members in a rally in Madhu Tea Garden

A rally in Madhu Tea Garden voicing the demands of plantation workers  

The normal life of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts was affected by the call of strike in the region by all Central Trade Union Organisations of the Left Front and Congress. The markets and bus stops of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri looked deserted as workers participated in the strike. All markets in Birpara town were closed. Workers and laborers from the organized as well as workers and laborers from unorganized sectors participated in the strike. The shop owners, vendors, daily wage laborers, etc. protested against the labor and farms laws passed by the central government by closing down their shops and markets. Public meetings were organized to protest against the anti-farmers, anti-workers laws and pro-capital legislations passed by the central government.

22 November 2020

National Day of Action

PBKMS and SMS rise to the call for observing a national day of action given out by the Right to Food Campaign

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) and Shramajivee Mahila Samity (SMS) have organized outreach programmes and taken up social action initiatives to show complete solidarity with the demands of the Right to Food Campaign. We along with various people's associations in West Bengal have began advocating for reforms in the Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS should be bolstered to respond to the impending food crisis arising out of factors, not limited to the general deprivation levels of the vulnerable population, an unplanned nationwide lockdown, the pandemic induced slowdown, a decelerating economy and loss of community ownership over natural resources, compounded by a non-responsive political leadership.

Glimpses of our activities during the day have been shared below:
PBKMS takes out a rally in Barabazar block, Purulia

Community members with posters in Dhansura village, Purulia-2 block, Purulia

PBKMS women members in a rally in Barabazar block, Purulia

Organized red (and white) army of PBKMS women members in Lubudih village, Balarampur block, Purulia

Poster Campaign in full swing in Hutmura gram panchayat, Purulia 2 block

Members participating in a rally in Hura block, Purulia

Children taking out a rally in Talatala village, Mathurapur 2 block, South 24 Parganas

Farmers taking a break from harvesting activities to demand reforms in PDS in Patharpratima block, South 24 Parganas

PBKMS members in front of 'Dhaner Golas' in Achintanagar village, Patharpratima block, South 24 Parganas

SMS members during a 'thala bajao' campaign in Kultuli block, South 24 Parganas

Preparation for a rally in Dhopahat village, Mandirbazar block, South 24 Parganas

We demand the immediate implementation of the following measures to ensure food security for the working class, which is guaranteed by the article 21 of the Indian constitution:
  • Extension for one more year of free rations and pulses under PM-GKAY from December
  • Restoration of free rations of the RKSY-2 ration card holders
  • Rations per head per month of 14 kilograms of food grains, 1.5 kilograms of pulses and 800 ml of edible vegetable oil
  • Universalization of the PDS and hence immediate coverage of non-ration card holders

06 November 2020

Anti-liquor procession by the members of Shramajivee Mahila Samity (মদ বিরোধি মিছিল - কাটাখাল,উত্তর ২৪ পরগনা)

Around 300 members of the Shramajivee Mahila Samity gathered in the Katakhal centre of the samity, in North 24 Parganas discussing how alcoholism and the sale of illegal alcohol has had an impact on their lives, their children and families. Crime against women and children was already at an all-time high due to the COVID lockdown, which was further fuelled by the consumption of alcohol by the men of the family. It was pointed out how re-opening of liquor shops even during the lockdown, put various families at risk of domestic violence and other forms of harassment and assault. Talking about the co-occurrence of alcohol consumption and abuse, the women felt the need to do something about the issue. This meeting led to a decision of taking out a march from the centre to the villages and other areas around, raising demands like - shutting down of local liquor outlets and imposing restrictions on the sale of illegal liquor. 

Women carrying our trade union flags during the march

The women of the samity, thus took to the streets on 4th November 2020 to assert their right to a safe home, neighbourhood and environment. Demands were raised for the administration to take stringent steps to curb the sale of illicit liquor. Furthermore, no licenses should be provided to liquor outlets. The procession (মিছিল) was an attempt to pressure the local government, which earns a vast sum from the sale of alcohol, to impose restrictions on the same.

A woman carrying her daughter throughout the march, demanding safety for herself and her child, at home and outside

03 November 2020

Hunger Deaths in the district of Purulia

Case Study of two hunger deaths from the same family in Puncha, Purulia

Names of the deceased: Smt Jyotsna Gorai (61 years) and Shri Jhantu Gorai (36 years)

Smt. Jyotsna Gorai and Shri Jhantu Gorai, residing in Puncha Gram Panchayat of Puncha block in Purulia have died on 18th October, 2020 and 28th October, 2020 respectively out of their inability to access food for a considerable period of time. A widow, Smt. Jyotsna Gorai was staying with the family of his younger son (Shri Jhantu Gorai) in a dilapidated dwelling unit which in turn was built by her maternal family. The family consisted of the deceased individuals, wife of Shri Jhantu Gorai and their two girl children aged seven and four years respectively. Being landless agricultural labourers, the family of five was at a considerable disadvantage in having access to basic necessities. The son is a specially-abled individual which restricted his ability to contribute to the household income. A PHH (Priority Household) ration card and a job card of NREGA (public works programme implemented according to the MGNREGA, 2005) were found to be possessed by the family. Though the absence of a bank account, virtually made them unable to access the latter programme. Smt Tuktuki Gorai, the daughter-in-law was the only earning member and even she was not able to work for long hours due to general weakness. The lady used to work as a cook in the Mid Day Meal programme and due to closure of educational institutions in the state on account of COVID-19 restrictions, she has not been able to earn her wages. The lady was found to be frail and emaciated. She has not been able to earn a daily wage of more than ₹50 on days where she has been able to work in the nearby agricultural fields.

Smt. Jyotsna Gorai fell seriously ill around five months ago and the family was not able to get her treated at any medical facility. The nationwide lockdown and the sudden loss of opportunities to participate in any unskilled work had a negative impact on the household. Food grains received through the PDS (Public Distribution System) were inadequate and with the fall in household income, the landless family also failed to gain access to other necessary food items. The morning breakfast consisted of a ‘chapati’ and black tea. Boiled rice and potatoes were the usual food items available for lunch and the family reportedly did not have enough food to prepare a dinner on most of the days. The household income was virtually nil for a period of four long months. Closing down of the ‘anganwadi’ centres and the intermittent supply of dry rations to eligible beneficiaries also imposed further constraints on the household to meet their daily food requirements. The panchayat pradhan, block sabhapati and the Block Development Officer of Puncha were approached by the family for possible help in accessing adequate food. The family even went to the local police station for help. Only a civic police volunteer visited the family once and food ration(s) or food kits were neither provided by the civil nor by the police administration.

Smt. Jyotsna Gorai’s health condition deteriorated with acute pain in the abdominal region along with cramps. She was taken to the Puncha Block Primary Health Centre and further referred to the Bankura Medical College and Hospital after a preliminary diagnosis. Unfortunately, she was refused treatment at the Bankura district hospital citing Covid-19 protocols. The maternal family of the woman tried to take her to a medical facility in Ranchi (Jharkhand) on being refused treatment and any assistance in facilitating her admission to any other government run facility. She breathed her last in Ranchi on 18th October, 2020. In the meanwhile, Shri Jhantu Gorai’s condition started to deteriorate and he complained about severe stomach ache on 26th October, 2020 along with swelling in his abdomen. He was taken to the Puncha Block Primary Health Centre on the next day and breathed his last on 28th October, 2020. 

Younger son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of Smt. Jyotsna Gorai in front of the family’s shelter               

Vulnerability Profiling: Purulia is home to a predominantly rural population, with a significant scheduled tribe and scheduled caste population. Around 45% of the population are not literate with more than half of the population dependent on manual casual labour[1]. The extreme vulnerability of a household residing in one of the rural parts of the district with no land holdings or any other durable assets is evident from such a profile. Purulia also happens to be one of the districts of the ‘Jangalmahal’ area (a region with considerable forest cover which was affected by left wing extremism) where the implementation of vital rights based legislations has not been in their true spirits to say the least.

Lack of access to a bank account and any other social security schemes (particularly the old age pension and disability pension schemes) point towards the exclusion of the household and the violation of their constitutional right to an exploitation – free, dignified life. Lack of access to quality healthcare and the denial of treatment in a district medical hospital highlight the vulnerability of the family, in addition to being a violation of article 21 of the Indian constitution.

The family does not fulfil even one criterion for automatic exclusion of households according to the laid down guidelines of the SECC, 2011. Further, the nature of their dwelling unit and other factors warrant their identification as a deprived household, fulfilling three conditions of deprivation out of seven. The conditions of deprivation fulfilled by the household have been identified to be as follows:

1. Households without a ‘pucca’ roof

2. Households without a literate adult above the age of 25

3. Landless households deriving a major part of their income from manual labour

With the death of Shri Jhantu Gorai, the household has further slipped in the deprivation index and the criterion of a household being a female headed one, with no adult male member between 16 and 59 years of age gets added onto the existing list of ‘conditions of deprivation’.

The interiors of the Gorai household

Our immediate demands from the administration:

The following measures should be taken immediately by the block and district administrations to support the household in confronting challenges owing its socio-economic condition:

·         Releasing GR (General Ration) for the household

·         A comprehensive medical checkup of Smt Tuktuki Gorai and her children with access to nutritional supplements

·         Upgrading the existing PHH (Priority Household) ration card to that of a AAY (Antyodaya Anna Yojana) ration card

·         Facilitating the opening of a ‘Jan Dhan’ bank account in the name of Smt Tuktuki Ghorai, the widow of Shri Jhantu Gorai

·         Extending benefits of the West Bengal Widow Pension Scheme, 2010 to Smt Tuktuki Ghorai

·         Enrolment of the household under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana- Gramin to address the need of a ‘pucca’ dwelling unit

·         Facilitating the access to unskilled work through MGNREGA, 2005 for Smt Tuktuki Gorai and allotment of work sites wherein crèches will be made available. This will enable her girl children to have access to a safe environment during the working hours of their mother.

[1] SECC, 2011

01 November 2020

Signature Campaign of Shramajivee Mahila Samity

The members of Shramajivee Mahila Samity have started a signature campaign to bring to the administration’s notice the rampant selling of illegal liquor in various parts of the state; the brunt of which is often borne by the women and children. Incidents of domestic violence, sexual abuse, harassment in public spaces, rising alcoholism amongst the youth, stress on household budget due to non-discretionary spending on alcohol and degradation of familial ties are some of the ill effects that women and the youth have to regularly face. 

An anchal level meeting in progress

PBKMS General Secretary addressing a street corner meeting of SMS

The following demands are being made, requesting the administration’s immediate intervention: 

1. Action must be taken to close down all unlicensed illegal liquor outlets.

2. No further licenses should be provided to liquor outlets.

3. All illegal liquor outlets selling alcohol within a radius of 100 metres of educational institutions, government offices, places of worship and other public places must be shut.

4. Dependence of the state government on liquor revenues should be reduced and the Central Govt should compensate for the same.

5. Non-partisan action by police, particularly regarding cases of violence against women.

The letter in Bengali to be submitted to the block as well as district administrations