March-June* 2014

Table of Contents

  1. Confront Modi’s United Front of Corporate-Communal Thuggery
  2. Corruption and Price Rise Cannot Be Combated Without Reversing Pro-Corporate Policies of Privatisation
  3. Pathribal Acquittal: The Republic Has Blood on Its Hands
  4. Jandavedari Rallies in Bihar
  5. Resist and Reject Political Opportunism
  6. On Women’s Day This Year: Let’s Bring Women’s Freedom Onto the Political Agenda
  7. Jan Vikalp Rally in Jharkhand Against Communal Forces
  8. Bihar Bandh Demands Rollback of Power Tariff Hike
  9. Massive Peasant-Worker Rally Marks 2nd National Conference of AIKM
  10. Anniversary of TU Strike: Workers’ Protest Demanding Their Rights
  11. Handloom Weavers’ Rally in Puducherry
  12. AICCTU IN NIMHANS Hospital, Bangalore
  13. Gorakhpur to Kolkata: Cinema Caravan Picks up Pace in Eight Years

*Combined issue because of Indian 2014 elections

 

Politics in India

Confront Modi’s United Front of Corporate-Communal Thuggery

ML Update, 12-18 March, 2014.

With Lok Sabha elections less than a month away, we are seeing feverish political realignments all around. It is open season for the opportunists, with aya-ram-gaya-ram politicians switching parties at dizzying speed.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Raj Thackeray has declared its support for Modi as Prime Minister. MNS will field candidates against its rival and BJP ally Shiv Sena, but not against BJP.

The Modi campaign has taken the shape of a united front of a variety of unsavoury forces: the RSS and its constituent communal outfits; thugs of various hues including moral policing brigades, organisations implicated in Dabholkar’s killing, regional-chauvinists like Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena, and khap panchayats; and corporate houses. This gang-up includes godmen like Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (unfortunately Asaram has been eliminated from this line-up thanks to his being in jail charged with rape of a minor girl). Among the various opportunists who have made a timely strategic shift and joined this gang-up, we can also count the imperialist US Government, which has made an about-turn in its position and extended its tacit blessings for Modi.

Modi’s campaign has essentially been dominated by ‘theme Gujarat’ and ‘team Gujarat’, and the Gujarat Government’s resources being put at the services of Modi’s Prime Ministerial campaign. With Raj Thackeray’s support in addition to Shiv Sena’s, Maharashtra’s might has been added to Gujarat’s fuel power. Gujarat and Maharashtra are both arenas of corporate assertion and the corporate model of ‘development’, and Modi’s campaign has taken on the overtones of the corporate home base against more backward regions. Modi indicated as much by declaring that the ‘eastern’ states, associated with left and non-Congress non-BJP parties, needed to be brought in line with the ‘developed western states.’ It is ironic that Modi, bragging to the people of Bihar about the development model of the ‘western states’, forgets that his allies in Maharashtra are responsible for thrashing the migrant labourers from Eastern India, whose labour contributes in no small way to the corporate-led ‘development’ of those states!

Recent realignments are also revealing the hollowness and insincerity of the ‘Third Front’ being peddled by the CPI and CPIM. In less than a month since the 11-party grouping met in Delhi on 10 February, the Front is showing tears and strains. The AIADMK has coolly walked out of the Front leaving CPIM high and dry: clearly because Jayalalithaa would like to keep the option of supporting Modi (or Mamata), as the situation may demand, post elections. Clearly, such a Front cobbled together with parties without the slightest consistency or secular-democratic principles, cannot possibly offer any resistance to the BJP. In other states too, including Bihar and Odisha, the seat-sharing arrangements with JDU and BJD are seeing the CPIM and CPI cut a sorry figure. These developments hold a lesson for the CPI and CPIM. Time and again, their model of essentially opportunist alliances covered by the fig leaf of ‘secular front,’ ‘common minimum programme’ or ‘third front’ have not only discredited and tarnished the cause of struggles against communal forces and neoliberal policies. They have also contributed to a steady marginalisation, and erosion in the strength and credibility, of the Left. The fact that such alliances yielded some seats for the CPI and CPIM has helped to disguise it, but with time, the erosion and marginalisation has become unmistakeable.

To confront Modi’s united front of communal-corporate thuggery, we cannot possibly rely on political opportunists with a track record of promoting corporate plunder and complete lack of consistent anti-communal principles and practice. People’s movement forces and the Left, instead of passively relying on such opportunist and unprincipled forces and alliances, need to unite and boldly assert a robust agenda of democracy, justice, people’s rights, and reversal of anti-people policies.

Politics in India

Corruption and Price Rise Cannot Be Combated

Without Reversing Pro-Corporate Policies of Privatisation

– Liberation, March, 2014.

If the Jan Lokpal Bill united the Congress and BJP in opposition to it, recent statements by AAP leaders while addressing corporate houses have squarely placed the AAP in the same camp as the Congress and BJP on the question of neoliberal economic policies. In fact, in the tussle over the Jan Lokpal Bill, the most crucial aspect of the debate was rendered invisible. Both the Lokpal law enacted by Parliament and the Delhi Government’s Janlokpal draft are silent on the question of bringing corporate corruption under the ambit of the Lokpal legislation. Given that the most massive scams in the past two decades have benefited corporations above all, this omission is quite glaring.

The question of gas pricing illustrates the point amply. The gas pricing scam, after all, is not only one of blackmail and arbitrary raising of gas prices. The scam originates from the policy of handing over precious natural resources for private profit and plunder. It was the NDA regime that signed the contract with RIL in 2000, allowing it access to the precious KG Basin gas reserves. Since then, NDA and UPA both have colluded time and again with RIL to benefit the latter, in the process increasing the subsidy burden on the Government and the burden of higher fertiliser and power costs on farmers. The Radia tapes showed how even in Parliament in 2009, Mukesh Ambani could ensure that the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee would propose a tax exemption to benefit RIL alone, and could ensure that BJP leaders would not oppose it! The tapes showed that Ambani could ensure that the Government appointed pliant Petroleum Ministers and sacked less pliant ones; and that the main Opposition party would field pliant leaders to speak on issues relating to gas pricing in Parliament!

The gas pricing scam illustrates graphically how price rise and corruption are Siamese twins, born to the policy regime of pro-corporate privatisation. Governance and democracy are held in the stranglehold of corporations, thanks to this policy regime. Corporations have had a free hand to plunder natural resources and extort profits from basic services that ought to be publicly available people’s rights. Not only have the worst scams occurred in this backdrop, the worst state repression in the country’s poorest forest areas, too has taken place in defence of this policy regime of plunder. While tax waivers and handover of precious natural resources to the tune of several lakhs of crores are not termed ‘subsidies’, the neoliberal regime has sought to curtail entitlements like food rations on the pretext that subsidies to the poor are a burden on the exchequer!

With this being the case, how can corporations – the biggest beneficiaries of such scams – be left out of the ambit of the Lokpal? How can price rise or corruption be tackled without reversing the policy regime that creates it? How can one usher in democracy without ensuring that people, rather than corporations, have control over natural resources?

The Congress and the BJP have, time and again, demonstrated their unbreakable loyalty to the policy regime of liberatisation and corporate loot. AAP’s symbolic gestures – such as the FIR against Mukesh Ambani in the gas pricing case – have raised hopes that they will actually challenge this regime of loot. But the pronouncements of AAP leaders on economic policies are not in tune with this symbolism.

Speaking to the CII, Arvind Kejriwal declared that the Government had no business to be in business, and that business should be left to private players; creating jobs was not the job of the Government but of industry; and the Government should restrict itself to providing a security and rule of law, infrastructure, and corruption-free governance. This is unadulterated neoliberal doctrine. To say ‘the Government has no business to be in business’ begs the question: why should land, minerals, water, education, health and other natural resources and public services be a ‘business’ at all? And moreover, all over the world, capitalists have functioned only with the full blessings and proactive backing of the Governments!

Speaking at an investor conference in Mumbai and to a TV channel, Yogendra Yadav said that “Food subsidies should not be provided. Giving food directly to the person concerned is the most inefficient and expensive manner of serving the poor…The way to service the disadvantaged is not to even out poverty, social justice is about uplifting everyone by unleashing growth, encouraging manufacturing, good business practices and catching hold of the corrupt.” The idea that poverty is caused by a paucity of skills, that unleashing ‘growth’ or curbing corruption can be the answer to poverty, and that food rations or other forms of redistributive justice are ‘expensive’ or ‘inefficient’ is again, standard neoliberal doctrine. Manmohan Singh and Modi would both agree. Modi has in fact contrasted subsidies with ‘skills’, saying subsidies keep people dependent and he is instead committed to providing skills so that people can provide for themselves.

Kejriwal declared that his party was not against capitalism, only against crony capitalism. This is a disingenuous statement. Crony capitalism in India has been the creation of the liberalisation era, a product of the policy regime that mandates Governments to be mere facilitators of primitive accumulation of natural resources by corporations. Kejriwal specifically distanced the party’s stance from that of AAP leader Prashant Bhushan’s, where he had said that “mines and minerals, oil and natural gas, land, spectrum and other natural resources would be vested with the public sector, and airports and power would be nationalised.” Yogendra Yadav too termed nationalisation of resources and services to be ‘ridiculous,’ saying that AAP is only opposed to ‘private monopolies.’ Again the model of co-existence and competition of private and public together, and of PPPs is nothing but disguised promotion of private players at public cost. The real point is that public resources and services should not be handed over to private profit-seekers; and public resources like land, water, forests and minerals should be under the control of the people.

Price rise, corruption, state repression, and corporate stranglehold over democracy, have their roots in the policy regime of liberalisation and corporate plunder. If the 2014 elections are not to be about personalities but policies, the question of reversal of this policy regime of plunder must be the foremost priority for democratic forces.

Politics in India

Pathribal Acquittal: The Republic Has Blood on Its Hands

– Liberation, March, 2014.

The President of India, in his address on the eve of Republic Day warned that “security and armed forces, backed by the steel of popular support, have proved that they can crush an enemy within,” and that “mavericks who question the integrity of our armed services should find no place in public life.” Perhaps for the first time in India’s history, the designated custodian of the Constitution virtually issued an open call to ‘supporters’ of armed forces to evict critics of the Army’s impunity, from public life. And on the heels of Republic Day, the Army gave itself a clean-chit in the infamous Pathribal fake encounter case, which the CBI had found to be a cold-blooded killing of Kashmiri villagers. The Republic has blood on its hands, but the public has been warned to remain silent.

The Army’s acquittal of its officers charge-sheeted by the CBI for the cold-blooded fake encounter of five innocent men in Pathribal (Jammu and Kashmir), is a shameful case of the killers exonerating themselves. The Army officers, protected by AFSPA from prosecution in a civilian court, have been acquitted by a court martial. The Pathribal episode drives home the fact that the ordinary Kashmiri in India is entirely unprotected by any semblance of civil liberties or any hope of justice, and is at the mercy of the Army that enjoys the license to murder. It is a message to the common Kashmiris that the flimsy fig leaf of India’s democracy, rule of law, and judicial process, are not meant to offer them even nominal cover. The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of the Indian State, which dons a respectable garb in other places, lies unveiled in Kashmir, where it goes naked.

On March 25, 2000, a contingent of the Rashtriya Rifles and the J&K Police’s Special Operations Group claimed to have killed 5 LeT militants in a hut in Pathribal village, in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir. LK Advani, then Home Minister, endorsed the Army’s claim that these five men were “foreign militants” who had perpetrated the heinous Chattisingpora massacre of Sikhs days before, on the eve of the then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. The 5 bodies, badly burnt, were buried without any post mortem examination.

Meanwhile, five men – Zahoor Dalal, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, Mohammed Malik, Juma Khan and Juma Khan – had gone missing since March 24 from various Anantnag villages, and frantic villagers demanded the exhumation and identification of the bodies at Pathribal. On April 3, CRPF firing on a demonstration at Brakpora demanding exhumation killed nine – including a son of one of the missing men Juma Khan. Eventually, the bodies were exhumed and identified by families as those of the missing villagers. The DNA matching turned up negative, but in March 2002, it was established that the blood samples had been tampered with. Fresh blood samples were collected, and tests proved beyond doubt that the 5 men killed were none other than the missing villagers. It was evident that the security forces had simply picked up 5 villagers at random – including 2 men of the same name from different villages – and murdered them in cold blood, passing them off as ‘foreign militants’.

The CBI enquiry ordered by the State Government confirmed that the ‘encounter’ was indeed deliberate murder, and in 2006, filed a charge-sheet against Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt. Col. Brijendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar I Khan of 7th Rashtriya Rifles.

But the trial never took place, because the Army claimed that under the AFSPA, prior sanction of the Central Government was required for prosecution of the accused soldiers. The Defence Ministry and the Central Government did not grant sanction, in spite of the CBI’s categorical finding. The CBI argued that prior sanction under AFSPA was not required in this case, since it was intended only for protection of personnel acting in the line of duty, not for deliberate abduction and murder of innocents. This argument, upheld by the High Court in 2007, was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2012.

The Supreme Court allowed the Army the choice of civil court proceedings (contingent on Central Government sanction) and a Court Martial according to the Army’s own regulations. The Army, which in 2006 had rejected either option, chose the Court Martial route this time. And now, the inevitable has happened – the Army has flown in the face of damning evidence, and has protected its own. ‘Integrity’ of the armed forces has proved to be synonymous with shameless impunity. And yet, President Pranab Mukherjee declares that this truth must not even be spoken of!

The Pathribal massacre is by no means an aberration. Pathribal has shown the way for the ongoing Court Martial in the Macchil (Kupwara) killings of 3 villagers in 2010. In 2011, the J&K SHRC confirmed the existence of at least 2156 unidentified bodies lying in mass graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts. The actual number of such mass graves is far higher – up till 7000. Yet, DNA profiling of the bodies in the mass graves has not taken place. The Government is delaying and subverting such a probe, fearing no doubt that the findings might establish, as exhumations at Pathribal and Macchil did, that many or most of the bodies are those of ‘disappeared’ persons killed in custody of security forces.

The barest minimum requirement of democracy must be that the AFSPA be scrapped, and Army officers accused of murder and rape must enjoy no shield of protection. We must demand that the Centre lose no time in ensuring that the Pathribal killers in uniform face trial and justice in a civil court.

The Republic has blood on its hands. There are fascist foot-soldiers aplenty to do as the President of the Republic suggests, and police the public space and intimidate the voices demanding accountability, truth, or justice. The Indian political establishment, with few exceptions, lacks any will to break the enforced silence. But the ‘public’ can and must reclaim the Republic. Democratic forces will defy the threats whether issued from the Presidential palace or the saffron thugs, and will speak out against murder perpetrated and protected in the name of the Republic!

Struggles in India

Jandavedari Rallies in Bihar

– Liberation, March, 2014.

The series of Jandavedari rallies being organized in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Bihar began on 8 February in Samastipur with the biggest people’s mobilization ever seen at Patel Maidan. Huge rallies also took place on 9 February at Muzaffarpur, 10 February at Narkatiyaganj (Valmikinagar LS constituency), 11 February at Gopalganj, and 12 February at Siwan.

Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (CPI-ML) General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya and other senior Party leaders are addressing these rallies with a call to make the issues raised by the people at last month’s Jansamwad Yatra into the agenda for the upcoming elections.

The participation of the landless poor, workers, women, minorities, and various sections of society at these District level rallies is noteworthy. At some places, forces of movements struggling for local issues joined the rallies and raised their voices in unison with the landless poor and workers. There was a huge mobilization of sugar cane farmers, displaced persons, and youth at Narkatiyaganj. On 9 Feb at Muzaffarpur, the Mukherjee Seminary Maidan saw a huge mobilization of people from the struggling sections of both urban and rural backgrounds, Muslim youth targeted in the name of terrorism, and people struggling against the danger of displacement due to the Bagmati Project. Noting the presence of leaders and activists from the Insaaf Manch and the Bagmati Project Displaced People’s Association, Com. Dipankar said that these are clear indications that the unity at the ground of struggling forces is going to pave the way for the formation of a new Front which is welcome. Similarly, on 10 Feb at Narkatiyaganj (West Champaran) a huge rally resolved to take the struggle against the State and Central governments to the highest level for their criminal neglect of the rightful demands of sugar cane farmers. Taking this movement forward, the CPI-ML has called for a Champaran bandh on 20 February.

It may be recalled that the Party had organized a Jansamwad Yatra throughout Bihar in January, during which 3000 village sabhas were held and dialogue established with 3 lakh people, and questions and issues of the people were identified. The Party had put out a call to make February a “month of movements” on these issues. The Jansamwad Yatra brought to the fore the anger of the people against the governments in Patna and Delhi and against the local Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Members of Parliament (MPs). The last 5 years brought many troubles but not once did the people’s representatives come to enquire about their problems. These rallies are being organized to call for a strong agitation on people’s issues and problems at district as well as state level, and to make people’s issues like the BJP’s communal conspiracy, Nitish Kumar’s failures, and the pro-corporate policies of the governments, the central agenda for the LS elections.

Two questions chiefly arising throughout Bihar are the issues of electricity and liquor promotion by the Government. Nitish had promised electricity for every village and every home. However, it has not happened anywhere. On the other hand, people are getting false bills – even where electricity lines have yet to be installed – and consumers are being arrested and jailed. Facilities such as drinking water and toilets have not materialized, but liquor has been arranged and is easily available at shops in every Panchayat. People in large numbers are submitting copies of false bills and petitions for cancelling liquor licences. Their demand is that the privatization of electricity should be revoked and every town, village, and home should get 24 hour electricity at affordable rates. Important issues raised include complete electrification of the “tolas” of the poor, 100 units free electricity for the poor, taking back of false bills, clean drinking water, and toilet arrangements in all homes, and an end to the state’s promotion of liquor.

People complained of huge loot in schemes for the poor. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme exists, but there is either no work or if there is work, there is no payment. Below Povert Level (BPL) and job card holders get neither minimum wages nor 100 days’ work. People are starving to death, and the Central government is claiming to have passed the Food Security Bill through which 75% of the poor will get food grains. Nitish goes a step further to say that 85% will get the benefits. But the Public Distribution System has totally collapsed and the ongoing socio-economic census is a complete conspiracy to show the number of poor as much lower than they actually are. Reports are coming from several places of instances where people without even a roof over their heads are recorded as owners of double-storied houses, thus conspiring to deny them of all benefits. People’s issues in the forefront are demands for a stop to the displacement of urban poor without arrangements for alternate housing, total implementation of Food Security, guarantee of women’s freedom and dignity and an end to the government’s policy of hounding Muslim youth in the name of terrorism. People are flocking to the rallies to protest against the government’s treachery against educated youth, farmers, cooks, and midday meal workers on the issue of permanent employment, and conveying to the ruling Parties that this time the election will be not about “neta” (leaders) but “neeti” (policy). The Party slogan “Badlo (Change) Neeti,Badlo Raj (Government), is reverberating throughout Bihar.

On 12 February, the rally at Siwan saw a veritable sea of people. More than 20,000 flocked to Gandhi Maidan holding the red flag aloft. On that day it seemed all roads in town led to Gandhi Maidan, and walking anywhere through the crowded streets was not an easy matter.

Addressing the rallies, Party General Secretary Com. Dipankar raised all the above issues and pointed out that the country was steeped in corruption and price rise, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP )can see no issue other than its Prime Minister (PM) candidate. He said that the “hand” of the Congress is not with the common man, and the Bihar Chief Minister (CM) enjoyed power for 17 years with the BJP, and when it came to the question of PM candidate he opposed Modi and broke with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) asking for Advani to be declared the leader instead, whereas he was silent in 2002 when the brutal massacres were being carried out in Gujarat.

Com. Dipankar said that the Delhi elections have shown that the people are taking forward their issues, therefore the Lok Sabha (LS) elections will be fought not around leaders like Rahul-Modi but around policies and principles. Commenting on the ‘Third Front’ he said that there is definitely a need for a Third Front to combat the Congress-BJP but the forces currently attempting to form such a front lack credibility and can go into the pockets of the Congress or the BJP at any time. He called upon Left forces to unite on a single platform.

Iftekhar Alam of the Insaaf Manch, Mohd. Shoaib of the National Human Rights Association, Jitendra Yadav and other leaders also participated. Some resolutions relating to significant issues were passed by the rally, including guarantee of rehabilitation and compensation for families displaced by the Bagmati Project, erosion, road widening, and embankments. The rally demanded that the Bagmati Dam Project should be suspended and a special review committee should be constituted with specialists and activists as members. The issues relating to benefits of minority welfare schemes, fishermen’s welfare programmes, and urban development schemes reaching the rightful beneficiaries, were also raised. After the rally Comrade Dipankar spoke with over 100 people from the minority communities at a meeting organized by the Insaaf Manch.

A huge rally was organized on 13 Feb 2014 at the Polo Maidan, Lehriya sarai, in Darbhanga. The rally was addressed by Party General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya. Terming the Bihar CM arrogant and bureaucratic he raised various people’s issues such as irregularities in socio-economic census, false electricity bills, rising prices of fertilizers and diesel, loots and scams, opening of liquor shops in villages and the hypocrisy of CM Nitish Kumar in proclaiming his commitment to making villages free of narcotics and liquor, and called for a strong agitation on these issues.

On 14 Feb a Jan Davedari rally was organized at Purnea. In spite of incessant rain large numbers from remote areas converged to attend the rally which was addressed by Com. Dipankar, All India Progressive Womens Association (AIPWA) State President Saroj Choube, District Party Secretary Pankaj Singh, and others. It is known that the Bihar government has announced a steep rise in electricity rates from 1 April onwards. In truth, the difficulties of the consumers have been increasing ever since the privatization of electricity. Earlier, the electricity rate was divided into 4 slabs, so that the lower the consumption, the lesser the bill. But now the government has unified all 4 slabs into a single slab. According to this unified slab, the electricity which now costs Rs. 2.85 per unit will cost, after the proposed hike, Rs. 6.85 per unit for domestic consumers and Rs. 7.75 per unit for commercial consumers. Whereas in other States including Delhi there have been subsidies and reductions in electricity rates, Bihar is about to be slapped with this outrageous anti-people price hike. With the result, any domestic consumer will have to pay a minimum electricity bill of Rs. 980 per month instead of the current minimum rate of Rs. 120 per month, and the minimum bill for the commercial consumer will be Rs. 1562. Consumers without meters will have to pay Rs 350 per month instead of the present Rs. 160 per month. Whether or not one consumes electricity it will be mandatory to pay this minimum electricity bill.

The CPI-ML has called for a Bihar bandh on 23 Feb 2014 to demand roll back of this proposed hike in electricity rates and closing of liquor shops throughout Bihar. The Party has demanded that the government should provide 100 units free electricity to the poor and waive half of the electricity bills. At the same time, liquor shops at panchayat levels should be closed down and small farmers should be given free electricity for agricultural purposes. Agitations will be held on 21-22 February all across Bihar including the capital Patna to ensure the success of the bandh.

Iftekhar Alam of the Insaaf Manch, Mohd. Shoaib of the National Human Rights Association, Jitendra Yadav and other leaders also participated. Some resolutions relating to significant issues were passed by the rally, including guarantee of rehabilitation and compensation for families displaced by the Bagmati Project, erosion, road widening, and embankments. The rally demanded that the Bagmati Dam Project should be suspended and a special review committee should be constituted with specialists and activists as members. The issues relating to benefits of minority welfare schemes, fishermen’s welfare programmes, and urban development schemes reaching the rightful beneficiaries, were also raised. After the rally Comrade Dipankar spoke with over 100 people from the minority communities at a meeting organized by the Insaaf Manch.

A huge rally was organized on 13 Feb 2014 at the Polo Maidan, Lehriya sarai, in Darbhanga. The rally was addressed by Party General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya. Terming the Bihar CM arrogant and bureaucratic he raised various people’s issues such as irregularities in socio-economic census, false electricity bills, rising prices of fertilizers and diesel, loots and scams, opening of liquor shops in villages and the hypocrisy of CM Nitish Kumar in proclaiming his commitment to making villages free of narcotics and liquor, and called for a strong agitation on these issues.

On 14 Feb a Jan Davedari rally was organized at Purnea. In spite of incessant rain large numbers from remote areas converged to attend the rally which was addressed by Com. Dipankar, All India Progressive Womens Association (AIPWA) State President Saroj Choube, District Party Secretary Pankaj Singh, and others. It is known that the Bihar government has announced a steep rise in electricity rates from 1 April onwards. In truth, the difficulties of the consumers have been increasing ever since the privatization of electricity. Earlier, the electricity rate was divided into 4 slabs, so that the lower the consumption, the lesser the bill. But now the government has unified all 4 slabs into a single slab. According to this unified slab, the electricity which now costs Rs. 2.85 per unit will cost, after the proposed hike, Rs. 6.85 per unit for domestic consumers and Rs. 7.75 per unit for commercial consumers. Whereas in other States including Delhi there have been subsidies and reductions in electricity rates, Bihar is about to be slapped with this outrageous anti-people price hike. With the result, any domestic consumer will have to pay a minimum electricity bill of Rs. 980 per month instead of the current minimum rate of Rs. 120 per month, and the minimum bill for the commercial consumer will be Rs. 1562. Consumers without meters will have to pay Rs 350 per month instead of the present Rs. 160 per month. Whether or not one consumes electricity it will be mandatory to pay this minimum electricity bill.

The CPI-ML has called for a Bihar bandh on 23 Feb 2014 to demand roll back of this proposed hike in electricity rates and closing of liquor shops throughout Bihar. The Party has demanded that the government should provide 100 units free electricity to the poor and waive half of the electricity bills. At the same time, liquor shops at panchayat levels should be closed down and small farmers should be given free electricity for agricultural purposes. Agitations will be held on 21-22 February all across Bihar including the capital Patna to ensure the success of the bandh.

Politics in India

Resist and Reject Political Opportunism

– ML Update, 12 – 18 March, 2014.

As the 2014 polls draw nearer, blatant political opportunism comes out in the open. Ram Vilas Paswan and his Lok Janshakti Party are now openly flirting with Modi. Udit Raj, Dalit leader of the Indian Justice Party, has already joined the BJP.

For the opportunists, anti-communalism is merely a convenient cloak that can be donned or doffed depending on the prevailing political winds. Nitish Kumar, who did not quit the NDA alliance in 2002, has broken his marathon alliance with BJP and now claims to be ‘secular’. Ram Vilas, who walked out of the NDA alliance in protest against the Gujarat genocide of 2002, is now cosying up to Modi. NCP leader Sharad Pawar too recently tried to indicate that the 2002 genocide was no longer an issue. Whether or not Ram Vilas or Pawar are merely seeking to increase their leverage with the Congress by showing that they have other options, the fact remains that ruling class parties have reduced anti-communalism to shameless, unprincipled opportunism. Earlier too, Chandrababu Naidu, convenor of the United Front, formed on a solely ‘anti-communal’ plank, had moved over to the NDA without a qualm. That history haunts us today, as the ‘Third Front has just held its meeting, and the CPI and CPIM are proclaiming this loosely cobbled coalition to be committed to resisting communalism and neoliberal economic policies. This ‘Third Front’ includes several parties who have been BJP allies or part of the BJP, some till very recently – JDU, BJD, AIADMK, and JVM(P) – and are now adopting a ‘secular’ posture. It also includes the Samajwadi Party which has mocked its secular pretensions by presiding over the worst communal riots and eviction of poor Muslims from villages in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts. Stitching together opportunists of various hues in the name of ‘anti-communalism’ can only erode the credibility of the essential, urgent struggle against communalism. And none of these so-called constituents of the ‘Third Front’ have any commitment to replacing pro-corporate economic policies with pro-poor policies. The BJD, for instance, is presiding over the worst forced land grab and corporate plunder in Odisha, unleashing repression on protesting adivasis and Left activists. To tout an alliance with such forces as an ‘alternative’ is a great disservice to people’s struggles against corporate plunder and communalism.

The Aam Aadmi Party claims to be above such opportunism – yet they too seem prone to reducing anti-communalism to selective posturing. Addressing Muslim academics and citizens at Indian Islamic Cultural Centre recently, Arvind Kejriwal observed that communalism is an even greater danger for the country than corruption. One wonders why the AAP can speak of this truth to an audience of Muslims, who are already acutely aware of the dangers of communalism because they are its worst victims, but will otherwise speak only of corruption, never of communalism? Why is the AAP calculatedly silent on the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, not far from Delhi and Haryana where the AAP enjoys considerable political strength?

Even as Modi paints himself as a ‘political untouchable’, and highlights his backward caste status, Ram Vilas and Udit Raj, like Mayawati in the past, are out to prove that Dalit interests can be compatible with the BJP. The truth is that the RSS, to which Modi and BJP owe allegiance, had wanted the anti-dalit, anti-women Manusmriti to be the Constitution of India. And Modi has, on record, described manual scavenging by Dalits as a ‘spiritual activity.’ So, subservience of Dalits is the reality of what BJP calls ‘samajik samrasta’ (social harmony).

Opportunism is also glaringly visible in the competitive posturing between JDU and BJP over the issue of Special State status for Bihar. In the wake of the formation of Telangana, Seemandhra has received the status of Special State. JDU has responded by calling a Bihar Bandh, and BJP a rail roko, in protest, claiming that this is a ‘betrayal’ of Bihar’s demand for Special State status. The question is: when Jharkhand was formed during NDA rule in 2000, why did BJP, and then NDA Minister Nitish Kumar, not ensure Special State status for Bihar? The same BJP and JDU, which turned a deaf ear to the demand for Special State status for Bihar when it was raised by CPI(ML) then, are today claiming to be champions of the same!

The role of the revolutionary Left cannot be to cobble together power-hungry parties in opportunist coalitions – it must be to powerfully assert the genuine struggle against communal fascism and pro-corporate governance, because only from those struggles can any genuine ‘Third Front’ actually emerge.

Politics in India

On Women’s Day This Year: Let’s Bring Women’s Freedom Onto the Political Agenda

Kavita Krishnan, Liberation, March, 2014.

Azaadi – freedom – was the slogan raised last year in the anti-rape movement. How should that azaadi translate into an anti-patriarchy manifesto for the 2014 election?

One fact stares us in the face: that ruling political formations across the board seem to wilfully refuse to accept women’s demand for freedom. Whether ‘democracy’ is defined in Parliamentary terms or in more radical terms of participatory democracy, political parties are proving to be unwilling to recognise that democracy can’t be consistent with patriarchy.

Let’s begin with the evocative slogan raised by young women during last year’s movement: ‘khap se bhi azaadi, baap/bhai se bhi azaadi.’ That slogan is actually a rich and insightful one. For those women, ‘khap’ isn’t just some aberrant institution found in Haryana or adjoining regions. They recognised the ‘khaps’ all around them in various guises – in their own homes, their hostel administrations, their caste and community structures, their own parents and brothers – seeking to take away their freedom in the name of their safety. That slogan displayed an instinctive recognition of the fact that patriarchy doesn’t rest only in rapist strangers, but in structures of caste, class, and community. By choosing ‘khap’ as the symbol for patriarchy, the slogan recognises that the same structures that oppress women, oppress dalits too. Men and women alike raised that slogan: recognising that patriarchy, like khaps, seeks to discipline and control women’s sexuality, by laying down moral diktats for women, and profiling and demonising men of ‘other’ castes and communities. They recognised the ‘khap’ in the IPC Section 377 that profiles and criminalises gay and transgender people.

When political parties act as defenders and apologists of khaps, they are telling us that the freedom and dignity of women and dalits really do not have much place in their vision of politics. When they tell us “Khaps are fine as long as they don’t coerce or kill”, they are telling us that oppressive and undemocratic structures are fine, as long as the structures are maintained without overt and obvious violence.

The problem is – those who demanded azaadi last year didn’t identify khaps only with ‘honour killings’: they recognised the khaps lurking in their discriminatory hostel curfews; and in their parents’ anxiety to get them married into the ‘right’ caste; in the daily, obsessive policing, by their own loved ones, of their friendships, their movements, their sexuality, all in the name of their ‘safety’. So, they located the oppressiveness of ‘khaps’ in the normal and everyday patriarchal restrictions and codes – not simply in the shock of spectacular ‘honour killings.’

As elections approach, with political parties choosing to rehabilitate khaps, we need to reflect on the violence this does to the principles of democracy and justice for women and oppressed castes.

Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, from the Congress party, sought to rehabilitate khaps by comparing them to Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). He’s not that far off the mark: the conduct of RWAs in Delhi’s Khirki or Munirka, or even in Mumbai, show deep-seated caste, communal, racial, and gender biases. In Delhi, the RWAs hold ‘panchayats’ to take decisions. When a body is allowed to ‘represent’ a community, without taking special pains to overturn hierarchies that already exist within those communities, it is bound to reflect and perpetuate those hierarchies.

The BJP used the platform of khap panchayats in Muzaffarnagar to communalise the Jat community, invoking the bogey of ‘love jehad’ and calling to ‘save daughters’ from Muslim men and ‘save honour’. To whip up communal tensions, the BJP used against Muslims, the strategies perfected by khaps against dalits: equating consensual love with dalit/Muslim men with rape; denying women freedoms in the name of ‘saving’ them from rape; and unleashing violence on the dalit/Muslim communities in the name of avenging hurts to ‘honour’.

The fact that the BJP, Congress, SP and so on should patronise khaps is no surprise. What about the Aam Admi Party (AAP), which many hope is forging a bold new political idiom, free from the old compulsions of caste-based politics? Preparing for an AAP rally in Rohtak, AAP National Executive member Naveen Jaihind has said what Congress leaders in Haryana routinely say: “There is no doubt that khaps are doing good work at different levels.”

And the pronouncements of various senior AAP leaders on khaps have been rather intellectually dishonest, not to mention politically opportunist. Since Yogendra Yadav has complained of being misquoted and misinterpreted, let us examine only the statements that he himself has authenticated. In his Facebook post on the subject, he said, “Every community (caste, tribe, ethnic group) has its internal mechanisms for routine dispute resolution. Such communitarian systems are not only permissible but are healthy and indeed essential. Pushing any and every social dispute into courts of law is unhealthy, unaffordable and socially destructive. If this is what Khap Panchayats do and to the extent to which they do this, there is nothing wrong with Khap Panchayats or any other caste/community association. The trouble begins when this dispute resolution becomes coercive and violates the law of the land,” and here he cites fatwas and ‘honour killings.’ In an interview to The Hindu, he has said “if they (khaps) try to resolve disputes by listening to only one community or by coercion, then we as a party do not accept that…All castes and communities have social organisations for internal dispute resolution but no coercion can be permitted. The law of the land is supreme and a murder is a murder.”

It isn’t just killings and fatwas that are coercive. Khaps seek to maintain the dominance of the Jats. They claim to speak for the ‘entire community’, but dalits and women have no place within the khaps. Can institutions dominated by a dominant caste men, be allowed the right to resolve ‘social disputes’ in a democracy, and can such a manner of dispute-resolution be termed ‘healthy’ and ‘essential’? What kinds of ‘social disputes’ do khaps seek to ‘resolve’, after all? If there is a ‘dispute’ over dalits’ occupancy of land, for instance, how on earth can Jat-dominated khaps have any right to ‘resolve’ such disputes?! When Yogendra Yadav says khaps should not resolve disputes by ‘listening to only one community’, is he saying that Jat-dominated khaps can resolve disputes as long as they ‘listen’ to dalits? One of the major crusades of khap panchayats in Haryana has been against women’s right to inherit property – and they have commanded enough political clout to get laws passed by the Assembly to this effect (the laws were eventually denied Presidential assent). What if there is a dispute between brothers and sisters over inheritance – can such openly patriarchal khaps be allowed to ‘resolve’ it?

On a TV debate, a prominent woman lawyer representing the BJP said that while khaps and families should not be allowed to pass diktats regarding marriage, they should at least be allowed to express ‘opinions’. ‘Expressing opinions’; ‘resolving disputes’ – how benign it all sounds! Can it really be alright for a khap to summon an inter-caste couple to its panchayat, to ‘hear’ its ‘opinion’ on a ‘dispute’ regarding their marriage?! Can we really pretend that khaps do not command terror over such couples? Such couples cannot even count on the police to protect them, since the police too hold the khaps to be healthier than the courts when it comes to ‘disputes’ over marriage, and consider it “socially disruptive” for people to approach the Courts to assert their rights as individuals. If khaps are allowed by the Government to retain such unrestrained social power and legitimacy, is it not inevitable that the killings of couples and violence on dalits will go on?

Let us accept that Yogendra Yadav and Bhupinder Hooda are not defending ‘honour killings’ – they say the ‘law must take its course’ if such killings occur. But are they even admitting that such killings by khaps are rampant – and that they are made possible by patronage and collusion of the state machinery? Arvind Kejriwal’s book Swaraj – the manifesto for the AAP, makes the point that empowered gram sabhas need not turn into khap panchayats. Granted, gram sabhas can be prevented from turning oppressive and dictatorial. But why does Kejriwal make it a point to distance himself from the suggestion that khaps do in fact order ‘honour killings’? He writes, “Whether Khap panchayats had given such orders (to kill couples) or not is a debatable issue.” If parties that rule and those that hope to rule, even deny that khaps do order killings, how can one hope to stop those killings?

I would agree that Indians do indeed need – and have been denied – a genuine, participatory, democratic Swaraj. What I wonder is, how to ensure that the azaadi demanded by women and by dalits and denied in six decades of free India, is an integral part of the imagining of that Swaraj? Such azaadi is absent in Kejriwal’s Swaraj. The latter has much on participatory self-governance as the panacea for combating corruption and restoring democracy. This concept is laudable, if it is invoked to assert people’s rights over natural resources and decisions concerning development. But it is notable that Kejriwal’s Swaraj does not seem to acknowledge hierarchical structures, let alone adopt a goal to do away with oppressive hierarchies.

If one goes by Kejriwal’s book, it would seem that ‘swaraj’ for women only involves women’s right to cancel liquor licences. The need to ensure that women have ‘swaraj’ in matters concerning their own lives, love, bodies, marriage, is not recognised. Likewise, what ‘swaraj’ would mean in the context of the rights of dalits or minorities, or the rights of dissenting individuals and communities (say, Kashmiris), is not discussed in the book. The book invokes the story of the ‘nagar vadhu (courtesan) of Vaishali’ to depict ‘the power of people over Kings’ in ancient times. This is the story of the people deciding that a certain woman was to become a courtesan (nagar vadhu = bride of the republic). She demanded, in return, the palace of the King, and the people took the palace away from the King and handed it over to her, asserting that the people, not the King, had the right to dispose of a palace constructed by people’s taxes. Kejriwal says the practice of ordering a woman to be a courtesan is wrong, yet cites this story approvingly as one of people’s power. It is hard to miss, in this story, that such ‘people’s power’ had the right not only over King’s palaces but over women’s bodies and choices. Yet Kejriwal manages to miss this point entirely. The problem, he doesn’t seem to realise, does not lie merely in ordering a woman to be a courtesan – it would be as bad if they ordered her to be a wife.

So, the task of radically reimagining a swaraj that will dismantle the structures that shackle women, dalits, and workers, remains. Meanwhile, as elections approach, how can we frame our political demands in ways that reflect our concern with azaadi, rather than with the protectionist politics of ‘suraksha’?

One way forward could be to frame ‘justice’ for women in terms of entitlements and services, rather than safety and punishment. I will share some ideas I have in this regard – by no means an exhaustive list. Public transport and public toilets could be prominent among such services and entitlements. The absence of public toilets shows the State’s blindness to women’s presence in public spaces; while men, by being able to casually relieve themselves in public, are marking those public spaces as ‘male’.

There was such an outcry over the brutal rape of little Gudiya in Delhi last year. Of course, the rapists must be punished. But can’t we broaden our political imagination enough to demand that the Government create safe spaces – especially in poor, working class settlements – for children to be cared for when their parents are at work? There is so much public outrage over rape. Can’t that outrage extend to other forms of violence that women face routinely – such as domestic violence? And can’t we demand that the Government provide district-based crisis centres where every woman who faces violence can get medical care, counselling, experienced legal advice and aid, and also get her police complaint filed, without having to move from pillar to post? Why can’t compensation and rehabilitation be the right of each survivor of rape and acid attack?

Free provision of sanitary pads, consulting women in planning public spaces, ensuring that liquor licences require the mandatory consent of the majority of women of the locality are other demands we could raise. What about public education against sexual harassment and rape? The current ad campaigns by the police focus purely on the acts of violence and the punitive consequences that can follow. Why can’t we put in place, from schools to colleges to streets and mohallas, a public campaign to promote women’s right to be free, not only from violence, but from the pressure to appear respectable? The right to feel welcome, regardless of what she’s wearing, who she loves and how, and what time of day or night she chooses to be out? Why can’t special efforts be made to introduce people – especially young people – from the more privileged communities to the worlds of minority communities and racial/ethnic groups, oppressed caste communities, slum dwellers, street vendors, domestic workers, sex workers, hijras, gay people and so on? If such efforts were to become routine, it could go a long way to combating prejudice and bias.

Why not demand that Governments stop treating women’s labour as patriarchal families treat it? That is, why can’t Governments stop patronising and protecting the under-payment of women workers? Raising of minimum wages, equal pay for equal work, acknowledging ASHA and anganwadi workers as government employees and paying them accordingly, ensuring toilets, mechanisms against sexual harassment, and health care for women at every work place could be a start. With these, we could demand various measures to end discrimination and safeguard rights. These could include scrapping of Section 377; state-run support centres for inter-caste and same-sex couples; and zero tolerance for moral policing either by state or non-state actors.

In this election, we could call upon women to ensure that leaders accused of gender violence are not re-elected. Also that leaders who either indulge in or remain silent on victim blaming and sexist language, or who justify stalking either as ‘wooing’ or as ‘protection’, are defeated. Instead, women could campaign to elect those women and men who are committed to the political vision of and struggle for women’s azaadi. If demands of this nature could take shape in the political imagination, politics could actually reflect a concern for gender justice, rather than be stubbornly resistant to it.

Struggles in India

Jan Vikalp Rally in Jharkhand Against Communal Forces

– Liberation, March, 2014.

On 6 Feb the Jharkhand CPI-ML Ramgarh-Hazaribagh District Committee organized a Jan Vikalp rally at Prakhand Maidan in Ramgarh to protest against corporate fascism, loot and corruption, and for development, employment, and prosperity. The rally was flagged off from Mines Rescue Bhavan, Nai Sarai and was attended by the poor, workers, farmers, and women from remote villages in large numbers.

A day before the rally, there had been an attempt by communal forces to incite riots and reap electoral benefits. Ramgarh had been converted into a police camp and the whole town was under section 144. Fascist forces, police and administration tried to put a spoke in the wheel of the CPI-ML rally but the people defied section 144 and made the rally a huge success, after which the situation in Ramgarh returned to normal. The rally was led byAll India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) leader , Revolutinoary Youth Association (RYA) leader Amal Ghosal, journalist Javed Islam, and other leaders. The march was also addressed by Party General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya.

Addressing the meeting, Com. Dipankar congratulated the gathering for their presence which had defeated the forces trying to spread communal passions in Jharkhand, and said that today the people have emphatically told communal forces all over India, through the Jan Vikalp rally, that they will never be allowed to succeed. Riots were engineered in Muzaffarnagar only for electoral gains; we must remain alert. Narendra Modi had recently come to Jharkhand and sneered at the State’s poverty, saying, “Give BJP a chance, we will bring prosperity to Jharkhand. “ He had conveniently forgotten that the first government in Jharkhand was a BJP government and they ruled for 9 years but could not bring any prosperity to the State. On 7 Feb, Rahul Gandhi would be coming to Jharkhand to do a road show. At many places hoardings are to be seen boasting, “We have implemented the Land Acquisition Bill.” But this Land Acquisition Bill is not for the farmers, it is for the big and powerful corporate families! If not, why was there firing on the farmers in Keredarai?

On Hemant Soren’s watch as CM, the Keredarai firing took place; under Babulal Marandi’s watch the Doranda firing had taken place. Com. Dipankar stressed that we need to change the policies, we must reverse the pro-rich policies. The country needs new policies in place of the old policies which only encourage price rise and corruption, and benefit corporate families.

Com. Dipankar pointed out that the mood of the nation was changing. The Congress says there has been development; metros are running in Delhi. Earlier, votes were sought on this development plank but this time water, electricity, and regularising contract workers became the issues. It is on these issues that a new Party came to power. The 2014 election will be for the protection of coal and mineral wealth, for saving Jal-Jangal-Jameen (water, forest, land) from the present loot. In rural Gujarat, people earning Rs. 10.80 are not being counted as “poor”, and the man who is thus playing with the lives of the poor is now projecting himself as PM candidate.

Com. Dipankar said that the corporate houses all over India have united on the issue of Narendra Modi for PM. Earlier it used to be Tata-Birla but now Jindals, Mittals, Ambanis and other corporate houses have established their control over Jal-Jangal-Jameen. Having reaped benefits from Manmohan Singh they now want further benefits from Narendra Modi. The struggle against displacement cannot be suppressed; the united forces of labourers, farmers, and the working classes across the country will give a fitting reply to the capitalists. No doubt, we will not get a ready-made alternative on a platter. An alternative cannot be formed by the discredited leaders and exposed Parties of Bihar, UP and Jharkhand. The alternative will have to be formed by the youth, tribals, working class, and all justice-loving people of the country.

Struggles in India

Bihar Bandh Demands Rollback of Power Tariff Hike, Revision Of Socio-Economic Census, Cancellation of Liquor Licences

Liberation, March, 2014.

The Bihar Bandh organized by the CPI(ML) on 23 February to demand rollback of hike in power tariff, revision of socio-economic census, and cancellation of liquor licences was a huge success. The major National Highways passing through the State including the GT roads at Barachatti in Gaya and Kamabigaha in Aurangabad were blocked from early morning, markets remained closed, and rail traffic at several places was obstructed.

At 11 AM in the capital Patna, thousands of bandh supporters led by senior Party leaders took out a procession from the Gandhi statue at Gandhi Maidan. Passing through Fraser Road, Dak Bangla crossing and station circle, the march returned to Dak Bangla crossing where a meeting was held. Bandh supporters from various parts of the city poured into the streets of Patna sporting red headbands.

In Patna the bandh was led by Party State Secretary Kunal, Politburo member Dhirendra Jha, Samkaleen Lok Yudh Editor Braj Bihari Pandey, and other leaders. Addressing the meeting at dak Bangla chowraha, these leaders along with 1000 bandh supporters were arrested and detained at the local kotwali thana. Around 5000 activists were arrested across Bihar.

Bandh participants expressed anger against the fake power bills and steep power tariff proposed by the Nitish Government. They pointed out that first the government sent false bills to the consumers and then slapped false cases on about 4000 consumers.

The speakers said that the issue of government licences to run liquor shops in villages and the decision to encourage continuous increase in liquor consumption is destroying rural life and has a very adverse effect on socio-economic development.

CPI-ML leaders said that apart from the above issues there are complaints of grave irregularities in the ongoing socio-economic census in Bihar. There is a big conspiracy afoot to distort the census and thus deprive large numbers of poor from their due benefits. In Patna and other places urban poor, handcart and footpath vendors are being evicted in the name of removing encroachments.

At Darbhanga bandh supporters stopped the Sampark Kranti Express in the morning itself and prevented its running for an hour. At Jehanabad and Ara trains were stopped and traffic on these rail section was completely paralysed. Trains were also stopped at Jhanjharpur, Islampur, Hilsa and Muzaffarpur causing obstruction for hours.

In Ara district bandh supporters closed main roads at Hasan Bazar, Bihata, Piro, Sandesh, sahar, Bihiya, Shahpur, Gadhani, Koilvar, Charpokhli and other places. Traffic on the NH-30 at Ara was obstructed and in Ara town CPI-ML LS candidate RYA President Raju Yadav led thousands of bandh supporters on to the streets. Roads were blocked at Vikramganj, Karup, Godari, Nasriganj, Dehri, Tilauthu, Dinara and Sasaram in Rohtas district. In Kaimur the bandh had pervasive effect at Bhabhua, Durgawati, Kunjra, Chainpur and Mohaniya. 240 bandh supporters were arrested while making the bandh successful at Ekta Chowk in Bhabhua. At Dumraon in Buxar road blocks were done at Dumraon-Vikramganj road, NH-30 in Sonbarsa, NH-28 in Brahmpur and Dinara-Buxar road in Dhansoi.

At Siwan about one thousand bandh supporters took to the streets in town. Apart from this main roads were blocked in Mairwa, Guthni chowraha, Aandar, Raghunathpur, Hasanpura, Tarwara, Badahiya and other places. At Betiya the bandh had widespread effect in Betiya, Narkatiyaganj, Belwa, Manjhariya, and Mainatand. Roads were blocked at 5 places in Gopalganj, traffic was obstructed on NH-28 and about 100 people were arrested. Road jams were done at Mirganj, Bhore, Dighwa, Dighauli and other places in Vijaypur block. Motihari bazaar was totally closed. A meeting was also held at Meenabazar chowk. Major commercial establishments of the town remained closed. At Chhapra the Nagarpalika chowk was blocked by hundreds of people for 1 hour. At Vaishali a 200-strong procession marched from the Party office to station golambar and blocked station chowk.

In Patna district, Dhanrua, Masaudhi, Bihata, Naubatpur, Paliganj bazaars remained fully closed. At Arwal NH-98 (Patna-Aurangabad road) and NH-110 (Arwal-Jehanabad road) were blocked after which a meeting was held on the road itself, attended by 1000 people. Main roads were blocked in Kurtha, Kaler, Karpi and other places. At Arwal Party State standing committee member Com. Mahanand led the bandh programmes. At both Jehanabad and Dhanrua traffic on NH-83 was blocked. At Jehanabad the markets in Shaho Bigaha, Ghosi, Jehanabad, Hulasganj were fully closed. About 350 bandh supporters were arrested at the Arwal mod in Jehanabad.

At Gaya traffic was paralysed on the Gaya-Islampur road at Khijarsarai, NH-83 at Belaganj, Gaya-Chatrara road at Dobhi, and other places. Party activists were on the streets from early morning at Imamganj, Gudaru, Manpur and District HQ’s. 150 people were arrested at Belapur. At Nalanda bandh supporters poured into the streets in Silao, Biharsharif, Hilsa and Islampur. There are reports of the arrest of about 500 bandh supporters in Silao. At Aurangabad road blocks were done on NH-98 in Obra and Gaya-Daoodnagar road in Pachrukhiya.

At Madhuban, Madhuban-patna and Madhuban-Phulparas roads were blocked. At Darbhanga traffic was paralysed on NH-57, Darbhanga-Jainagar, Darbhanga-Samastipur, Lehariyasarai-Bahedi, Darbhanga-Supaul and other roads. At Muzaffarpur NH-57, Gayaghat and Bochaha and Muzaffarpur-Shivhar road at Meenapur were blocked. From early morning CPI-ML activists were on the streets in town. At Purnea, Purnea-Bhagalpur road and Rupauli and Birauli markets were fully closed. At Beguserai NH-31 and Ballia and Gadhpura roads were blocked. At Bhagalpur marches were taken out in support of the bandh at Bhagalpur, Jagdishpur, kahalgaon and Navgachhiya. 70 bandh supporters were arrested while blocking the NH at Bhagalpur where the bandh was led by CPI-ML CC member Com. Saroj Choube. The effect of the bandh at Sitamarhi was also pervasive.

Struggles in India

Massive Peasant-Worker Rally Marks 2nd National Conference of AIKM

– Liberation, March, 2014.

Panjab Kisan Union and Majdoor Mukti Morcha Punjab jointly organized a massive ‘Majdoor Kisan Ekta Rally’ at Mansa on 24th February to mark the second national conference of All India Kisan Mahasabha. The rally was presided over by Ruldu Singh Mansa, President AIKM, and Dipanker Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML) Liberation was the main speaker at the rally. The rally was also addressed by Mangat Ram Pasla, GS, CPM(Punjab), Gulam Mohammed Jaula, President, All India Kisan Majdoor Manch, Raja Ram Singh, GS AIKM, Bhagwant Singh Samao, President, Majdoor Mukti Morcha, Gurpreet Singh Rureke, GS of the brick workers’; union Laal Jhanda Punjab Bhattha Majdoor Union (AICCTU).

Addressing the rally, Com Dipankar said that the ruling classes want to divert the attention of the masses from the real issue of reversing anti-people policies to that of choosing between individual leaders. He said that the people will have to thrust their agendas into the arena of political battle of 2014.

Comrade Pasla said that this rally of peasants and the agrarian workers is a fitting reply to the corporate funded rally organised by the ruling Akali Dal and BJP at Moga a day before. He also said that this is a time for the left and progressive forces to unite and advance the agendas of the working class struggle. He called upon the CPI and CPI(M) to distinguish clearly between friends and foes and not to go into opportunist alliances with discredited forces like Nitish Kumar, Jayalalita or Congress for a few parliamentary seats. A large number of delegates of AIKM from all over India were also present at the rally.

Struggles in India

Anniversary of TU Strike: Workers’ Protest Demanding Their Rights

– Liberation, March, 2014.

Hundreds of workers gathered in front of City Magistrate Office in Noida (India) demanding the release of their fellow comrades falsely arrested during the nationwide trade union strike on February 21st 2013. Many workers belonging to various trade unions are still in jail and charged with false cases under the direction of UP Government to protect the vested interests of bourgeoisie industrialists. Also the workers protested against the exploitation under the hands of police-capitalists-government nexus and demanded their basic rights. The protest was organized under the banner of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and Revolutionary Youth Association.

The protest was addressed by Santosh Rai, secretary of the Delhi unit of AICCTU, Aslam Khan, National Vice President of RYA, Rakhi Sehgal, Vice President, Hero Honda Theka Mazdoor Sangathan, Dharuhera (affiliated to NTUI), Farhan, from AISA’;s Jamia unit, Shivji of AICCTU (Noida) and Hareram Yadav, AICCTU (Khoda) who was jailed last year on false charges during the trade union strike. Later the workers submitted a memorandum to UP Chief Minister through the city magistrate with demands including: (1) End contract labour policy in both public and private sectors, (2) Give a deadline to provide pucca houses for the people living in jhuggis, (3) Implement minimum wages/15000/8 hours, workplace safety norms, along with other labour laws in all companies, factories, hotels and shops in Noida, (4) Ensure that employers provide identity card to all workers, (5) Enact laws to guarantee urban employment with the provision for assured employment for 200 days along with the provision to provide compensation in case of unemployment for sustenance, (6) Ensure speedy issuance of Social Security card for all construction workers, (7) Give deadline for giving licenses and dedicated space for all the hawkers, feriwalas, vendors and rickshaw-walas in Noida, (8) Implement existing laws for women workers under which they can avail all the facilities including creche and toilets at the earliest, (9) Enact Domestic Workers Law along the lines of the laws for domestic workers in Maharashtra, (10) Start a Workers helpline to address the workers’ grievances and special squads to ensure speedy action on these grievances, (11) Increase the number of labor inspectors, factory inspectors, etc to ensure that labor laws are adhered to in work places and provide a labor court in every industrial zone, (12) Ensure proper organization of ration shops and provide ration cards to all citizens at the earliest along with action against ration card fraud, (13) Ensure proper drainage of dirty water in all the jhuggies-basties of the area along with cleaning, repairing the supply of clean water, and road repairs.

Struggles in India

Handloom Weavers’ Rally in Puducherry

– Liberation, March, 2014.

A rally of handloom weavers was held on 17 Febreuary in Puducherry. The rally was led by Com. S.Balasubramanian, State President of AICCTU, Puducherry. Hundreds of handloom Weavers mainly women workers took part in the rally. The rally passed through the main streets of Puducherry and culminated into a big demonstration infront of the state legislative assembly.

Com. P.Sankaran, Vice President, Com S. Motilal, State Gen. Secretary and com P.Murugan CWC member AICWF addressed the demonstrations. A delegation led by Com. S.Balasubramanian met the Chief Minister and submitted a charter of demands, including the demand for protection of handloom weavers, monthly minimum wages of Rs.15,000/, release of the outstanding amount of 2.5 core rupees to the apex Co-operative export development society, rebuilding of fallen sheds of Handloom Weavers society, Rs.10,000/- compensation to each woman worker who suffered due to roof collapse, gratuity, waiver of loans and a monthly pension of Rs.3000/ to handloom weavers, enhancing of rainy season relief, and free housing scheme.

Struggles in India

AICCTU IN NIMHANS Hospital, Bangalore

 – ML Update, 12 – 18 March, 2014.

Unorganised workers of NIMHANS formed a union, ‘NIMHANS Pragathipara Workers’ Union’, affiliated to AICCTU and its inaugual General Body was held on 22 Feb. 2014. The workers demanded same payment and other service condiitons for the unorganised workers engaged in same and similar kind of work; regularisation of all unorganised workers and bring them under the pay rolls of NIMHANS; Service weightage; Hospital care allowance and Risk Allowance in addition to Privilege Leave, Casual Leave and Government Holidays; mandatory ESI to all and entitlement for treatment in NIMHANS Staff Clinic; Recruitment of more workers to reduce the work burden on existing lesser number of workers and to stick to Patient – Worker Norms for hospitals, etc. The General Body decided on the Demands Charter to be placed before the NIMHANS administration.

Next to PGI, Chandigarh and and Lallaram Hospital in Delhi, NHRM and ASHA workers in Bihar, Jharkhand and other Hindi speaking states, AICCTU has organised contract workers of NIMHANS in Bangalore. After a decisive battle, PGI has won an order of ‘;Same payment for same work’; which is roughly equivalent to 23000 being drawn by any government employee in the lowest grade of Group D. NPWU / AICCTU has also joined the Confederation of Central Government Hospital Employees and Workers.

Dr. Pradnya Rajesh Bhargave of NIMHANS SC/ST Welfare Association, V Muthukumaran, Legal Advisor to NIMHANS Employees Association, Ravi R, Vice President of National Tuberculosis Institute Non Gazetted Staf Association addressed the gathering along with Com. Shankar, All India Vice President, S. Balan, Karnataka State President, Appanna, State Secretary of AICCTU and Ranjani of All India Progressive Women’;s Association addressed the gathering.

The General Body also decided to send a Workers’; Charter of Demands to be placed before the NIMHANS administration and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of central government for speedy resolution.

Com. Shankar condemned the anti-worker attitude of the central government and demanded NIMHANS administration for early negotiation with the union in order to resolve all outstanding issues of the unorganised workers.

Com. Balan called upon all workers to resort to the path of struggle to win over the demands.

National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) is one of those handful of select medical institutions like AIIMS, Delhi, PGI, Chandigarh and JIPMER, Pondicherry. Recently, it has also won the status of a Deemed University. But, in spite of being a hospital run by the central government, none of the labour laws are in force. The central government, which is also an appropriate government, is showing utter neglect on unorganised workers’; issues.

Culture

Gorakhpur to Kolkata: Cinema Caravan Picks up Pace in Eight Years

– Kasturi and Sanjay Joshi, Liberation, March, 2014.

Main akela hi chala tha jaanib-e-manzil magar

Log saath aate gaye aur kaarvaan banta gaya

-Majrooh Sultanpuri

(Alone I was going towards my destination, but/
People came along and the caravan grew)

Had the modest initiative that took off from a mid-sized town in Uttar Pradesh eight years back not taken wing beyond Gorakhpur, perhaps this piece would not have been necessary. In 2006, some cultural activists got together and pooled contributions from the people of that town to arrange a film festival, albeit of a kind that the Hindutva-dominated Gorakhpur was not used to. Soon enough the festival became an annual affair in Gorakhpur and would be entering its ninth year in a row. It did create perceptible ripples in the local cultural scenario and punched a few holes in the right places. But what was definitely not foreseen at the start of the journey was the proliferation of Cinema of Resistance festivals, which over years grew roots in more than ten cities spread across seven states. Inspired by the UP experience, chapters sprouted in Bihar, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. In the coming year, the movement is preparing to take its first steps in four more states, namely Punjab, Delhi/NCR, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, as local teams begin to crystallize. Perhaps it is a good time for a retrospective pause to take stock of the journey that has brought us here.

Starting from the late ninetees, with filmmaking technology becoming portable, affordable and widely available, India had been witnessing a phase where a number of serious and committed filmmakers were embracing the documentary. Methods of procuring and screening films also had gone through an astonishingly fast change, as far as technology was concerned. However, there was a mismatch between demand and supply when it came to the scenario of public screening of documentaries. The public hardly got the chance to watch documentaries with the market-driven television, cinema halls and fast-emerging multiplexes all-engrossed with ‘features’ and Bollywood. The movement wanted to fill that lacuna. It decided to focus on the genre of cinema that was truly concerned with issues facing us as people. Ashutosh Kumar, a comrade from UP, came up with the name Cinema of Resistance for our movement. At the crux of the matter is the people’s resistance –against the neoliberal economic onslaught, feudal fetters, imperialist domination and those of patriarchy, caste-oppression and religious majoritarianism. This constitutes the pulsating heart of resistance. We as cultural activists working with cinema became a part of this fight. Co-fighters, if you will. With all these on our minds, the First Gorakhpur Film Festival came into being in the March of 2006. It was Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s Martyrdom Day.

In little more than two years, the Cinema of Resistance initiative started getting popular in the towns of UP. News spread from one town to another. We started organizing cinema workshops to help consolidate the ideals and to educate organizers on film-curation. In this way Cinema of Resistance spread to Lucknow in 2008, Patna and Nainital in 2009 and Allahabad in 2011. The organizers of these festivals were inspired from their experiences in attending the Gorakhpur Film Festival in successive years. When a bunch of university students from Banaras participated in the Allahabad Film Festival, they were enthused in turn to start a Chapter in their city. Another instance was when a young man from Udaipur put to use his experience of the Gorakhpur and Lucknow festivals to build a Udaipur chapter from scratch. In the eight years from Gorakhpur (2006) to Kolkata (2014) the movement has successfully organized a total of thirty-five independent film festivals in the towns of Gorakhpur, Bareilly, Lucknow, Nainital, Bhilai, Patna, Indore, Balia, Allahabad, Banaras, Azamgarh, Salempur, Udaipur and Kolkata. Salempur has been a particularly interesting beginning, for the small town neighbouring Dewaria in UP, has a meagre population of seventeen thousand people. It had never experienced a film festival before. This also brings us to the issue of cultural space in big cities versus smaller towns and villages. Several Indian metros have had regular film festivals organized either by the Ministry of Culture or by Media/Film institutes. Besides, the percolation of the internet has enabled the middle-class in the metros to freely access and download world cinema. The picture is grim in suburbs and smaller towns however, save for very few which have active cine clubs or film-societies. And for most people in our villages, internet remains a distant dream. The other shrinking space is that of single-screen cinema halls that are fast shutting shop particularly in towns and even in metros, with the advent of the multiplexes. As a result of all this, commercial screening spaces for non-mainstream cinema have become scarce. Faced with such a scenario, our future trajectory would have to be two-layered. Besides taking our caravan to different states, we would have to deepen efforts in our existing areas of work and travel from big cities towards small towns, from small towns towards villages.

From the very beginning we relied on people’s funding, which sometimes appeared as a hurdle, particularly when we started work in a new pocket. But later on, this aspect itself would become one of our greatest strengths. By the design of it, in every chapter our organizers would have to reach out to the maximum number of people in town. By design, several interested people would thus get involved and drawn into the organizing team itself. By design, the initiative could not be run by a handful individuals but had to involve a big team comprising of folks from varied age-groups and various walks of life. This increased the reach of our organization, helped build mass contacts and made sure that local issues were reflected in the curation of films to be screened. This was in contrast with sponsored festivals where funding flowed in from pre-defined sources and the organizers never lost sleep over audience turnout. This also helped fashion a curation policy aligned with local politico-cultural needs. A curator funded by big foundations and CSR wings of companies or NGOs can well overlook local issues but a curator who runs by the direct support of five hundred people can’t afford to be detached from the people’s expectations from a cultural initiative like the Cinema of Resistance. This gets reflected in the documentaries, shorts and feature films we curate for our festivals. The integration of other art forms like theater and music also came organically, as had been our tradition. To put it in short, we did not envisage Cinema of Resistance as a film-screening exercise for the sake of film-appreciation. Rather, we wanted to build a platform, with cinema as the primary medium, to amplify the voices of people’s movements on the ground and to use cinema as a medium to initiate debates and dialogue to challenge the market-driven discourse on ‘development’, ‘progress’ and the ‘ideal society’ we strive for. Naturally we tried to integrate all the other art forms at our disposal, to this end of making our festivals a platform for the oppressed and marginal voices. The documentary helped in raising the issues directly and to break the dominant narrative-form of mainstream cinema. The audience that would readily buy tickets to go for a Gangs of Wasseypur or a Love. Sex aur Dhokha would not go for a Anand Patwardhan or Sanjay Kak documentary with the same readiness. Our job is to try and change this deep-rooted cultural attitude.

What have we been able to achieve in all these years? Have there been any impact of the documentaries on our new audience? Instead of making a sweeping claim on that, it is perhaps more educative to recount a few real anecdotes. A group of people from Uttarakhand had come that year to the Gorakhpur festival where we had screened a Hindi version of K. P. Sasi’s Resisting Coastal Invasion. The Hindi title was Sagar Tat Ke Saudagar. They immediately linked the roots of the problem to those of big dams in their state. They went back and began screening documentaries critiquing big dams, and always included documentaries addressing issues of the environment and ecology in their own festivals. Sasi’s film had left its mark on their minds. When Cinema of Resistance ventured into film production, there was a local demand to make a film on Japanese Encephalitis, an epidemic that took its toll on children in the area. We made a film from the people’s contributions and used it to spread awareness in the area. The other instance was when in the Salmpur Film Festival we screened Biju Toppo and Meghnath’s Gadi Lohardaga Mail, a poignant and lyrical film about the songs of migrant workers of Jharkhand and a nostalgic train ride. The audience was visibly moved by the film. In the discussion session that ensued, we came to know of a similar train that runs between Barhaj and Salempur. In this way people’s stories get linked. People connect with each other. The screening of Anand Patwardhan’s Occupation: Millworker among workers of a closed Jute Mill in Naihati of West Bengal forged similar bondings amongst millworkers separated by boundaries of space and time. Examples abound. In Bhilai the sanitation workers’ union requested us to curate a film on the plight of sanitation workers. We screened Pee (Shit) by Amudhan R. P., using live dubbing to transcend the language barrier. The audience related immediately. In a similar instance, when we screened Kachra Kondi (produced by the Safaai Kaamgaar Union of Pune) in Gorakhpur, we invited the union representatives themselves to talk about their film, which prompted the Gorakhpur audience to open up on issues faced by sanitation workers in their town. Then again if you look at Kashmir or Manipur, no one can ignore the role of Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi or Haobam Paban Kumar’s AFSPA 1958 to help educate audiences to challenge and question the nationalistic discourse on the question of autonomy, self-determination and militaristic dominance.

India is experiencing monopolistic aggression of Capital on an unprecedented scale. And this aggression is not confined to mining and land-grab alone. The cultural sphere is not being spared. Over ninety percent of our cultural space is dominated by big players like UTV, Reliance, or Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms. All our news and electronic media are owned by a handful few companies. They are carrying corporate propaganda like never before. Bollywood is churning out films by certain formulae, like the ‘gangster formula’, the ‘terrorist formula’ or the ‘NRI formula’. And the entire distribution network is again controlled by the big sharks themselves. How must we confront this scenario other than by building a strong and self-sustained alternative model? We must use technology in a radical manner to this end. Which brings us to the closing anecdote of this piece. In 1969, the Argentinian filmmaker Fernando Solanas gave a radio interview to Jean-Luc Godard, after the release of the iconic The Hour of the Furnaces. After a while when Solanas asked Godard about his views, Godard reportedly said he wanted to use the camera in the same way as the Vietnamese fighters had used the bicycle against the US aggressors. We must have a radical mindset to similarly use all the technology currently at our command and disposal.

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