September-October 2009

Table of Contents

1) Intensify the Struggle against Price Rise and Hunger

2) India Teeters on the Brink of Food Crisis

3) Protests on Drought and Hunger

4) US Muscle in Latin America

5) Interview with MPD

6) March to Parliament against Betrayal on Women’s Bill

7) AICCTU’s Nationwide Campaign

8) Gangubai Hangal: A Brave Life

9) Chhattisgarh Government’s Cultural Fascism


Struggles in India

Intensify the Struggle against Price Rise and Hunger

– Liberation, September, 2009.

India observed her 62rd year of independence with a solemn Prime Ministerial pronouncement: not a single Indian citizen would be allowed to go hungry. The Premier was immediately contradicted and lampooned by fresh reports of starvation deaths (from Jehanabad) and farmers’ suicides (from Andhra Pradesh [AP]). More ominously, we know that for every starvation death we have at least a thousand men, women and children eking out a miserable existence on one or half-a-meal a day. It is evident that 62 years of independence have not given us freedom from either extreme hunger, which results in starvation deaths and grabs headlines, or from endemic hunger, the silent killer which slowly slaughters tens of thousands across the land unnoticed, the deaths being explained away as those caused by “disease” or “improper food habits”.

The situation is going to deteriorate further in the coming months; the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister have told us, with rising prices and plummeting stocks of edibles. The reason: the failure of monsoons and consequent drought conditions in 246 out of 593 districts – nearly half the country. Well, quite a plausible argument. But wait, have not food prices been rising through the roof also during the past few years of good monsoons? Did India need unusual droughts or floods to report a chilling series of starvation deaths and farmers’ suicides during the rule of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I, or to be placed below countries of sub-Saharan Africa and all of South Asia, barring Bangladesh, in the Global Hunger Index and the India Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute in October 2008? Food scarcity — at least for the poor — is thus perennial to this vast land of ours. Vagaries of monsoon only worsen it occasionally and do not constitute the root cause.

So we cannot just let the powers that be cover up their own policy failures by finding a convenient scapegoat in the failure of monsoons.  Why did they allow Indian agriculture, which boasts a much higher proportion of cultivable land compared to most other countries including China, to fall prey to decay and decline over the past six decades? What prevented them from expanding – rather than curtailing, as they had actually been doing – public investment in agriculture? Why does the Agriculture Minister denounce “black marketeering or hoarding” but remain silent on forward trading in agricultural commodities, a major source of speculation and artificial rise in prices?

We must confront the union government with questions like these.  We must demand: Meet the rural poor’s urgent need for a monthly provision of 50 kg rice or wheat at Rs. 2 per kg. Bring edible oils, sugar and pulses within the scope of public distribution system (PDS). Implement the recommendations, hitherto neglected, of the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) on Minimum Support Price. Vastly expand the scope of the NREGA, not just as a relief measure but to improve rural infrastructure such as ponds. Mete out quick punishment to all officials responsible for delays and irregularities in the implementation of the NREGA.

While conducting militant agitations on immediate demands like these against the Central and State governments as well as various local authorities, we should bring pressure to bear on the Centre to expedite the proposed legislation that vows to convert food security into a legally enforceable right. And why should bureaucrats, ministers and “experts” alone determine the contents of the proposed bill? We should demand that peasants’ and agrarian labourers’ organizations, trade unions and other mass organizations must be consulted, so that the Bill really addresses their needs and aspirations. Once the Act is passed, we should start using it as a catalyst for action, a tool for collective bargaining to pressure the state machinery, as we have been doing with the NREGA.

In a country with 200 million food-insecure people — the largest number of hungry people in the world – the struggle against price rise and for freedom from hunger including fear of hunger is both an immediate and long term movement. We must lead and win both.

Struggles in India

India Teeters on the Brink of Food Crisis

–  Sukanta Mandal, Liberation, September, 2009.

The spectre of one of the worst ever drought situations looms large over the country. Central India suffered a massive 93% deficiency in rainfall in the first week of August, while the North-West remained at 76% below the long-term average. This monsoon, the rain deficit in Punjab, the granary of India, varies from 35% to as high as 87% depending on location. In Bihar, the deficiency varies between 76% and 88%. The average all-India deficiency of monsoon stood at 25%. Desperate farmers have sown paddy twice or even thrice, only to see the crop dry up. Both the President and Prime Minister (PM) have expressed concern at the impending spectre of drought in their ceremonial addresses to the nation on the occasion of this year’s Independence Day. The PM has even gone to the extent of giving a call for a “Second Green Revolution” to underline the gravity of the situation.

In a way the PM has hinted at the right malady. It is not only ‘the monsoon, stupid’ that is responsible for this famine-like situation. It is indeed the bleak agricultural scenario that is largely responsible for the present food crisis. Hence the talk of second green revolution! It is an irony that India even after four decades of Green Revolution is still largely dependent on the ‘rain-god’ for its agricultural salvation. The UPA government has already proposed a Food Security Act. This indicates that all is not well on the food front. The questions of food security and right to food have become urgent political issues. The overall growth story so assiduously propagated by the Indian rulers has not addressed the basic issue of providing food security to the masses. Instead, stark hunger still haunts some parts of the country for most part of the year, nutrition indicators stagnates and per capita calorie consumption actually declines in most other parts, suggesting that the problem of hunger may have got worse rather than better.

At the all India level 1.9% of the households suffer from hunger (NSSO data). Malnutrition in the country as a whole, as measured in terms of underweight children below three years, is estimated at 45.9% as per National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 2005-06. The comparable estimate for 1998-99 was 47%. These rates are among the highest rates in the world and nearly double the rate of Sub-Saharan Africa. More than half of women in India (55%) and 70% of children between 6-59 months of age are anaemic.

According to the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) data of 2004-05, population reporting a calorie intake level of “less than 100%” of the norm of 2700 kcal, formed 66 percent of the total in rural areas and 70 percent of the total in urban areas. The same survey shows that average daily intake of calories by rural population dropped by 106 kcal (4.9 percent) from 2153 kcal to 2047 Kcal from 1993-94 to 2004-05 and by 51 Kcal (2.5 percent) from 2071 to 2020 Kcal in the urban area. Average daily intake of protein by the Indian population has decreased from 60.2 to 57 grams in the rural area between 1993-94 and 2004-05 and remained at around 57 grams in the urban area during the same period.

According to the Global Hunger Index and the India Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute in October 2008, India’s record on hunger is worse than that of nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh. The Index, which measured hunger by ranking countries on three indicators, — prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality, and the proportion of people who are calorie- deficient, — found that not a single state in India fell in the ‘low hunger’ or ‘moderate hunger’ categories. The best-performing Indian state – Punjab – displays ‘serious’ hunger and ranks 34th on the Global Index. The worst-performing state, Madhya Pradesh, falls in the ‘extremely alarming category’ and ranks 82nd, with its people hungrier than those in Ethiopia or Sudan. Bihar and Jharkhand (73rd and 75th on the Global Index) have worse hunger records than Zimbabwe, Haiti and Bangladesh. Even a supposedly successful state like Gujarat dismally displays ‘alarming’ hunger, coming 13th among the 17 Indian states in the survey. West Bengal too falls within the “alarming” category.

The question of food security is inextricably linked with the agrarian situation in the country. The country is yet to come out of the nagging agrarian crisis. This is all the more borne out by the fact that incidents of peasant suicides are still continuing unabated despite a huge waiver of agrarian loans to the tune of Rs.60,000 crore (1 crore = 10 million) during the last year. As many as 21 debt-ridden farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh during the last 40 days alone. The toll goes on increasing week after week. The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936. Close to two-thirds of these suicides have occurred in five states. The Big 5 – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh– account for just about a third of the country’s population but two-thirds of farmers’ suicides. The rate at which farmers are killing themselves in these states is far higher than suicide rates among non-farmers. Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country.

The Economic Survey, 2008-09 informs us that the food grains production in the country is showing signs of gradual decline. As per the third advance estimates, production of food grains in 2008-09 is estimated to be 229.85 million tonnes, which is a marginal improvement of 1.97 million tonnes over the second advance estimates for 2008-09. This is, however, lower than the target of 233 million tonnes set out for the year as also the final estimates of 230.78 million tonnes for 2007-08. The overall production of cereals in 2008-09 has shown a decline of 0.2 per cent over 2007-08 and a shortfall of 0.8 per cent over target for the year. Wheat production was marginally below the target for the year and production level achieved in 2007-08. In the case of coarse cereals, there has been a large shortfall both with reference to the targeted production as also the level achieved in the previous year. The overall picture of food grains production in the country during the year 2008-09 is depicted in Table-1 as follows:

The commercial crop scenario like oilseeds, sugarcane, cotton etc. is most bleak. The production of most commercial crops (in particular, sugarcane and cotton) is lower than the levels achieved in 2007-08. Total production of the nine oilseeds is estimated at 281.3 lakh (10 lakh = 1 million) tonnes, which is about 5.5 per cent lower than the production in 2007-08 and about 11.4 per cent lower than the targeted production for 2008-09. The production of sugarcane during 2008-09 is estimated at 2,892 lakh tonnes which is lower than the production of 3,482 lakh tonnes during 2007-08. This represents a decline of 16.9 per cent over previous year and of 14.9 per cent vis-à-vis the target for 2008-09. The production of cotton, estimated at 232.68 lakh bales, is short of the final estimates of 258.84 lakh bales in 2007-08 by 10.1 per cent and as compared to the target by 10.5 per cent.

Food security essentially involves procurement of sufficient quantity of food grains by the government to be distributed to the masses through the Public Distribution System (PDS). But the overall procurement of rice, wheat and predominant cereals, which reached 42.4 million tonnes in 2005-06, declined to 35.8 million tonnes in 2006-07, but improved marginally to 37.6 million tonnes in 2007-08. The decline in wheat procurement in Rabi Marketing Season (RMS) 2006-07 is attributable to shortage of production of wheat below the targeted levels, lower market arrivals, high ruling market prices, negative market sentiments due to low stocks of wheat in the Central pool and aggressive purchases by the private traders.

Hence the government took the decision to import wheat to meet the deficit in the Central Pool for meeting commitments under TPDS and other food-based welfare schemes and emergency relief measures. Government placed orders to import 5.5 million tonnes of wheat in 2006-07 at a weighted average price of US$ 204.7 per tonne and 1.8 million tonnes in 2007-08 at weighted average price of US$ 373.8 per tonne. We are told that the buffer stock position of food grains in the country as on 1 April 2009 was comfortable. Still the talk of further wheat import is making rounds in the corridors of the Food and Agriculture Ministry. The private players have already been allowed to import White Sugar without paying any duty.

In the meanwhile food grains prices are skyrocketing. For example, the prices of pulses have increased by 10 to 45 per cent. Arhar/tur are selling at Rs.90 and Mung Dal at Rs.74 a kilo in Mumbai and the apprehension is that the prices of pulses may shoot up to Rs.100 to Rs.150 a kilo due to the pressure of international market in a globalised scenario. The central government is providing subsidy to the corporate houses to the tune of Rs.4,18,095 crore by way of tax breaks and revenue foregone, whereas the total food subsidy provided in 2008-09 is Rs.43,688 core only, which is just a shade over a meagre 10% of the former. This is the real face of inclusive growth under the UPA regime!

Apart from the faulty agrarian policies and failing monsoon, one of the principal villains behind the spiralling prices of food grains has been the adverse impact of the commodities futures market on the prices of agricultural goods. Commodities traded in the commodities futures market included a variety of agricultural commodities. The total value of trading in the commodity futures market rose from Rs.34,84,485 crore in 2006 to Rs.36,54,487 crore in 2007 and to Rs.50,33,884 crore in 2008. The average daily value of trades in the commodities exchanges increased from Rs.15,000 crore during 2007 to Rs.18,500 crore in 2008. Agricultural commodities accounted for a large share of the commodities traded in the commodities futures market. This spurt in speculative transactions in food grains has encouraged hoarding and manipulation of prices by a few unscrupulous big players through the intervention in the commodities market.

The persistence, in fact increase, of high levels of hunger in times of globalised growth indicates that, as the Resolution on Agrarian Crisis adopted by the CPI(ML)’s 8th Party Congress observed, the “severe malnutrition crisis widespread in India, especially among children and women, is inseparably linked with liberalization in agriculture.” The subversion and dismantling of state procurement and PDS, as well as high food prices thanks to widespread speculation and hoarding have aggravated hunger. The ‘targeted’ PDS regime introduced a decade ago restricts food subsidy to ‘Below Poverty Line’ (BPL) families. In practice, the poor and marginalised find themselves excluded from the BPL lists and the extent of coverage of BPL families is very low. Hence to deal with food insecurity in an effective way, it is not sufficient to restrict the PDS to the targeted sections like the BPL population alone. Because, the process of identification of BPL population adopted in the country is far from fault-free, a large number of people who are food insecure would be excluded in case PDS remains confined to the BPL section alone. For instance, the last NSSO survey found that the percentage of Indians living below the poverty line (BPL) declined from 26.09% in 1999-2000 to 22.15% in 2004-05. Whereas the Arjun Sengupta report found that 77% of India’s population subsist on Rs 20 a day. Are the 55.85% of Indian people excluded from the BPL lists in spite of subsisting on Rs. 20 a day, not ‘poor’? Can we imagine that they are not hungry, or are not entitled to food subsidy?

PDS is a major state intervention to ensure food security to people especially the poor. The Eleventh Five Year Plan has observed that PDS seems to have failed in making food grain available to the poor as is evident from falling levels of cereal consumption over the last two decades. PDS was redesigned as Targeted PDS (TPDS) where higher rates of subsidies were given to the poor and the poorest among poor. However the Economic Survey, 2008-09 candidly admitted that, some major deficiencies were also identified in TPDS. These included high exclusion and inclusion errors, non-viability of fair price shops, leakages and failure in price stabilization. Hence is the need for strengthening and universalizing the PDS mechanism.

Struggles in India

Protests on Drought and Hunger

– Liberation, September, 2009.

In Patna, CPI (ML) leaders observed a 48-hour mass fast dharna (sit-in) on 9-11 August, protesting against inadequate drought-relief measures in Bihar, and demanding a range of measures to safeguard poor peasants and landless labourers, including payment of NREGA dues, reviving of government water taps, increase in diesel subsidy, and a widespread drought-relief programme across the State. The fast and dharna demanded that small seasonal dams be made on rivers, pump sets be used to replenish ponds, debt-free water supply be provided to sharecroppers, and they be given Rs 4000 per acre as diesel subsidy. Implementation of recommendations of the Land Reforms Commission was also demanded. The CPI (ML) State Secretary Comrade Nandkishore Prasad led the fast, along with the entire range of party and mass organisation leaders of the State.

On 14 August, whole of Jharkhand virtually stood still as people led by CPI (ML) blockaded roads in most of the State. The demand was to declare the State as drought hit and urgently provide ten thousand crore rupees as relief package. The blockade was most effective in Bagodar where 3000 people led by Com. Vinod Singh (MLA) blockaded the main highway for five hours. Other prominent points were Birni, Saria, Bishungarh Chowk, Ramgarh dist., Bokaro City and Phusro, Nirsa in Dhanbad, Lohardaga in South Chhota-Nagpur, Albert Ekka Chowk in Ranchi, Bundu, Chakradharpur , Bhawnathpur, Garhwa in Palamu,  Nala, Dumka in Jamtada district and Mohanpur and Sarwan in Devghar. At about 15 places in Giridih district blockades were laid in which more than 8000 people took part.

International

US Muscle in Latin America

– Srilata Swaminathan.

Countries of Latin America are up in arms against the US decision to open seven military bases in Columbia (a move taken on the pretext of combating narcotics trade). Apart from this, the US is working towards their army, navy and air force getting a military presence in this region by the end of this year. But that’s not all – after a gap of 59 years the US Fourth Fleet is also being revived to cover South America. In just funds, the Columbia Plan has received $10 billion and another $40 billion is in the pipeline.

This build-up is necessary if US wants to continue its domination of Latin America as it comes at a time when the US is being forced to close down its infamous Manta military base in Ecuador. Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, has refused to renew the contract for it. In fact, this is a big month for Ecuador as it not only hosted the UNASUR conference (Union of South American Nations formed recently in 2008) but Rafael Correa starts his second term in office under the new constitution which allows him to run for a another term. This is precisely what Zelaya was hoping to achieve in Honduras when he was kidnapped and ousted by a coup in June of this year. Even though the whole world refuses to recognise the coup leaders and that the whole country has come to a halt as trade unions have now joined the peasants and indigenous people in protests, the coup leaders are frantically trying to maintain the present status quo till the elections in November when they hope that their right-wing tactics will get legitimised.

The US puppet ruler of Columbia, President Alvaro Uribe, has just finished a frantic seven-nation tour of major South American countries trying to reassure everyone that they have nothing to worry about from this US build-up but, of course, there have been no takers.

It is not difficult to understand the concern shown by Latin American countries to this build-up. Ever since the Monroe Doctrine was enacted in 1823 when the US made sure that no European country could colonise Latin America, these countries have just traded one colonial master for another. The US, for almost two centuries, has treated them as its neo-colonies, controlled and exploited their vast natural resources, cheap labour and markets. It has installed oppressive military dictatorships, and just between 1945 and the 1980s, has sponsored at least 16 coups d’état. In the present century alone, the US has sponsored and supported coups against Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia and, in spite of all Obama’s rhetoric to the contrary, the coup in Honduras.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela who have all condemned the US move in the recently held UNASUR conference held this week by signing a joint statement condemning the US.

Venezuela, which is the most strident anti-US voice in the region, is the most concerned as it shares a long and troubled history, and border, with Columbia. Chavez is right to be worried that the US will invade his country on one pretext or the other. Over a recent border spat he has withdrawn the Venezuelan ambassador from Columbia and has sent the Columbian envoy in Caracas packing. The US and Columbia have always accused the Chavez government of arming the revolutionary FARC guerrillas, who have been labelled terrorists, and providing them shelter. Alfonso Cano, leader of FARC also condemns the build-up and prophecies that it is going to have far-reaching political consequences in Latin America. He knows that under the guise of the anti-drug drive the US has always used its might to wipe out this Marxist-Leninist party.

The US has cause to be deeply worried about the anti-US politics spreading throughout Latin America and is trying its best to contain it. Along with the creation of UNASUR, the new-found courage shown by the OAS (Organisation of American States) which has not only denounced the Honduran coup but reinstated Cuba as a member, it is also the formation of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) on the trade front which poses a challenge to US-dominated NAFTA. ALBA, particularly, has shown how this region can effectively counter the political-economy of exploitative imperialist trade.

The US has always cloaked its imperialistic hegemony under pseudonyms such as ‘fight for democracy’, ‘regime change’, ‘fight against terrorism’ and now, its latest charade is its ‘continuing fight against narcotics’! Unfortunately, this super-power has become so exposed that no one for a moment thinks this massive build-up is just to fight the coca farmers of Columbia. As Fidel Castro asks, “What have ships of the Fourth Fleet and combat planes got to do with stopping narcotics?”

International

“We will have to establish Socialism in Ecuador”: Interview with MPD

– Surya.

Ecuador is a country of 14 million people located in the western part of South America. It has many nationalities including the dominant nationality of mestizos (mixed). There are 17 other nationalities in Ecuador with the blacks and indigenous people (such as Quechua and Shuar) considered as oppressed people. Due to a long history of colonization and domination, imperialist culture has been imposed on these people. Indigenous people have started to assert themselves with their own political and social organizations. 80% of indigenous people are peasants. The majority of mestizo population is working class. In total 70% of working age population are workers and 14% of them are in unions. More than 60% of population lives in urban areas. Amongst the people living in rural areas, 80% are peasants and the rest are agricultural workers and artisans.

Strategic sectors of the Ecuadorian economy are oil/petroleum and agriculture (palm, banana, sugar, and coffee) with auto assembly and textiles industry playing a minor role. The Spanish (Repsol), Brazilian (Petrobas), Canadian Multinationals (MNCs) dominate the petroleum sector with US MNCs having minimal presence. In the agricultural sector, 2% of Ecuadorians own 40% of land – these are large farmers and some of them work with MNCs e.g. one landowner owns 20, 000 hectares of land which is used to grow African palm for export. Ecuador is now part of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). This alliance was initiated by Venezuela and Cuba as an alternative to Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Communist Party of Ecuador (Marxist-Leninist) (PCMLE) is a revolutionary communist party of Ecuador. It has been organizing workers and peasants for more than 30 years. It has also been working inside indigenous organizations since its founding. PCMLE has significant participation in black struggles, mostly of the black workers. Afro-Ecuadorians came as slaves for plantations or as freed slaves from other regions of the Americas. They are now mostly in the coastal region of Esmeraldas. PCMLE is working to unite all workers and peasants. Cultural differences are recognized but class solidarity is emphasized.

Movement for Popular Democracy (MPD) is the front organisation of Communist Party of Ecuador (Marxist-Leninist) (PCMLE). Excerpts of interview with Luis Villacis Maldonado, the national director of MPD and their last presidential candidate follow. Jittomy served as interpreter. The interview was conducted by Surya and Tamarai at the national headquarters of MPD in Quito.

LB: Could you tell us briefly about the history and current politics of MPD?

MPD: MPD was established 31 years ago on 17th March 1978. Workers and peasants wanted an alternative program of government. The objective was to combine both the economic and political struggles. We are trying to fight the leadership of the bourgeois state and establish popular power and socialism in Ecuador. We participate in elections from the local to presidential elections. Jaime Hurtado was the first elected representative of MPD. It was also the first time that a Black person was elected to parliament.

We are able to address different contradictions in Ecuador. Namely, the interests of the workers against the bourgeoisie; anti-imperialist struggles against US imperialism; national interests against anti-national interests. This struggle of classes has led to the growth of MPD as an organization. It has given MPD the opportunity to discuss socialism in Ecuador. This is another way to represent the people and a basis to organize them.

LB: MPD has 5 seats out of 124 seats in the parliament. How are you able to coordinate work inside parliament with struggles on the streets? Through your parliamentary work have you had any recent victories in Ecuador?

MPD: The relationship between MPD and the workers, peasants, teachers, students etc… is political and ideological. This relationship is a natural one. It is important that people in the parliament come from workers’, peasants’, teachers’ etc. organization. The organizations that work directly with us are UGTE (Workers organisation – 30, 000 members; 2nd largest trade union), UNE (Teachers’ organisation), FEUE (students’ organisation – 350, 000 members), UCAE (peasant organisation), PCMLE etc. We work with and organize in total 15 of these organizations (total membership – 2 million). In the last 20 years we have been working with this structure. All candidates for the elections come from these organizations. This is the principal way in which to obtain victory for the people.

The last constituent assembly and the new constitution got some rights for the people. They prohibited the    contract labour and ensured direct payment to workers. It is addressing exploitation of workers, low salary, long working hours, and right to social security. The salary should be able to afford basic necessities of life.  Social security should be for everybody. We have also put in our constitution that no imperialist country can have a military base in the country. The other issue that is being addressed is that natural resources should be protected from MNCs. This was a good victory. MPD was the party that enabled this victory. The five parliament members are fighting to implement this new constitution.

LB: What are the workers’ struggles outside the parliament that have had an impact?

MPD: We are mobilizing workers to defend the right to free association and of collective bargaining. We want to implement the labour law, which is part of 1701 presidential decree, that will force corporations to give better wages. We have had several mobilizations of workers that have been supported by the MPD. The leader of UGTE is a militant member of MPD.

There are several other struggles of workers. We have a mobilization of teachers. Evaluation of teachers is being used to fire teachers. There was a mobilization of miners. They are fighting for better wages but also against the pollution of the environment.

LB: In the strategic sectors of the economy, how strong is the MPD?

MPD: In agrarian reform we support the land to the tiller. We are demanding that any land that has been unproductive for more than 2 years should be given to the peasants. We have peasant organizations to check the land. We are also demanding to occupy the vacant land.

We participate in struggles in the oil sector; however, our presence is small. We are fighting for nationalization of the oil sector. The textile sector is small and MPD’s presence is also small. Another important sector is water. 75% of the water is monopolised by the water capitalists. The peasants are struggling against this monopolization of water. The new constitution says that this is public property. We are leading the protests in this area.

LB: Can you tell us about your work among women, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian people?

MPD: We look at the struggle of women from a class perspective. The system denies them their rights – such as the right of social security for the house wife. They should be getting a salary for household work. We want equality between women and men. Only by destroying the capitalist system and establishing a socialist system will we be able to achieve this right.

We are also fighting for the rights of the Afro-Ecuadorian people. Our member of parliament Rafael is Afro-Ecuadorian and we serve as the main political front for the fight of the rights of these people. We also have several assembly members and mayors from who are fighting against the discrimination of black people. Regarding the indigenous people, we have relationships with indigenous organisations but it is limited. This is not the area where we are strong. MPD is for a multi-ethnic multi-nationality and multi-cultural Ecuador.

LB: Can you elaborate on your work amongst organised and unorganised workers?

MPD: During the years of the social democratic government, from 1988 to 1992 the movement suffered a setback. The neo-liberal policies led to the flexible labour laws. The stability of work was affected and it became difficult to organise workers particularly in the private sector. Earlier the workers of the public sector could organise but today the public sector has also been affected. We are the revolutionary wing within the union movement of Ecuador. The reformist unions are influenced by trade unions in US. We are also trying to politicise the workers to achieve socialism.

LB: What is your analysis of the coup in Honduras and how it relates to anti-imperialism in Latin America?

MPD: We condemn the coup in Honduras. We think that there is the hand of imperialism and probably Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It is not important what Obama says. The nature of imperialism does not change. The government might be taking progressive positions but Obama’s government is not a socialist government. The constitution of ALBA is changing the political equation in Latin America (LA). The inclusion of Cuba in Organisation of American States (OAS) is a reflection of the changing situation in LA. The resolution that was adopted in United Nations (UN) regarding Cuba reflects the changing situation. They are worried that privileges of imperialism are at risk in LA. This coup was a threat to other countries in LA such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. This why we think this is an imperialist plan. The army commanders were trained in US to serve the interests of imperialism.

This is the reason we said to (President Raphael) Correa that the workers, peasants or teachers are not your enemies. It is the bourgeoisie. So, do not stop the project of change in LA.

MPD is playing a significant part to change the situation in Ecuador. Today we have to support the government of Correa in the interests of people of Ecuador. We want this government to go past its reformist positions to revolutionary positions. This is the way we can challenge the bourgeoisie and imperialism. In order to meet the aspirations of all these people we will have to establish socialism in Ecuador.

[The authors thank Comrades Pablo, Oswaldo, Luis V., Edgar, Luis, Jittomy, Geovanni and Edison for sharing their knowledge and experiences of struggles in Ecuador. Comrade Pablo helped shape the introduction by sharing his profound understanding of Ecuador and Latin America.]

Women’s’ Struggles in India

March to Parliament against Betrayal on Women’s Bill

– Liberation, September, 2009.

The All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) held a March to Parliament on August 3 to demand that the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill be passed. Thousands of women from all over the country marched from Ramlila Maidan with colourful banners and placards, and raising slogans asking, “President Patil’s speech promised Women’s Bill in 100 days – Why the broken promise?” The March reached Parliament Street where a mass meeting was held. The March also protested against the pitifully inadequate allocation for women in the Budget, and against steep price rise, and against repression and rape in Shopian, Lalgarh, Bastar, Punjab and other places. Women from Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam (Karbi Anglong), Delhi and other states participated in the March.

Addressing the mass meeting at Jantar Mantar, AIPWA National President Srilata Swaminathan said that the Government has shamefully delayed the Women’s Reservation Bill yet again. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s first Budget in its new tenure had betrayed women. Women’s health and education have been neglected completely, while measures to roll back price hikes and ensure food security have been woefully inadequate. Drinking water is scarce in villages but liquor is being encouraged by government policies. She also said that the principle of equal pay for equal work for women was being violated even in national rural employment guarantee act (NREGA) work.

Addressing the mass gathering AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari said this Government, in spite enjoying a full majority in the House, is dilly-dallying when it comes to passing the Women’s Bill, backtracking from the promise spelt out in the President’s address that the Bill would be passed in the first 100 days. Very few days remain for the first 100 days of the Government’s tenure to be up, yet there is no sign of any plans to Table the Bill in the Lok Sabha or pass it. She said the Congress is playing a double game – wanting to woo women by espousing the Bill, while using the opposition by Janata Dal (United) [JD (U)], Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) etc as a pretext to delay the Bill. In the last 13 years, she said, innumerable Bills have been passed in spite of massive opposition – yet in the case of the Women’s Bill, the plea of ‘consensus’ is being invoked.

AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan demanded that men in uniform who are guilty of state repression and rapes of women – in Kashmir, Lalgarh, Bastar – must be punished. She demanded a law to punish Khaap Panchayats, families, and other institutions, which attempt to curb the right of women to choose partners of their own choice, and to guarantee the safety of couples who defied caste and community boundaries. AIPWA National Vice President Saroj Chaube demanded homestead plots for women and job guarantee for urban women.

Addressing the mass meeting, Comrade Jasbir Kaur Nat, who had recently been released after over two months in jail in Punjab, spoke of the struggle of women in Punjab for homestead plots, defying repression and illegal arrest. During the mass meeting, women also raised spirited slogans against the Bhartiya JAnata Party’s (BJP) agenda of attacking women’s freedom in the name of protecting ‘Indian culture.’

The mass meeting was also addressed by AIPWA leaders from Punjab, Jasbir Kaur Nat and Iqbal Kaur Udasi, Surajrekha from Madhya Pradesh (MP), Premlata Pande, Uttar Pradesh (UP) State Secretary, Bhanwari Bai from Rajasthan, Shashi Yadav, National Secretary and Sangita Singh, National Council member from Bihar, Anjali Upadhyay, National Secretary from Karbi Anglong, and others. After the demonstration, a memorandum was submitted to the (Prime Minister) PM’s office.

Workers’ Struggles in India

AICCTU’s Nationwide Campaign

– Liberation, September, 2009.

The Nationwide campaign undertaken by All India Central Council of Trade Unions’ (AICCTU) was flagged off on 9 August in most states. Some of highlights of the campaign until we go to press (21 August) are below.

In Bihar the AICCTU and Bihar State Non-Gazetted Employees Confederation (Gope faction) have jointly undertaken this campaign. The campaign was flagged off with a joint rally of workers and employees on 9 August in Patna. The rally reached R-Block where it merged with the 48-hour long hunger strike and mass dharna (sit-in protest) organised by Communist Party of India- Marxist Leninist [CPI (ML)]. On 8 August, a state-level cadre convention was organised at Member Legislative Assembly (MLA) club in Patna to discuss and chart out ways to take the campaign to maximum number of workers and employees of Bihar. More than 150 delegates from 25 districts of Bihar participated in the Convention.

The campaign in Jharkhand was flagged off with a district Convention of AICCTU in Bokaro, inaugurated by AICCTU State Secretary Comrade Shubhendu Sen, and conducted by AICCTU State President Devdeep Singh Divakar. An 11-member district committee was elected at the end of the Convention. Plans for the August campaign were enthusiastically made. In Delhi, street corner meetings were held at Kalkaji on 18 August and a dharna at the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s office on 21 August.

In Tamilnadu, a ‘Meet the People’ Campaign was undertaken. In Namakkal Dist, demonstrations were held on August 9 in 3 points and over 250 workers participated in these. Demands such as Rs.7000 minimum wages, 50 kg rice for rupees (Rs) 1 per kilo for a month in Public Distribution System (PDS), and housing for power loom workers are some of the demands raised in these demonstrations. In Salem, a cadre meeting of AICCTU was held on August 9. In Kanyakumari district, a cadre meeting was held on August 9. Since then street corner meetings have been held at over 10 points and more street corner meetings are to be held in the coming days. In Tirunelveli, on August 9, a cadre meeting was held. It was planned to organize street corner meetings and door to door campaign in 8 points among beedi and unorganized workers. On August 18, a demonstration of tailoring workers was held demanding minimum wages and other statutory benefits, in which more than 70 workers took part. In Coimbatore, a cadre meeting was held and it was planned to hold street corner meetings. On August 23, a hall meeting of unorganized workers of Workers’ Rights Forum will be held. In Chennai, street corner meetings are planned and door to door campaign is being held in our work areas on day to day basis. The Campaign is concentrated on demands such as amendments to the Trade Union Recognition Act, President’s Assent for the Standing Orders Amendment Act to protect the interests of trainees, 5 cent homestead patta (land registration) for the unorganized workers, and Rs.7000 national floor level minimum wages for all the workers.

At Karnataka, campaign yatras (tours) were held on 10, 11, and 12 August in three different parts of the H D Kote taluk (municipal set up), in more than 60 villages. The campaign culminated in a militant rally on 20 August in front of Tahsildar’s (revenue administrative officer) office, which raised issues related to construction workers and also of agricultural labourers that include expansion of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) (200 days of work, Rs 200 minimum wage), land issues, exclusion of the poor from Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists, and basic amenities, etc. More than 200 people including 150 women participated in this spirited demonstration which gheraoed (surrounded) the taluk panchayat office.

PRICOL Workers’ Struggle: Hard-won Victory

For the past two years in Coimbatore, workers of PRICOL, a auto components manufacturing factory supplying components to most leading auto majors, have been engaged in a protracted struggle against violation of labour laws by the management.

The PRICOL struggle is remarkable for the fact that permanent workers, ancillary unit workers, and contract labourers have joined a single union led by the AICCTU and launched a united battle; women workers have been at the forefront of the struggle; and the struggle is supported by other workers, law students, civil rights activists, and Dalit organizations.

The struggle had been waged against the management’s policies of violating contract labour laws through sham Contract Labour and Satellite Vendor systems, victimisation of workers through closure of so-called Satellite Vendor units, termination of workers and denial of Dearness Allowance (DA) and wage increase as per the settlements, and transfer of leading union activists through illegal transfers. The workers had been demanding that the government pass orders under Section 10B of the Industrial Disputes Act (ID Act) 1947.   Throughout 2007 and 2008, thousands of workers defied all attempts to divide and rule, braved all sorts of victimisation, and succeeded in making strikes lasting several months a popular issue for the wider society of Coimbatore beyond the factory.  Throughout the management played every devious ploy possible, and tried in vain to alternately threaten and woo workers to desert the Union led by what it mischievously branded as a ‘Maoist-Leninist’ leadership.

Finally at the end of June 2009, they won a victory, forcing the Government to pass orders under Section 10 B of the ID Act 1947, against violations of labour laws, such as employment of apprentices and contract labour in direct production activities and denial of DA and wage increase as per settlements. Apprentices and Contract Labour are engaged in direct production contrary to law in almost all public and private sector units for decades. This is a rare occasion on which a Government has invoked its powers against such violations.

Culture

Gangubai Hangal: A Brave Life

– Liberation, September, 2009.

The world of Hindustani classical music lost one of its brightest jewels recently when Gangubai Hangal, doyenne of the Kirana Gharana, passed away in Hubli, Karnataka at the age of 97.

Gangubai’s her journey in life was beset by the hurdles of poverty and caste and gender discrimination. Born in the boatman caste to a devadasi mother (an extremely talented Carnatic musician herself), Gangu was drawn to Hindustani music from early childhood. There is a particular poignancy to the image of the little girl listening with fascination at tea shops and outside people’s homes to catch the snatches of music on gramophone records by Abdul Karim Khan, Hirabai Barodekar and Narayanrao Vyas, and singing the same songs herself. It reminds one irresistibly of Ekalavya, learning from a clay image of Drona. Gangubai, with the help of her remarkable mother, survived hunger, and endured having abuse (“gaanewali”) and dung thrown at her, to find musical teachers and emerge triumphant with the highest awards and recognition. For every Gangubai who managed to overcome these obstacles, one wonders how many fell by the wayside, buried under the burden of deprivation and discrimination.

Her mother sacrificed her own music so that the Carnatic style should not interfere with her daughter’s chosen Hindustani style. Gangubai received early training from Shri Dattopant Desai and Shri Krishnacharya before becoming a disciple of Sawai Gandharva. Her early days were full of financial hardships. She recollects, in an interview, how Abdul Karim Khan once heard her sing and encouraged her, saying “Dekho beti, khoob khana, khoob gana” (Eat heartily, sing heartily); with a wry humour which never deserted her, she told her interviewer, “Where was the food?  There was only music…!” Her powerful voice (which became deep and ‘masculine’ following a tonsil operation) emerged from her frail and slight form.

Being born in a low caste and being born a woman put her in a doubly marginalised situation. She once narrated how as an 11-year-old she was part of a group which sang a welcome song at the Belgaum Indian National Congress in 1924 and she was elated to be singing in front of Gandhiji. But at the meal which followed, she was full of fear that as she was of a low caste, she would be asked to clean up after the upper castes had eaten. When asked by her guru to eat with the others, she was so mortified that she could barely raise her head. She spoke of how the Brahmin households in her native Dharwad’s Shukravaradapete were outraged when a ‘singer’s daughter’ dared to enter their orchard, and what’s more, steal mangoes. “The very same people now invite me to their houses and spread a lavish lunch for me,” she said.

Gangubai commented on the entrenched gender bias in the world of music: “A male musician will become an ustad or a pandit, but a female musician, even one of the calibre of Kesarbai or Mogubai, will always remain a bai!” As a woman, she never had the luxury of “being lost in the art of creation”. She said in an interview, “Peace of mind is very essential in anything that you do—particularly in music. But in my case, it was just the opposite. What new things could I learn when I was constantly disturbed and unhappy? This whole concept of getting lost in music and forgetting the world around you, is a myth.” Many women writers have similarly produced their creative work in struggle against the lack of privacy and economic and social security: Kamala Das wrote at the kitchen table after her family had slept; Jane Austen is said to have had to hide her writing under blotting paper when anyone entered the room; Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and many others wrote under male pseudonyms.

Gangubai’s humour, humility, brave spirit and warmth, no less than her rich voice, will remain with us long after she is gone.

Culture

Ban on Charandas Chor: Chhattisgarh Government’s Cultural Fascism

– Pranay Krishna, Liberation, September, 2009.

True to its character, the Chhattisgarh Government on July 8 banned Habib Tanvir’s internationally reputed play Charandas Chor, which had been running since 1974. This play, based on a Rajasthani folk tale, was written by Vijaydan Detha, and was initially called Phitrati Chor. Habib Tanvir, in the process of adapting the play to suit the Chhattisgarhi language, culture and dramatic and musical traditions, introduced considerable changes in the script and dramatisation.

Charandas Chor is a contemporary classic in many ways. A petty thief makes four pledges to his guru – that he will never eat out of a gold plate; never sit on an elephant in a procession in his own honour; never become a king; and never marry a princess (pledges he thinks are far too unlikely ever to be tested). His guru imposes a fifth pledge – that he will never tell a lie. He eventually loses his life upholding these five pledges. Charandas knows all the ploys to cheat the laws and the system. He makes the powerful the target of his thieving. Charandas Chor, through its main character, playfully exposes the double standards of the power-structure, dominant classes and society. A thief turns out to be more true, honest and just than the establishment.

It is true that this play is based on folk tales and not on contemporary struggles in Chhattisgarh. Why, then, do those in power feel so threatened by this play? This play was first performed in 1974 when there was not even a remote possibility of the formation of a Chhattisgarh state. Neither could the footfalls of today’s movements in Chhattisgarh be heard then. The play was translated and performed in innumerable languages in the country and abroad. In 1975, Shyam Benegal made a film based on this play. The quality of a classic is such that is conveys meanings far beyond its literal words. Reaching across its immediate words, its characters and its time and place, it becomes relevant in entirely new contexts and eras. Why do the Mahabharat’s contradictions become relevant time and again in different eras and contexts? And of course, Charandas Chor, in the hands of Habib sahib, became entirely a part of Chhattisgarhi folk culture. Could it be that after the formation of the Chhattisgarh state, the play has begun to resonate with the character of the power-structure which is waging war against the adivasi people in favour of the corporations that are intent on looting the natural resources of the state, and jailing those like Dr. Binayak Sen, who dare protest? Is this play, by any chance, giving voice to the anti-establishment values and aspirations buried in the subconscious of readers and audience? Could it be that this play, thanks to its classicality, has in an entirely unexpected way, begun to reflect the ongoing war between Chhattisgarh’s rulers and its people? With the ban on the play, it is inevitable for all these questions to be asked.

Those who believe the Chhattisgarh government’s assertion that the ban has been imposed in the light of Satnami guru Baldas’ objections are naive. One should recall how some years ago an organisation calling itself the ‘Dalit Sanstha’ burnt copies of Premchand’s Rangbhumi. Most Dalit writers condemned this act and exposed that it was sponsored by the Sangh Parivar. Manipulating religious and caste identities as a pretext for repression and violence is a well-known tactic of the Sangh and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It is notable that the Satnami community and its representatives never had any objection to this play before 2004, though it had been played for four decades and most of its actors were in fact from the Satnami community.

The Chhattisgarh Government is playing a devious double game. Through the ‘Pramod Verma Memorial Conference,’ it recently gathered a range of progressive and democratic cultural personalities on the same platform as the Chief Minister and Minister for Culture. Then, within a month of this event, it imposed a ban on Charandas Chor. The letter written by Satnami guru Baldas against the play was prior to the Memorial Conference, and the Government had clearly made up its mind to ban the play well before the Conference. But that event had the immediate utility of putting many of those voices which would naturally protest the ban, on the defensive, and of undermining the credibility of their protest.

Attacks on Habib Tanvir’s plays by the Sangh-BJP are nothing new. Even in his lifetime he faced such assaults bravely. There are many versions of the ban announcement in the media. One claim is that the play has not been banned – the book has been banned from being read during the ‘Book reading week’ in schools (3-9 August), while according to other versions the book as well as staging of the play has been banned. The Chhattisgarh Government is yet to offer any clarification. However, whatever be the nature of ban, there can be no excuse or explanation except that the ban is part and parcel of the RSS-BJP’s agenda of cultural nationalism, which Habib Tanvir himself called “another name for fascism.”

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