March-April 2010

Table of Contents

  1. International Women’s Day

  2. Indian Budget 2010

  3. Price-rise: Assault on Food and Livelihood of Aam Aadmi

  4. The Return of Rajapakse in War-Torn Sri Lanka

  5. Sri Lanka: The Message of the Election

  6. Pricol Struggle Update: TN Women’s Commission Shows Pro-Pricol Bias

  7. Students on the Warpath against ‘Coaching Mafia’

  8. Rickshaw-pullers’ Protest in Noida

  9. Street Vendors in Delhi Hold Convention

  10. Struggles against Land Mafia and Police Repression in UP

  11. Poetry on International Women’s Day

  12. Shahid Azmi: Crusader against Witch-hunt of Muslims

International

Uphold the Glorious Legacy of International Women’s Day

– Liberation, March, 2010.

8 March 2010 marks the centenary of International Women’s Day – a hundred years from the time when the working class women’s movement first thought to observe ‘Women’s Day’ to celebrate their day-to-day struggles and assert the goal of women’s liberation.

International Women’s Day (IWD) inherits and represents the legacy of a glorious struggle for equality, dignity and emancipation that started long before the formal adoption of this day by women’s wings of socialist and communist parties—in fact well before the first socialist/communist parties were born. Even if we leave apart the previous periods of history, we cannot forget that the French Revolution of 1789, that great harbinger of modernity, was started by plebeian and semi-proletarian women of Paris. It was the same contingent that literally woke up and mobilised their men folk in the wee hours of 18 March 1871 against conspiratorial activities of the Versailles government, thereby launching the struggle for Paris Commune.

What communism did to this centuries-old struggle for women’s enlightenment and emancipation was to raise it to a qualitatively new level by consciously integrating it, both politically and organisationally, with the united movement of all the downtrodden for revolutionary transformation of the entire oppressive social order. IWD, a product of this integration, served to mobilise more and more women in the communist movement. The democratic revolution in Russia that overthrew the Tsarist monarchy in 1917 was actually started on IWD, with women workers in Petrograd spontaneously going on strike and demonstration. Guided by their proletarian class instinct, they ignored local Bolsheviks who advised restraint, and started the offensive. In our country we observe Naxalbari Day on 25 May to pay tribute to the eight women comrades who along with two babies they carried and one male comrade became the first martyrs of Naxalbari in 1967.

These are but a few of numerous historic instances of working women playing vanguard roles in epoch-making emancipatory struggles involving both sexes. Today, simultaneously with their growing involvement in productive activities, women are brilliantly carrying forward this legacy — not just in the arena of various mass movements, but in all walks of life from politics to sports, in academic, artistic, scientific and literary pursuits, and so on. Like in the past – and here lies the great merit, the special significance, of women’s struggles and achievements – they are doing this in the face of tremendous negative discrimination and all sorts of resistance offered by semi-feudal and capitalist patriarchy.

In the centenary year of IWD, the issues and slogans raised by the revolutionary women’s movement a hundred years ago continue to resonate with renewed relevance in the women’s movement of today. The first Women’s Day was marked by militant women workers raising demands for women’s rights at the workplace as well as the right to vote. Today, in the wake of the global economic crisis and policies of liberalisation, women are bearing the brunt of retrenchment and also being disproportionately represented in the most exploitative sectors of the economy.

While women’s political participation has increased, full and equal participation continues to be a far cry. In India, the slogan of enhanced political participation has found expression in the demand for 33% reservation in Parliament and Assemblies that successive governments have betrayed for the past decade. ‘Bread, Land, Peace’ – the rallying cry for Russian women on March 8 1917 – assumes great significance today: not only in the context of women’s resistance against imperialist wars and occupation in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, but also for women in India resisting price rise and hunger, repression in the course of struggles against land grab, and state repression.

In keeping with the growing assertion of women, especially toiling women, their active participation in the communist movement has increased manifold. But has there been a corresponding increase in the role of women in the communist organisation? Do we see larger numbers and enhanced activism of women members, organisers and leaders? In spite of years of efforts and some partial success, we cannot really claim that. The IWD Centenary is an occasion for renewed and energetic efforts in this direction.

A hundred years ago, communists imparted a new revolutionary dimension to the women’s movement of the period. Today, the occasion of the centenary of IWD should serve to highlight and reassert that legacy – and also to take the legacy of IWD and the historical achievements of the women’s movement as a precious resource and inspiration to meet the challenges for the women’s movement today.

Inspiring Women

Savitribai Phule

In the mid-19th century, Dalit writer and activist Savitribai Phule pioneered education for women, defying the feudal forces who would molest and abuse her and throw filth at her. Along with her husband Jotiba Phule, Savitribai also challenged the abhorrent and discriminatory social customs to which upper caste Hindu widows were subject.

More than 150 years later, in 2009, a Dalit schoolgirl in Chandigarh was stripped in class, because her father availed of a fee concession and did not pay fees. This incident is a grim reminder of how commercialisation of education acts not only deters girls’ access to education but intensifies the humiliation of those from Dalit and poor families, even if they manage to reach school. The literacy rate for women in India (53%) is still only two-thirds that of men (76%). Almost twice as many girls as boys are pulled out of school or never sent to school. As we demand the right to education and equality for women, Savitribai’s legacy inspires us.

Rakhmabai

Rakhmabai is an inspiring icon for women’s choice in matters of marriage and personal relations – extremely relevant in times when child marriage is common (India accounts for over 40 per cent of child marriages globally) and young couples are being attacked by obscurantist forces like the Sangh Parivar and khaap panchayats for marrying in defiance of caste and community norms.

Nowadays, the popular TV serial ‘Balika Vadhu’ with the tagline ‘Kacchi umar ke pakke rishte’ (binding ties of tender years) claims to oppose child marriage. Compared to the remarkably bold legacy Rakhmabai, the real-life heroine of India’s women’s movement of the 19th century, this serial appears pale and lifeless. Rakhmabai, a woman from the carpenter caste was married when she was 13 years old – but refused to honour this child marriage once she became an adult.

She became the rallying point for social reformers, and earned the attack of the orthodox sections of society. In an editorial in the Kesari dated 21 March 1887, Tilak attacked Rakhmabai as a woman who, “dazzled with the flame of knowledge” was corrupting Hindu society. He wrote: “…we agree that the upliftment of our women is necessary. We would, however, like to say to these reformers that this will never be achieved by women like Rakhmabai who have turned yellow with half a piece of turmeric. Today thousands of men are living happily with their underage wives. When that is the case, is it not surprising (as in, is it not a bit much) when a woman dazzled by the flame of knowledge demands in court that she be granted a divorce now that her husband is no longer good enough for her?”

Rakhmabai refused to buckle even in the face of such a virulent backlash from powerful and respected figures. She declared publicly that she would never accept a ‘kacchi umar ka rishta’ (tie of tender years) as ‘pakka’ (binding) – even when she lost her case in Court, she declared she would rather go to jail than join her husband. She went on to become one of India’s first women doctors.

Politics in India

Budget 2010: Promoting Inflation and Putting the Burden on the Aam Aadmi

– Liberation, March, 2010.

UPA (United Progressive Alliance)-II’s Union Budget 2010 does nothing to rein in runaway inflation – rather, it proposes to promote inflation and make sure that the lion’s share of the burden of inflation is disproportionately borne by the poor and working people. Meanwhile, the ‘Sensex salute’ that followed the Budget announcement is a testimonial tribute to the Budget’s policy of promoting privatisation and continuing with generous tax sops to the corporate sector.

While announcing a hike of more than Rs. 2.50 per litre of petrol and diesel, the finance minister (FM) also indicated that proposals made in the Kirit Parekh report on fuel price deregulation will be taken up by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora in due course. The Damocles sword of even sharper rise in fuel and other prices thus continues to hang over the people.

The budget does nothing to tackle the pressing issue of food inflation either by way of strengthening and expanding the public distribution system or by addressing the structural roots of the persistent and deep agrarian crisis which lies at the heart of food insecurity and food inflation. The Budget makes no move to hike public investment in agriculture or irrigation, or to increase the inflow of rural credit. Apart from some token announcements – such as Rs. 400 crore for ‘green revolution’ in some Eastern Indian states, and some talk of developing ‘climate resilient agriculture’ and developing ‘pulse and oilseed villages,’ or extending the deadline for farm loan repayment by another 6 months, the budget has no initiative on the agrarian front.

The increase in allocation for rural and social sectors is also extremely inadequate. National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has got just Rs 40,100 crore. The Indira Awas Yojana scheme’s unit cost has been raised only marginally to Rs 45,000 in plain area and Rs 48,500 in hilly areas – while agricultural labourers across the country have long been demanding a minimum grant of Rs 1 lakh for housing. A ‘Social Sector Security Fund’ has been announced – but backed with a meagre allocation of just Rs 1000 crore.

In contrast to the inadequate and token allocations for agricultural investment, rural development and social security, the allocation for defence is a whopping Rs 147,000 crore.

Meanwhile the Budget goes full steam ahead with the agenda of privatisation. The government will raise Rs 25,000 crore from disinvestment of its stake in state-owned firms; banking privatisation is being promoted with Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to give license to some more private sector players and NBFCs; “a firm view on opening up of the retail sector” has been recommended; and gradual coal sector privatisation is also clearly on the agenda what with the setting up of the Coal Development Regulatory Authority.

A particularly disturbing aspect of the budget lies in the field of tax revenue. Direct tax yield is set to decline by Rs. 26,000 crore (corporate surcharge has been reduced from 10% to 7.5%) while indirect tax revenue is estimated to increase by Rs. 45,000 crore (thanks primarily to an across the board excise hike of 2%). This makes the tax system in India further regressive because the brunt of indirect taxes is always borne disproportionately by the poor and low-income consumers who constitute the overwhelming majority of buyers in Indian markets.

The CPI(ML) calls upon the Finance Minister to withdraw the hike in petrol and diesel and excise duties, expand the public distribution system, provide at least Rs. 10,000 crore for the social security fund, and increase rural and social sector allocations while reducing the defence outlay and increasing corporate tax. The CPI(ML) appeals to the working people and mass organisations of the rural poor and peasants as well as trade unions and student-youth and women’s organisations to exert pressure on the government to withdraw inflationary measures and corporate sops and ensure immediate relief for the common people.

Politics in India

Price-rise: Assault on Food and Livelihood of Aam Aadmi

– Liberation, March, 2010.

Amidst record-breaking rise in food prices, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government continues to shed crocodile tears. Worse, in the name of tackling prices, the government is trying to use rising prices as a pretext to shower more concessions on big capital. At the beginning of the Budget session of Parliament, President Pratibha Patil in her inaugural address held price rise to be “inevitable.” Earlier, in the meeting of Chief Ministers in Delhi on February 6, the Prime Minister called for advancing retail sector reforms to tackle the surge in retail prices – a clear hint to push for greater and faster corporatization of the retail sector.

The conference of Chief Ministers was preceded by a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in which the Congress blamed the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar for ‘talking up’ prices. Pawar had invoked the doctrine of ‘collective responsibility’ of the UPA government for the failure to control prices; the Congress accuses him of creating a scare by talking of shortages. While the government thus plays its own little blame game, the fact remains that the problem of shortage is quite real, partly because of falling production and partly also because of unwarranted export, what to talk of aggravating factors like distribution bottlenecks and hoarding.

Take the case of sugar for example. Production is estimated at 16 million tonnes while consumption estimates are of the order of 23 million tonnes. Instead of trying to meet this shortfall by increasing production, the central government talks of launching nationwide campaign to dissuade consumption! “No one dies due to not eating sugar,” argues the National Congress Party (NCP) mouthpiece Rashtravadi, while in a key sugar-producing state like Bihar, where sugar mills are lying closed for years, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is interested only in opening sugar mills that will produce not sugar but Ethanol!

While prices have been rising continuously, the UPA government has been busy rationalizing it as a veritable feature of economic growth, hoping to silence all inflation-related worries by invoking the loud rhetoric of double-digit growth. The statistical practice of measuring inflation through movements of Wholesale Price Index (WPI) has also helped the government in understating the real impact of inflation. In WPI, food and primary articles have a weightage of only 22%, which is just a third of the importance assigned to manufactured items. Thus, a near 20% rise in food price index remained conveniently hidden throughout the last one year in WPI increases of the order of 6-7%.

But this grim reality can no longer be hidden under any statistical carpet. Over the 52-week period ending on January 23, 2010, the composite food price index rose 17.56% while prices of potatoes and pulses rose by nearly 45%. The impact of this steep rise in food prices is felt all the more acutely by people with low and even moderate income who spend a high proportion of their earnings to buy food. For the 800 million people identified by the Arjun Sengupta committee with a daily expenditure of Rs. 20 or less, a near 20% rise in food prices can only mean a push to severe malnutrition and semi-starvation. To add insult to injury, Congress leaders would have us believe that the rise in prices is due primarily to increased mass consumption resulting from increased purchasing power of the rural poor and the peasantry! Even the President’s address claimed that the higher prices reflected the success of “our schemes of inclusive growth” involving payment of higher procurement prices and supposed “higher public spending on programmes of rural development, which have successfully raised incomes in rural areas.”

The least that a government must do in the face of such a severe crisis is to ensure delivery of subsidized food and other primary articles of mass consumption to the needy. Yet, large numbers of the poor find themselves excluded from the below poverty line (BPL) list, and the rations meant for BPL families are often diverted to the open market with the government looking the other way. Meanwhile, even as the country awaits the 2010 annual budget, the Kirit Parikh panel appointed by the government to examine fuel pricing has recommended a hike of Rs. 100 per liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder and Rs. 6 per litre of kerosene oil and freeing of petrol and diesel prices in tune with international standards!

Far from trying to check price-rise and mitigate its impact on the aam aadmi, the UPA government is working hand in glove with the market to wage an all-out price war on the people. We must resist this assault by all means and fight for the people’s basic right to food and livelihood with all our might.

South Asia

The Return of Rajapakse in War-Torn Sri Lanka

– Liberation, March, 2010.

Sri Lanka’s incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa won an emphatic victory over his former Army chief General Sarath Fonseka in the January 26 Presidential election. In 2005, Rajapaksa had won by a very narrow margin, primarily because an Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-enforced boycott in the Tamil areas had adversely affected the prospects of his rival, Ranil Wickremasinghe of the United National Party (UNP). This time around, there was no LTTE to influence the poll; it was rather the total defeat and decimation of the LTTE which was the key issue of the Presidential election. In fact, even though the election was constitutionally due only in November 2011, Rajapaksa had advanced the elections by two years precisely to cash in on the post-LTTE dominant national mood in Sri Lanka ranging from chauvinistic triumphalism to a widespread sense of relief and respite after more than two decades of intense civil war.

The mandate, though emphatic, is marked by accusations of massive misuse of the state machinery and media. It also reveals deep divides in the Sri Lankan polity – while Rajapaksa bagged majority Sinhala votes, his opponent led in all ethnic minority areas. Reinforcing this ethnic divide is a wider rural-urban and class divide – even in Sinhala-dominated areas Fonseka had greater support among the urban elite while rural Sinhala voters voted overwhelmingly for Rajapaksa.

Both Rajapkasa and Fonseka camps had projected their candidates as ‘war heroes’ and sought to win the polls by whipping up competitive waves of Sinhala chauvinism and triumphalism. For Rajapaksa supporters, the President had become Maha Rajanani (the great king), and State-run television channels and radio stations regularly played a song that hailed him as the great king who united the country. The Fonseka camp, on the other hand, hailed Fonseka as the real decimator of the LTTE. In his resignation letter Fonseka openly attributed the victory over LTTE to his own “vision, command and leadership” while charging Rajapakse with undermining the army, mismanaging the economy and promoting corruption and cronyism all around.

Using an analogy from cricket, Fonseka supporters claimed that just as in Cricket matches selectors and coaches could not claim to be the ‘man of the match’, the credit for the military victory should also go to the actual Army chief and not the President who was nothing more than the constitutional head of the armed forces. Victorious Rajapaksa now retorts by arguing that people remember the emperor who built the Taj Mahal, not the mason or chief engineer who led the construction work!

In their political views, both Rajapaksa and Fonseka are unabashed votaries of Sinhala majoritarianism. In an interview published in the Canadian magazine National Post on September 23, 2008, Fonseka quite bluntly advocated his “Sri Lanka for the Sinhala” line: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.” Rajapaksa now talks of addressing minority grievances, but only from the position of a victor who demands the allegiance of his subjects, as was evident from his interview with N. Ram of The Hindu: “They (Sri Lankan Tamil leaders) were not interested in solving this problem as long as Prabhakaran was there. Now they must understand that there is no option for them but to talk. I’m the President of the country, I’m the leader of the country, they must come and negotiate with me, have a dialogue with me. If they think they can’t cope with me, new leaders will come up and I will have to deal with them.”

During the Presidential election, most of the opposition parties in Sri Lanka had come together to support the candidature of Fonseka. But now that Fonseka has been charged with sowing dissension in the Army and is facing court martial, opposition parties will have to reposition themselves for the impending parliamentary elections.

In a way, Fonseka’s defeat marked a popular rebuff to the Army elite’s attempt to meddle in politics. In popular perception, Fonseka was also perceived as an American protégé even though Rajapaksa’s brother and defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse who is credited to have mapped out the strategy of the war on LTTE was also a long-time resident in the US and Rajapaksa too took full advantage of the American discourse of war on terror to step up the military offensive against the LTTE. The US is however wary of the Rajapaksa regime’s growing economic and political ties with China and may well find it convenient to invoke the slogans of human rights and democracy to tighten pressure over Colombo.

Rajapaksa flaunts his good ties with key Asian countries – India, China and Japan in particular – to ward off US pressure. To keep India in good humour, he has even made a distinction between India and China or Japan. In the aforementioned Hindu interview he described India as “relation” and others as good friends!

For the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lankan population – Tamil as well as Sinhala – life has indeed become quite harsh. Sri Lanka’s once celebrated model of social welfare has crumbled under the growing burden of militarization of the island’s economy and polity. Contrary to the empty promises of greater devolution of power, hundreds of thousands of Tamils find themselves herded into refugee camps (ostensibly called ‘welfare villages’) in miserable conditions and the media and international relief organizations have very little access to these camps. In such conditions it is difficult to think of any meaningful national reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil peoples. Democracy and social welfare have been the biggest casualties of the Sri Lankan state’s war on LTTE, and the people of Sri Lanka will have to wage a determined and protracted battle to improve their conditions and secure their rights in the war-ravaged island.

South Asia

Sri Lanka: The Message of the Election

– S. Sivasegaram.

Those aware of Mahinda Rajapakse’s post-war popularity in the Sinhalese villages were not surprised by the outcome of the presidential election. Yet, methods used by his camp to secure his second term seem illegal and irregular. The reality is that, over the years, people have got used to such methods. General Sarath Fonseka was fielded as common candidate by the United National Party (UNP), People’s Liberation Front (JVP) and allies to steal the thunder from Rajapakse, whose main claim was that he led the “War against Terrorism” to victory. Thus the election campaign was mainly about rival claims to the credit for winning the war. There were of course charges of corruption, nepotism, rise in crime rate, social violence, denial of democracy and abuse of power against Rajapakse and less well founded counter accusations against his main rival. But in matters of policy there was no visible difference between the two.

The UNP-JVP alliance was somewhat a frog and rat alliance; and nothing good could emerge from it regarding a solution to the national question. Sarath Fonseka made no pledge that appealed to the minority nationalities, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) offered him support for very weak reasons. But JVP dissenter Wimal Weerawansa and the Jathika Hela Urumaya pounced on it to claim that there was a secret deal between the TNA and Fonseka, and used faked documents to support the claim. In all probability, TNA support secured for Fonseka far fewer votes than fear of a Fonseka-TNA deal did for Rajapakse. An analysis of the results suggests Fonseka’s performance among minority nationalities was poorer than that of the UNP candidate Ranil Wickramasinghe in 2005.

While the Sinhala and English news media, including the state-owned which indulged in distasteful mud slinging, sided strongly with Rajapakse, the Tamil print media (excluding the hardly read state-owned Thinakaran and a Muslim weekly) carried out a vigorous campaign for Fonseka. Even the call by the Tamil Congress (TC) to boycott the elections was given little prominence. The TC went quiet when the spokesperson for the TNA declared support for Fonseka, to avoid a further split in the TNA, but did not retract its call for a boycott. The New Democratic Party stood by its call for spoiling the ballot papers as the election offered no real choice, especially for the minorities, and actively campaigned in the Jaffna District.

Fear was strong among TNA leaders as well as Tamil media bosses that the Tamils could reject the elections. Two popular weekly columns in one Tamil newspaper, one in its Sunday edition and another at the weekend, and two articles by me in the same newspaper advocating rejection were countered by numerous statements and articles by personalities including Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), academics, a former Supreme Court judge and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jaffna, appealing to the people to join the mainstream of politics by voting and not to be misled by calls to reject. Many of the published items explicitly supported Fonseka.

The TNA leader Sampanthan who supported Fonseka was given great province, while Vickramabahu Karunaratna of the ‘Left Front’, the darling of the Tamil media until Fonseka handed in his nomination papers, was almost shunted out. The Tamil candidate Sivajilingam MP, who contested in defiance of the TNA, was particularly targeted for attack by a leading newspaper in the North, which even avoided publication of an interview that it obtained from the leader of the NDP, because he refused to single out Sivajilingam for attack.

Efforts to secure Tamil votes for Fonseka and to prevent a repeat performance of the boycott of the Jaffna Municipal Council elections months earlier failed. Only around 20% voted in the Jaffna District, with 3.5% of the ballot papers spoilt compared with a figure of 0.8% on average for the South. Voting in the Vanni, also in the north, was poor at 40%, not counting the near total boycott in the Mullaitivu district. The Eastern Province with Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese in comparable numbers had a polling rate of 62% in all electorates but Ampara, with a Sinhala majority, compared with 70 to 80% in the rest of the country. Over 2% of the ballots cast were spoilt. Also, in the predominantly Tamil electorate of Batticaloa in the east, polling stood at 12% at noon and eminent persons including Catholic priests and Muslim preachers were called into service to boost the voting to 62% when voting ceased at 4.00 p.m.

Enthusiasm for the election was low among the Muslim and Hill Country Tamil voters too, but not as low as among the Tamils of the North-East. In electorates with a significant Tamil and Hill Country Tamil presence, spoilt votes amounted to 2% of the votes cast. Interestingly, the three Trotskyite candidates who rejected the idea of a third common candidate had less than 20,000 votes between them, fewer than a fifth of the number of spoilt ballot papers. Those who claim that the minority nationality votes cast for Sarath Fonseka were twice that for Rajapakse avoid reference to the boycott by the Tamils. It seems that the Tamils chose not only to reject all presidential candidates but also the prescriptions of their political and community leaders, and the news media.

The day of the election seems to be the eye of a hurricane separating the pre-election violence and breach of democratic norms from the ominous developments that followed the election. While the boycott of the elections by a majority of Tamils in the North-East marked the exercise of the democratic right not to vote and thereby sending a strong political message, developments in the South are turning nasty and things are likely to take a turn for the worse after the parliamentary elections, to be held a few months prematurely in March or April.

Fonseka has refused to accept the results and has accused the government of a massive fraud, pointing to evidence of stealing of ballot papers. Charges of electoral fraud by his allies are supported by a few other candidates too. The government is out to harass Fonseka and rationalise its conduct in terms of a possible coup planned by Fonseka’s camp. A hotel, located close to a major army camp in Colombo, where Fonseka’s team was based was surrounded by soldiers even as counting was in progress. While charges mount that the government had stolen the election, the government has responded with the charge that the Fonseka camp was planning a coup, with the JVP as a key player.

Claims by both sides have little to do with protecting democratic institutions. It is generally believed, and with good reason, that India favoured Rajapakse while the US was behind Fonseka. While that does not mean that Rajapakse would antagonise the US or for that matter Fonseka, if elected, would have dared to cross India’s path, signs had been ominous for democracy, irrespective of the outcome of the election. Only months before the election, Rajapakse was alerted to an attempted coup and the Indian High Commissioner rushed to his rescue with the backing of Indian security forces. Although the alleged attempt turned out to be false alarm, no information has been forthcoming about the source of the mischief.

Meanwhile, plans for a sustained mass campaign by the Fonseka camp to nullify the elections besides legal action to the same effect are likely to heat up the political climate and lead to a counterattack by the government by means fair and foul. There are now threats to try Fonseka by a military court for attempting to stage a coup.

The US is now increasingly aggressive worldwide towards what it sees as hostile or less supportive governments. Its once overt and now covert support for the movement to reject the presidential election of Iran, its connivance in the coup in Honduras and sending troops in large numbers into earthquake hit Haiti are things to bear in mind. Equally worrying is Indian conduct in regional affairs, notably Nepal.

Just now, things do not look bright for democracy in Sri Lanka. But worse is in store after the parliamentary elections, irrespective of the outcome.

Workers’ Struggles in India

Pricol Struggle Update: TN Women’s Commission Shows Pro-Pricol Bias

– Abhyuday, Liberation, March, 2010.

Within a span of 6 days, from 24 September to 29 September 2009, Coimbatore police, as part of its systematic campaign to harass Pricol workers in the wake of the death of a management official, had baselessly targeted several women workers. They arrested two women workers of Pricol after 11.30 pm (in violation of regulations about arrests of women) and took them to the police station only the next day morning. These women were asked to identify the houses of other Pricol workers. They were detained in the police station till the police figured out a case under which to remand them. 6 women workers were arrested inside the factory premises and later remanded and sent to jail. The police also detained two other women workers of Pricol for 2 days in the police station in the name of investigation.

TN All India Progressive Women Association (AIPWA) made a complaint to the TN women’s commission on 29 September about the police harassment of Pricol women workers. When AIPWA comrades complained about women being arrested after 6 pm, the Women’s Commission chairperson Ms. Ramathal assured AIPWA comrades that she would take steps in this regard. On that very day 6 women workers were arrested inside the factory premises before 6 pm.

Ms. Ramathal, then, ordered a one-woman enquiry commission to enquire into the complaints made by AIPWA: complains including adverse working conditions resulting in a medical condition requiring removal of uterus, cut in the salary, women workers being monitored for time spent in the toilet, etc.

Ms. Vanitha, Indian Police Service (IPS), Superindent of Police, Perambalur, was the enquiry officer who went to the factory and conducted the enquiry on a single day. She spoke to 17 workers, 2 management officials, the Executive Director of the company and 3 police officials. She then submitted a one-sided report which has rejected all the complaints made, and has claimed all is well with the factory and with the women workers.

The enquiry officer did not care to speak to the 2 women workers who were arrested around 11.30 pm. Without even talking to them the enquiry officer rejected the compliant about arrests in the night. Her report says that due procedures were followed in arresting women! It is clear that the enquiry officer’s own report has not followed due procedures!

The report says that there is no medical evidence that removal of uterus is a direct effect of working conditions (such as having to stand for hours on end). The enquiry officer has not taken opinion of any medical specialist in this regard and simply adds that in Pricol’s Japanese collaborator Denso also women’s work involves standing for long hours. But surprisingly she adds that she has asked the management to think of some arrangement for the workers so that they can sit and work. If she believes that standing and working for 12 hours a day does not result in removal of uterus, why should she ask the management for an alternative arrangement? The report also fails to cite any medical opinion that removal of uterus is not caused by adverse working conditions.

The report in its conclusions part says that ‘the management never tried to repress the unions.’ The TN Labor Minister himself listed all the illegal steps taken by the management against the workers, on the floor of the Assembly itself. The TN government has issued prosecution show cause notice to the management about its unfair labor practices. Then why does the enquiry officer in her conclusion rush to say that the management is not suppressing the unions?!

The enquiry officer also justifies the cut in the salary and employment of apprentices for a lower wages, which is sub-judice, which is absolutely outside the purview of the enquiry and her capacity.

The enquiry officer goes ahead and recommends to the women commission that ‘this Kumarasami has Marxist Leninist ideology”. He is not connected with any industry. He wants to develop his party by using the ignorance of women and creating a base in Pricol. It is recommended that this Kumarasami’s activities are to be monitored.’ Such a recommendation is not only baseless and out of the purview of the enquiry (not even management witnesses have deposed against Comrade Kumarasami till now), it attacks the right of women to political affiliation of their choice. Such remarks in the report only underline the fact that the entire witch-hunt against workers at Pricol was motivated not by any investigation into the incident in which a management official was killed, but by a politically dictated campaign to crush the political mobilization of workers.

Following All India central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU)’s initiatives and widespread protest, the Deputy Chief Minister of TN was forced to intervene on October 2 and assure an end to the witch-hunt of workers. Subsequently, the indiscriminate arrest of workers stopped. But the intimidation tactics continue in more subtle ways. Now the Women’s Commission has overstepped its limits and is not only giving the Pricol management a clean chit in terms of allegations of unfair labour practices and absolved the police and management of exploitation and harassment of women workers, it has even recommended that Marxist-Leninist views cannot have a place in TN!

All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) has also recently raised a demand to remove Ms. Ramathal as the chairperson of the commission, since the Women’s Commission under her leadership is not helping women and is siding only with offenders. The AIPWA, AICCTU and Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist (Liberation) [CPI(ML) Liberation] have also demanded removal of Ms. Ramathal, scrapping of the biased ‘enquiry’ report and a fresh enquiry into the allegations by women workers.

Struggles in India

Students on the Warpath against ‘Coaching Mafia’

– Liberation, March, 2010.

On the night on February 8 at a crowded crossroad in Patna’s Bazaar Samiti area famed for its coaching centres, two students held placards in their hands and raised slogans against coaching centre operator Neeraj Singh who had humiliated them by tearing up their identity cards and throwing them out of class when they asked a question. Within half an hour, thousands of students collected at the crossroads, targeting first Neeraj Singh’s coaching institute and then other such institutes in the area. The ever-swelling flood of students’ made its way to other parts of the State capital. On 9 February, students targeted coaching institutes at Musallahpur, Naya Tola, Lal Bag, and Ramna Road. Coaching institutes run by K Singh and S K Mishra, and Kartar Coaching. A guard in the S K Mishra institute fired and killed a student Sachin Sharma (from Nalanda) on the spot. The killing made the students’ protests erupt in anger.

Students injured in the brutal police lathicharge were dumped in Patna Medical College hospital where they received no treatment. A student Krishnakant Jha from Saharsa succumbed to injuries for lack of medical care. The upsurge against these coaching institutes is the expression of long-simmering rage within students against commercialisation and sheer loot in the name of education. The episode has again exposed the reality behind the Nitish Government’s tall claims of ‘educational reforms.’ The fact is that a massive education business has mushroomed in the State capital, with a turnover of 1000 crore every year; and far from any government supervision or control, the whole exploitative business has protection and patronage of various ruling class parties. The ‘coaching industry’ is an extremely unscrupulous one – capitalising on students’ aspirations with faked statistics of successes in competitive exams, ads full of falsehoods, and baseless commendations procured by ruling politicians.

Nitish Kumar’s first response to the news of the upsurge was a flippant, “Such things keep happening in Bihar.” Subsequently, he went into damage control mode, hurriedly announcing that a Bill to regulate the coaching industry would be introduced in the next Assembly session and getting the Patna distric magistrate (DM) to invite student representatives for a discussion.

But weak and superficial measures cannot address the problem – the root of which lies in the government’s policy of promoting privatisation and commercialisation of education.

Struggles in India

Rickshaw-pullers’ Protest in Noida

– Liberation, March, 2010.

Hundreds of rickshaw-pullers in Noida held a protest demonstration on 16 February to press for their demands of licenses and recognition of their right to livelihood. Thousands of them, mostly migrant workers, live in grave insecurity. They toil and provide important service to the urban population but ironically the status of their labour is rendered illegal, and they are easy targets for the police. The licenses to them have not been issued for long time by the Noida authority. Moreover, a precondition for licences is to provide proof of residence and identity, which is impossible to get as being migrants they have no property in the city.

In this backdrop, after a few months planning and mass work a Rickshaw-pullers’ Union was formed in Noida last month which received a very good response from among them. A week-long mass campaign was then undertaken, culminating in a protest demonstration on 16 February, which was attended by nearly 200 rickshaw-pullers. The demonstrators submitted a memorandum to the City Magistrate Noida, the same official in whose presence the rickshaws were crushed under a bulldozer.

The protesters demanded license to all rickshaw-walas, return of seized rickshaws and compensation for the ones crushed by the bulldozers, and an end to the repression by police and the administration. They also demanded compensation and guarantee of alternate livelihood if at all evictions are to be considered in very special cases.

The demonstration was led and addressed by rickshaw-union leader Suresh Paswan, CPI(ML) activists Shyamkishore Yadav, Govind Uniyal, Ramesh Kori, Madheshwar, Nandji Yadav, Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma and many others.

Struggles in India

Street Vendors in Delhi Hold Convention

– Liberation, March, 2010.

The Delhi Rehri-Khokha-Patri Mahasangh held a Convention on 21 February demanding guarantee of livelihood and licence for every street vendor under the new National Vendor Policy. They demanded democratisation of the Town Vending Committees through elected representation; enhanced representation of vendors and removal of representatives of market associations and RWAs. Because identity cards are being made a precondition for issue of licences, many poor and migrant vendors are in danger of losing their livelihood since the Delhi Government has made sure they get no identification.

The Convention was addressed by Shyamkishore Yadav, President of the Delhi Rehri-Khokha-Patri Mahasangh, Vice President Ramsevak, Secretary Md. Shakil, treasurer Md. Shafi as well as Sanjay Sharma, State Secretary, CPI(ML), as well as AISA activists from Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharla Nehru University (JNU). The Convention was conducted by Uma Gupta of All India Progressive Women Association (AIPWA). Through the Convention, the street vendors submitted a memorandum to the Delhi CM, opposing the plans to evict them from the streets in preparation for the Commonwealth Games, and demanding guarantee of livelihood.

Struggles in India

Struggles against Land Mafia and Police Repression in UP

– Prashant Shukla, Liberation, March, 2010.

In Ghazipur district of UP, struggles to free land from land mafia and ensure the grant of pattas to landless poor have been ongoing since November 2009. On November 5, protests were held at different blocks demanding work and wages under NREGA. In retaliation, the All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA) District Secretary and another activist were booked by police on false charges. Next day, when the District Secretary of the party Comrade Ram Pyare Ram went to the superindent of police (SP)’s office to lodge a protest against the police action, he was told by the SP himself to refrain from “Dharna-Pradarshan” (demonstrations or protests) or be ready to face dire consequences. This intimidation did not dampen the spirit of the masses and in Sadar and Jamania tehsils, hundreds of rural poor laid claim to gram samaj land by placing the red flag on the land.

On December 24 2009, a tribal Juit Vanvasi was arrested by the police of Nonehra Police Station on charge of theft. He was tortured for 7 days in the police station. After the party intervened in this matter, the torture stopped but he was booked and sent to jail. Many others were also falsely arrested by this notorious police station. On January 22, a procession against the terror unleashed by the police was held at this police station. The police attacked the procession. Comrade Ram Pyare Ram along with 10 other comrades were arrested and brutally beaten inside the PS. False cases were slapped on them and they were all sent to jail. The next day, about 600 people protested against the police action. The ongoing land struggles and the police repression galvanized the poor masses of the district and it culminated in a 4000 strong contingent courting arrest during the state wide ‘Jail Bharo’ programme on February 8. This is the largest mobilization by our party in Ghazipur district in recent years. The arrested comrades came out of jail after 18 days of imprisonment.

January 15 is the birthday of UP Chief Minister Mayawati. Last year, it was marked by the shocking murder of a public works department (PWD) engineer Manoj Gupta by a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA for resisting attempts at extortion by the latter on the pretext of for her birthday celebrations. This year, Behenji’s police had a new gift for her birthday. In village Surjanpur of Lakhimpur district, police raided the house of Harhangi Lal, a principal of a primary school on the night of 14-15 January. When the people protested the arrest (which took place without a proper arrest warrant), the police started beating the family members including the women. The infuriated villagers detained some policemen and demanded that the district magistrate (DM) come to their village and see for himself the misdeeds of his officials. However, what reached the village was not the DM but a large police force from various police stations of the district. The police started beating the villagers and even fired in the air. They set Harhangi Lal’s house on fire and arrested 29 people including 12 women. Incidentally, Harhangi Lal belongs to the other backward caster (OBC) category. One pregnant lady, Kusma Devi was arrested about 2 kms away from this village and sent to jail after being beaten. She delivered a baby in jail the next day.

On hearing of this incident, central committee member (CCM) Krishna Adhikari visited the village. A memorandum was given to the Additional DM demanding a check on police terror, release of the arrested and action against the policemen responsible for the incident. A Dharna was organised in Lakhimpur on January 16. An indefinite Dharna began from January 19 and the district administration imposed Section 144 the next day. Under pressure from the movement, the SHO of Mailani and the SHO women thana were suspended for beating the pregnant Kusma Devi. All along, the various political parties were silent on this issue but once the claim of CPIML about Kusma Devi was vindicated by police action, they too sprung into action and started giving press statements. Sensing the mood of the terrorised masses and the need of effective intervention, a ‘Surjanpur March’ was held on January 29. The district administration was determined to foil the march. About 250 party cadres took the lead and started reaching Surjanpur in batches of 15-20, shouting slogans against the police. Gradually, people of the village came out of their houses and a 1200 strong mass meeting was held which was addressed by CCM Krishna Adhikari and SCM Kranti Singh amongst others. Subsequently, a magisterial inquiry was ordered by the administration.

On 8 February, thousands of activists courted arrest in different districts of UP to protest the rising prices, police atrocities, loot in NREGS and the refusal of the BSP Govt. to redistribute ceiling-surplus land to the landless.

Culture

Poetry on International Women’s Day

– Liberation, March, 2010.

Remembering Rasmoni

(Excerpts from a poem written by Sameer Roy, 1968 (during the Naxalbari movement) in memory of Rasmoni, a woman of the Hajong tribe, who was killed in the police repression on the Tebhaga movement in 1946–47.)

Comrade, how old are we

Why not take a stock.

My mother, sitting by the wretched flicker of a fire,

Counts the age of Heeren, Nripen, Shyamal and Sameer—

Why do not you bother a little and count.

Rasmoni of Hajong died with an ill fate—

Other than the National Library and the hills of Hajong,

There is no picture of hers in Bengal.

Why not recite her name to Shantilata, Jiad’s wife Fatema

Why not now with Rasmoni’s name covertly in our pockets

Let us slip into a village a few miles away.

Shantilata, Jiad’s wife Fatema—

Could be more incisive than the bow.

Comrade, let us from the old history book

Tear Rasmoni’s picture

And march ahead, more surreptitiously than darkness.

Terai is wailing

My heart grieves with her,

Flaming fields of Naxalbari are crying out

For her seven slain daughters.

(from a people’s song in memory of the women killed in police repression on 25 May 1967, whose martyrdom marked the beginning of the Naxalbari movement.)

Obituary

Shahid Azmi: Crusader against Witch-hunt of Muslims

– Liberation, March, 2010.

Advocate Shahid Azmi, felled by bullets while sitting in his Mumbai office on February 11, was no stranger to death. As a Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) detainee in Tihar, he was often used as a ‘dummy’ for the hangman’s noose.

As a teenager in Azamgarh, he was witness to the madness of communal violence following the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the methodical prejudiced manner in which the police operated, routinely rounding up and arresting young men from the Azamgarh slum where he lived.

The anger at the communal violence he experienced first hand turned him, for a brief period, into an insurgent in Kashmir. But in spite of the fact that he parted ways with insurgency and returned, he was arrested in 1994 for “planning to kill several top politicians”, and despite no evidence except his confessional statement, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. Remarkably, he spent his time in jail graduating and learning law. Upon his release, he finished his studies in law and made it his mission to fight the cases of the poor and innocent Muslim youth who had been harassed, tortured and arrested by the police; and he rarely charged fees for his legal services.

In his brief life of 32 years, he overcame all the hurdles that a communalised society places in the path of a young Muslim from Azamgarh – and devoted himself to the cause of justice. He was able to secure several landmark judgments – most notably he had won a legal victory for the terror accused who were being brutalized by the Mumbai Central jail authorities into signing confessional statements. He had also raised several crucial legal points: he had challenged the legal validity of applying Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) on his clients as he argued that the power to enact laws vested with the Parliament alone.

Shahid Azmi’s killing follows a spate of incidents where lawyers defending those accused in cases of terrorism and blasts have been attacked and abused. Journalist Ajit Sahi writes, “We need to directly ask just who benefits from Azmi’s killing. The answer is a Who’s Who of Indian security: the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, RAW [Research and Analysis Wing] and the Intelligence Bureau, whose grand constructs on terrorism Azmi demolished each time he won a case. Maharashtra Police despised Azmi, for he represented, mostly successfully, many accused in a string of blast cases.”

Shahid Azmi was killed for fighting the communal witch-hunt that largely passes for ‘terror investigations’. It is a must that an impartial probe be instituted to identify the forces behind his assassination.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: