September-October 2014

Table of Contents

1) By-poll Pointers: Early Warning for the Modi Government
2) 100 Days of Betrayal and Warning
3) Bengaluru Municipal Corporation Sanitation Workers Rally
4) AICCTU Dharna to Protest 100 days of Betrayal of Modi Government
5) Women’s ‘Empowerment’?
6) Women Can Work Night Shifts
7) Gana Mancha Enquires Into Rape-Murder of CPI(M) Supporter
8) Tea garden workers rally for rights
9) Birth Centenary of Late CPI GS Chandra Rajeswara Rao
10) Joint Anti-Imperialist Rally in Kolkata by Left Parties
11) UR Ananthamurthy
12) Red Salute, Nabarun Da!

Politics in India

By-poll Pointers: Early Warning for the Modi Government

– ML Update, 26 Aug. – 1 Sept. , 2014.

The by-poll results from Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, and earlier from Uttarakhand, have come as a veritable blow to the BJP’s political ambitions revolving around the Modi government at the Centre. By-polls are of course by-polls and these have all been assembly by-polls at that. Moreover, except Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, the three other states where by-polls have taken place so far are all ruled by non-BJP governments. Political commentators would therefore naturally plead for caution and refuse to jump to any conclusion as to what the by-polls foretell about the forthcoming round of Assembly elections. But viewed together, the by-polls have definitely sent out an unmistakable early warning to the Modi government.

In Uttarakhand, where the BJP had swept the polls in May, all the three by-poll results have gone in favour of the Congress. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has wrested one of the three seats that went for by-polls from the BJP. In Punjab, the Congress has retained the Patiala assembly seat despite losing out to AAP in the Lok Sabha elections. In Karnataka, the Congress has claimed the Bellary rural seat by a massive margin while the BJP has managed to retain the seat held earlier by party strongman and former CM Yeddyurappa only by a slender margin of 4,000 votes (the BJP’s lead during the Lok Sabha election from this segment was an astounding 70,000). The most stunning and representative results have come from Bihar where the BJP has managed to win just 4 out of 10 seats – a loss of two seats from its 2010 tally and a much bigger drop of five seats compared to the 2014 LS leads.

The Bihar results are being generally attributed to the coming together of the JDU and the RJD-Congress combine. While the coalition arithmetic has certainly played a big role in the BJP’s defeat, we must note that the BJP’s vote share has gone down by as much as 8% (45.3% in the LS polls to 37.3% in August). Not all these votes have gone to the RJD-JDU-Congress alliance whose vote share has increased by 4.6%. The united Left bloc of CPI(ML), CPI and CPI(M) has also succeeded in improving its vote share, polling close to 50,000 votes from the 9 seats contested, none of which is known to be a significant Left stronghold in recent times.

Another round of by-polls is to be held next month in UP and Gujarat before we go for the next big series of Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. Assembly elections in Bihar are also only little more than a year away. Viewed in this context, the by-poll results clearly mark an early warning against the BJP government at the Centre and the BJP’s attempt to enforce its corporate-communal agenda and its unilateral political domination over large parts of the country. There were many takers for Modi’s election rhetoric of ‘better days’ and ‘inclusive governance’, but today more and more people are expressing their resentment over the post-poll reality of rising prices and escalating communal violence.

It will be most unrealistic to expect the BJP to heed the democratic voice of the people. The BJP only knows how to pay lip-service to democracy in the interest of its ultimate agenda of communal division and corporate tyranny. Communal polarisation played a big part in the BJP’s stunning poll victories in UP and the party is working overtime to spread the communal venom in the hope of replicating its UP success across the country. While Modi is busy laying foundation stones and inaugurating projects in poll-bound states, thugs of the Sangh brigade are busy invoking every possible bogey to create chaos and spread communal mischief. It should be noted that even as by-poll results were being announced in Bihar, BJP activists were on a rampage in Ranchi in the name of decrying what they call ‘love jihad’.

While serving an early warning to the BJP, the by-poll results have also sent out a message of encouragement for all those who are fighting against the BJP’s authoritarian mode of governance and corporate-communal agenda. The Congress or the RJD-JDU-Congress combine may have been the primary electoral beneficiaries of the developing popular mood in the given situation, but the Left must champion the underlying aspirations of the people and emerge as a stronger political force in opposition to both NDA and UPA.

Politics in India

100 Days of Betrayal and Warning

– ML Update, 2 – 4 Sept. , 2014.

100 days – mostly hard and bitter, not of the dreamy and sweet kind promised before the elections – have elapsed since Narendra Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India’s first BJP-majority government. The new government may not yet have unveiled any clearly formulated policy agenda, but we already have enough pronouncements and indications to assess which way the government is headed. And when Narendra Modi and the BJP are at the helm of governance, it does not make sense to focus our attention only on the government. The actions of the party and its numerous Sanghi siblings and coalition cousins clearly have no less impact on the overall milieu.

Talking of policy initiatives, the new government is pursuing the familiar UPA agenda with greater intensity. Almost the entire economy has now been thrown open to foreign capital, with Narendra Modi dramatically inviting foreign capital to “come, make in India” on the anniversary of India’s independence from colonial rule. From railway to finance and even defence, every sector will now see greater penetration of foreign capital. And in a bid to make a final rupture with the Nehruvian legacy of economic governance, the new government has decided to do away with the Planning Commission. With systematic disinvestment, private corporations will now have a free run on India’s rich resources, cheap labour and growing market.

While giving a freer hand to big capital, the government seems committed to subverting and weakening the framework of rights for the working people. Major amendments are being mooted in labour laws, food security and employment guarantee legislations are being rendered toothless, and safeguards against indiscriminate land acquisition are being planned to be systematically subverted. Instead of ensuring universal rights to food, shelter, sanitation, health, education and employment, the government is promising development through MP/MLA funds and so-called corporate benevolence. The Jan Dhan scheme is high on symbolism and low on substance: it promises financial inclusion through bank accounts, debit cards and pretentious insurance covers without any indication of augmentation of the abysmally low income levels for the toiling masses.

Modi has also been trying to project a range of foreign policy initiatives beginning with the surprising invitation to leaders of South Asian countries during his swearing-in ceremony. The promise of opening a new chapter in relations with neighbouring countries has however already given way to the reality of cancellation of talks with Pakistan. His government’s silence on Israel’s war on Gaza and the refusal to adopt even a parliamentary resolution condemning Israeli aggression have signalled a new low in India’s international profile, reducing India virtually to an appendage of the US-Israel war machine. While Modi was most unimpressive at the BRICS summit in Brazil, in Japan he went so far as to invite Japanese investment representatives to become a part of India’s ‘decision-making process.’ With his oblique comments against China, he has left no one in any doubt about his government’s keenness to drag India into an anti-China axis with US and Japan.

While Modi thus looks determined to shed the last vestiges of the Nehruvian legacy in economic and foreign policy domains, in the arena of governance he is in a hurry to inculcate the Indira style of centralisation of power and authoritarian rule. The PMO has emerged as the super cabinet monitoring every minister. Contrary to the poll rhetoric of ‘cooperative federalism’, Governors appointed during the UPA period have been forced to step down and are being replaced brazenly with political appointees to tighten the Centre’s stranglehold around the states. From appointment of judges to dealing with various institutions – executive interference and partisan control have become the order of the day. The Modi cult has also brought about a metamorphosis in the BJP, reducing the party which once used to ridicule the Congress for its culture of sycophancy to a veritable fiefdom of Modi and his Man Friday who manages the party presidency.

The biggest worry for the common Indian is however not that Modi has forgotten his poll promise of ‘achchhe din’, it is the impunity and brazenness with which the entire Sangh brigade is enforcing its agenda of communal polarisation. Communal targeting of the Muslim youth is spreading dangerously across the country. The brutal murder of software professional Mohsin Sadique Shaikh in Pune shortly after the May 16 Verdict and Modi’s refusal to condemn the killing were dangerous early warnings that have now assumed alarming proportions with the BJP crying ‘love jihad’ at every instance of a Muslim man marrying a Hindu woman and Yogi Adityanath spewing communal venom as the incharge of the BJP campaign for the forthcoming UP by-polls. Meanwhile RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has begun his sinister campaign to redefine India and Indians – the word Hindu is coterminous for him with Indian! From physical violence to ideological assaults, the power-drunk BJP and Sangh brigade have started going berserk.

The signs of sanity have come from the people in the by-polls in July and August. The people have made it abundantly clear that the verdict for Modi in May was no licence for the BJP to ride roughshod on the people’s livelihood and civil liberties. Modi has gone on record complaining that he has not been given the kind of honeymoon period that new rulers are traditionally supposed to enjoy. A demagogue who betrays the people does not deserve any benefit of doubt. The developmental aspirations and democratic determination of the Indian people must prevail over every authoritarian whim and communal conspiracy.

Struggles in India

Bengaluru Municipal Corporation Sanitation Workers Rally

– CPI (ML) Statement, August, 2014.

Karnataka Labour Minister Ghar Chalo
On 27th Aug. 2014, over 1000 guttige powrakarmikas (Contract Sanitation Workers) of AICCTU (All India Central Council of Trade Unions) assembled at the Gandhi Statue (near Mourya Hotel, Race Course road) to march to the residence of the Labour Minister demanding that the State Government take all steps necessary towards payment of minimum wages to guttige powrakarmikas.

The failure to pay contract powrakarmikas amounts to nothing less that sheer daylight robbery of their wages. Furthermore they are not paid their wages regularly, and in numerous wards the powrakarmikas have not been paid their wages for 1 – 4 months. It has been the experience that the wages, when paid, are subject to arbitrary deductions and made anytime during the month but never before the 2nd week. It is also seen that the ESI and PF benefits are denied to powrakarmikas in several wards.

It is undeniably unacceptable and unconscionable that in this silicon city, in this capital of Karnataka, the contract powrakarmikas who slog to keep the city clean and protect the health of all people, are treated literally as slave labour and are paid a pittance, which is much below the State Government notified minimum wages. This is not merely a violation of labour laws but amounts to a serious violation of the fundamental rights of the contract powrakarmikas. In Peoples Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India and Others [AIR 1982 SC 1473], commonly known as the Asiad Games case, the Supreme Court has held that “…We are therefore of the view that where a person provides labour or service to another for remuneration which is less than the minimum wage, the labour or service provided by him clearly falls within the scope and ambit of the words ‘forced labour’ under Article 23…”

There is complete breakdown of state machinery in this regard with all the concerned departments including the Labour Department and the BBMP regarding the failure to pay notified minimum wages to the contract powrakarmikas on monthly basis and within time but no action has been initiated on their part. This aspect has also been drawn to the attention of the Hon’ble Labour Minister during the last meeting of the Contract Labour Advisory Board, who had indicated that a meeting would be called in this regard.
About 18,709 contract powrakarmikas and about 3000 permanent workers are employed to keep Bangalore’s city clean and protect the health of its citizens. While the permanent powrakarmikas receive wages of more than Rs, 20,000/- and get all the benefits, the contract powrakarmikas receive wages of about Rs. 5,054/, and are deprived of any benefits including pension, housing, leave, etc. Even the basic safety equipment such as gloves, masks and gum boots are denied and they are forced to work 365 days a year. The Government has notified minimum wages (basic + VDA) for contract BBMP powrakarmikas. However, the contract BBMP powrakarmikas are paid Rs. 5,054/ and lesser too and are being denied payment of the Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA) from atleast April 2011 onwards. The VDA of Rs. 408/- per month from April 2011, additional Rs. 408/- per month from April 2012, additional D.A. of Rs. 542/- per month from April 2013 and further additional D.A. of Rs. 846/- per month from 1/4/2014.
In this regard it most appropriate to remember the words of Jawaharlal Nehru spoken on 2nd January, 1964, at a huge gathering of safaikaramcharis at Ramlila Ground, New Delhi: “I cannot refuse to meet you. So I have to come here. I don’t know what I shall tell you as I feel ashamed. Long back I had a chance to visit your bastis, where you live. On seeing the most pitiable conditions, I was very much shocked I realized that even after independence of the country, you have been suffering in the same way as you had been before independence. All this worries me and therefore I was hesitating to be in your midst.”

Yes, even 67 years after Independence, the contract powrakarmikas, all of whom are dalit, and predominantly women, are still waiting for their dreams to be fulfilled. One small step in that direction would be the ensuring of payment of, at the very least, the government notified minimum wages and benefits.

Hence, there was no option left but to come to meet the Karnataka Labour Minister today and personally acquaint the minister with the injustices. The demonstrators urged the Labour Minister to take an immediate decision and issue express orders to the concerned departments directing payment of minimum wages to each and every contract powrakarmikas including as below:
1. Immediate payment of notified minimum wages (including VDA) from September 2014 onwards.
2. Immediate payment of VDA arrears from the year 2011 onwards.
3. Payment of wages before the 7th of each month.
4. ESI and PF benefits to be extended to each and every contract powrakarmika.

Struggles in India

AICCTU Dharna to Protest 100 days of Betrayal of Modi Government

– ML Update, 2 – 4 September, 2014.

Factory workers, street vendors, DTC workers, construction workers, domestic workers, health and sanitation workers were among those who, under the banner of the AICCTU, held a powerful Dharna at Jantar Mantar on 3 September 2014 to protest a 100 days of the Modi Government’s betrayal of its promises to the people.

Protesters raised slogans demanding to know why the promise of ‘acche din’ has turned into the reality of ‘bure din’, and why Modi Sarkar was behaving like UPA-III.

At the dharna, AICCTU National Secretary Rajiv Dimri said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to bring “good days” for the working people in his election campaign. Angered by the anti-people policies of the Congress-led UPA government that led to price rise, unemployment and corruption, the people gave a huge mandate to Mr Modi. After assuming power, however, the same Modi government is pursuing the same economic policies as the UPA Government. Now in power, Modi is asking people to bear hardships for the nation – while continuing to dole out generous sops to corporations. Price hike goes unabated, hoarding has remained beyond control, the hike in railway ticket and freight prices are quite unprecedented and it is likely to maintain an upward trend like petrol prices in the future.”

All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA) National General Secretary Dhirendra Jha addressed hundreds of workers gathered where he said, “First three months and the budget indicate without doubt that the Modi-led government is implementing the policies of the earlier government even more ruthlessly than before. If good days have come, it is for Ambanis, Adanis, Tatas and Mittals – not the common people of this country.” To sell off the public sector, the government has a disinvestment target of 43 thousand crores. It has increased the limit of FDI to 49 percent in the defence sector and 100 percent in the railways. In the planned US trip this September, Modi has two gifts to give – one is insurance sector and the other is defence. On the one hand, the corporate sector has got a relief of 5.32 lakh crore and on the other, much investment of public money has been made in rail, road and ports which through the PPP model would benefit corporate players. The road to acquire forests, land and minerals by corporates is also being made easy by the government. In the social sector, budgetary allocation on health, education, NREGA, social security has not received any favour whatsoever. While the government is claiming to make efforts to generate employment, it’s real effort is to try and turn NREGA, that guarantees employment to a certain degree, to a mere scheme now.

AICCTU Delhi State Secretary Santosh Rai said, “Modi, the self-proclaimed ‘mazdoor number one’, has gone for an all out attack on rights of working class. In these first three months of ‘good governance’ offered, there is a plethora of proposals to amend labour laws in favour of corporate capital. These amendments would push much of the existing work force out of the purview of labour laws like Factory Act, ID Act, CLARA, Trade Union Act. The right to unionise and attain recognition of their union is going to be taken away. Women workers would be susceptible to more exploitation at the work place, including sexual harassment due to amendments in Factory Act.”

V.K.S Gautam, President of Delhi State Unit of AICCTU said that Delhi is now governed by the LG on behalf of the BJP government and here too the same anti-people policies are making headway. Owing to the policy of privatisation of transport, electricity, water and education, the plunder by corporates and contractors is at the highest level and so is rampant corruption. The entire unorganised sector has come under the grip of contractualization. The Labour Dept. has become incompetent, corrupt and totally ineffective now. Access to BPL card and election I- card has become more difficult. He added that the recent Jan-Dhan Yojna of Modi is a gimmick which can’t fool working class. He said that if PM Modi thinks by giving a bank account with an accidental death cover of Rs 1 lakh workers won’t assert for their rights to get Minimum Wages, PF/ESI then he is living in a fool’s paradise.

AICCTU appeals to the working people of Delhi to strengthen and continue the struggle against the Modi government, exposing its true colours testifying its betrayal of the people. AICCTU also appeals that the working class should be cautious and stand strongly against the ploy of ‘Modi Sarkaar’ to divide their unity by divisive politics based on promoting hatred among people on religious line.

CPIML Politburo member Prabhat Kumar and Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma also addressed the protesters. Others who addressed included AICCTU leaders Saurabh Naruka, Ardhendu Roy, Munna Yadav, Ajay Kumar, Surender Panchal, Virender Kumar, Satvir Shramik, Jagnarayan, Omprakash, Shankaran, Balmiki Jha, Rajesh Kumar, Shakuntala, Jan Sangharsh Morcha Narela’s President Ramkumar Bauddh, Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) vice-president Aslam Khan, Mahesh Upadhyay and many other others.

The meeting was conducted by AICCTU Delhi Vice President Mathura Paswan.

Politics in India

Women’s ‘Empowerment’?

– Liberation, Sept., 2014.

The Modi Government has pointedly ignored most of the major demands of the women’s movement. As was pointed out in the Budget feature of the August issue of Liberation, the Government has actually cut back on spending on crucial areas relating to women’s safety. The recommendations made by the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), including repeal of Armed Forces special Powers Act (AFSPA) and an end to criminalization of marital rape, as well as setting up of functional rape crisis centres, are yet to be implemented. India’s response was quite shameful. The Indian Government representative, presenting its report to the CEDAW, claimed “Respect for women and their rights flow from the ancient traditions of the Indian civilization and are now enshrined into the Constitution and laws of modern India.” One wonders which ‘ancient traditions’ he was talking about – child marriage, sati, the caste system, or perhaps the Manusmriti? The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, had remarked that “Violence against women in India is systematic and occurs in the public and private spheres,” and that “the physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women in the private sphere is widely tolerated by the State and the community.” The Indian Government, in its written response on June 6 before the UN Human Rights Council, declared that “Such a sweeping remark smacks of a highly prejudiced state of mind.”

Of course, violence against women is systematic in every country, and India need not be singled out on that count. But how can the Indian Government deny the very existence, in our country, of systematic, wide-spread gender violence that is tolerated by State and society? Are Indian women also ‘highly prejudiced’ when they protest against gender discrimination and violence?

Matters are made worse when people in responsible, elected positions, or the police force, trivialize rape or blame women for rape. The Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said, in a public speech, “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism.” So, in the eyes of the Finance Minister, rape is ‘small’, media coverage of rape is ‘advertisement’; rape’s ‘cost’ can be counted only in terms of its loss of ‘crores’ of tourism revenue, not in terms of its loss to women’s rights. Jaitley did not even regret his remark, he only regretted that others had ‘misconstrued’ his remark.

Modi never loses an opportunity to boast of his ‘Gujarat model’ which he promises to implement in India. The Gujarat police, in Porbander, are speaking the voice of the khaps. They issued a poster on ‘Women’s Empowerment’, advising girls not to wear jeans and T-shirts, and likewise advising parents to monitor their daughters’ cell phones. One wonders if the Gujarat police’s interest in snooping on women’s cell phonesstems from their experience of snooping for ‘Saheb’. The PM’s silence and tacit approval for these measures proves that in his Independence Day speech, he was not opposing but in fact rationalizing restrictions on girls.

In order to cover up the shameful state of affairs on the front of women’s rights and safety, the Modi Government is now pushing to roll back rights of children. It is proposing changes in the Juvenile Justice Act, in the name of severe punishment for juvenile rapists, that will in fact promote crime in society, rather than deter it.

In the name of ‘empowering’ women, the Modi Government is also moving to make changes in labour laws to allow night shifts for women. This ‘gift horse’ also needs to be looked at carefully before blindly accepting it.

Politics in India

Women Can Work Night Shifts: But When Will The Govt Ensure Women’s Equality and Safety in Factories?

– Bhuvana, Liberation, Sept., 2014.

Modern industry…. MNC…. Worker in Nokia…. Prestigious….. Valued highly in matrimonial market… Ambika, 22, one such Nokia worker, died on October 31, 2010 in her second shift during working hours. When she attempted to fix some problem in the machinery, her head got stuck in the machine. Workers immediately stopped work and tried to pull her out of the machine. When it was difficult they tried to break the machine. The Nokia management, which was very cautious and concerned in not causing any damage to the machine, intervened and said that the machine is very expensive and that it cannot be broken. By the time Ambika was retrieved out of the machine she was dead. She was actually dying gradually, blood oozing out from her nose and mouth, right in front of the eyes of her fellow workers who were helplessly watching. The management fixed the machine immediately with the help of a technician, wiped away Ambika’s blood on the machine and after a day break, as the following day was declared a holiday by the company apprehending workers’ protest, the machine was put on regular intense operation.

The Modi Government, moving to amend the Factories Act to legalize night shifts for women in factories, claims that this is a historic move to do away with discrimination and usher in equal rights for women.
No doubt, a law that prohibits women from working night shifts is patronizing and patriarchal. Night shifts for women workers cannot be opposed from the point of safety of women workers. After all, women are not safe in this country in any part of the day, and women face sexual harassment and unsafe conditions of work in factories in the day time too. The safety of women workers whether in day or night shifts is the responsibility of the employer and of the government. The question is, what are the measures to ensure that safety?

There were many attempts by different state and central governments prior to the present attempt to amend the Factories Act to allow women workers in night shifts. In a way we can say that Tamil Nadu (TN) government is a ‘pioneer’ in this respect.

ILO Protocol 89, adopted in 1990, allowing appropriate governments to amend laws to enable women workers come for night shifts was ratified by the Indian government in 2003 when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The same year July, with an amendment to facilitate this, The Factories Act, (Amendment Bill) 2003 was introduced in Lok Sabha. The Factories Act, (Amendment Bill) 2005 was introduced in Lok Sabha by UPA I with the same amendment. This amendment did not allow for women to be dropped off at their doorsteps, but only at the ‘nearest point’. Women opposed this then, pointing out that at night on dark streets, they would need to be dropped off at their doorsteps.

In Tamilnadu, different associations of factories operating in Tirupur have obtained an interim stay for Section 66 of The Factories Act, 1948, in 1997, in the Madras High Court. Since then women are on night shifts in Tirupur garment factories. A December 8, 2000 ruling of Madras High Court ruled that Section 66 (1) (b) which prohibits night shift for women workers is violative of Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution. The relief was extended only to the units which fought the case. However, it ruled that factories can seek for special permission, which will have to be renewed every year, and introduce night shifts for women workers. The TN government declared that it would appeal against this ruling. But in a letter dated 16 February 2010 to the Chief Secretary of the Punjab Government, the TN Chief Inspector of Factories has stated that there is no appeal pending in this matter in any of the Courts, which means the TN government did not pursue its appeal.

Thus, the 1997 interim stay and 2000 special permission have given enough legal room for the industries in TN to bring women workers in night shift. Nokia and its subsidiaries in the Nokia SEZ employed women in night shifts with special permission. In Tirupur, women workers of garment industries come for two shifts, one from 9 AM to 9 PM another from 9 PM to 6 AM, thus working for 12 and 9 hours, which is again a violation of the 8 hours working day. No existing labour legislation has regulated this violation. Electronic component factories and garment factories in Madras Export Processing Zone are employing women in night shifts. In Coimbatore, women workers in diamond cutting factories and garment factories women work on two shifts from 8 AM to 10 PM.

On 22 January 2014, TN government has amended the Factories Act 1948, by adding a new section 84 B, which charts out 14 conditions that are to be fulfilled by the industries which employ women in night shifts. In the Automobiles and Auto Components Policy 2014 of TN government unveiled by Chief Minister (CM) Jayalalitha in February 2014, Jayalalitha has said that TN government will consider bringing women in night shifts.

In 2013, the Gujaraj HC has ruled that Section 66 (1) (b) which prohibits night shift for women workers, violates Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Constitution.

The Punjab government quoting the 2000 Madras High Court ruling said that it cannot be applied per se in Punjab but released a Notification dated 10 October 2010 allowing night shifts, taking TN as an example. In a GO dated 13 November 2013, it laid down the related conditions on the lines of 2000 ruling of Madras High Court.

In a ruling dated 10 June 1999, Mumbai High Court allowed employing women workers in night shifts. Andhra High Court also ruled that Section 66 is ultra vires. When night shifts became an integral part in the IT sector, Andhra and Karnataka governments amended Shops and Other Commercial Establishments Acts of the respective states in 2007 and ensured that women are on night shifts.

All these instances cited above make it clear that for all practical purposes Section 66 (1)(b) is violated with permission, by notification, by nullification and women are on night shifts wherever and whenever needed. All these jobs, including IT sector jobs, which appear to be white collar, involve monotony. Garment and electronics sector are labour intensive. They employ more women in the day time as it is, but were restricted from doing so at night. Now they also seek to legally employ women a night, because women can be paid less than men for the same work. The Governments – at Centre and States – that are so eloquent in pushing women’s rights to work at night, are silent on women’s rights to get equal pay for equal work.
Rampant Violation of Women Workers’ Rights

The Government proposes various fine-sounding promises to ensure safety of women workers during night shifts. But these are on paper. The fact is that the existing labour laws intended to ensure workers’ and women’s rights are openly, blatantly violated. Garment workers in TN and Karnataka have complained that they don’t even have toilet facilities in many factories. Workers in most factories are prevented even from using toilets as often as they need; and women workers are denied the right even to change menstrual pads as often as they need. Vishakha committees against sexual harassment, likewise, do not exist. As the incident narrated at the beginning of this article shows, most factories do not take elementary mandated safety measures to protect workers from accidents. Workers’ only safeguards lie in unions – but most factories intimidate and deter workers from unionizing.

The proposed amendment says that night shifts will be optional for women. How will it be ensured that women will not lose their jobs for refusing to work nights? Currently, in the Coimbatore Pricol factory for instance, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU)-affiliated Union has used collective bargaining to ensure that women workers’ decision not to opt for night shifts, is respected. But where even the right to have a union is not respected, how will the right of women to choose, be respected and upheld?
Girls, as young as 13 years old, in Sumangali Scheme in TN are already working for even 16 hours a day under duress. If night shift is allowed for them one can imagine the hardships and inhuman exploitation they may face at the hands of their employers.

The question is – why hasn’t the Modi Government talked to unions and women’s organizations to end the systematic ongoing discrimination against women in factories? How to make night shifts viable for women could have been one of the measures discussed there – along with equal pay for equal work, enough toilets, and end to work conditions that do not allow basic hygienic rights to women and men, and expose women to hazards to their health and safety.

It is claimed that women ‘demand’ night shifts. The National Commission of Women conducted an investigation among women working in night shifts, with the help of Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and released a report ‘Women in Night Shift: Growth and Opportunities’. One finding of this report – that 71.1% of the women workers surveyed did not feel insecure during night shift work – is oft quoted by the Governments. But this finding needs to be seen in context of the whole report.

The report found, for instance, that 45% of women workers in leather and 34% in textiles industry felt insecure during night shifts, as compared to 8% in BPOs. 13.3% face mental harassment – and the percentage is much higher in leather and textile factories. In leather and textiles, women complained of having to work the whole night standing. 45% reported that they are always tired, 50% reported that they have digestive problems, 60% reported sleeplessness and high BP, 55% reported fever and cold very often, 10% reported stress, 50% suffer menstrual disorders, 35% pregnancy related disorders, and 45% reported that they always felt sick. Only 8.6% respondents got childcare facilities, separate lounges for nursing mothers etc within company premises.

So, why did women continue doing night shifts? The report observed that especially for women in leather and textiles and similar factories, “Worst is the condition that their livelihood depends on this means only….Only 16.8% of the respondents perceived better pay package to be a major attraction for working nightshifts. The rest responded that there is no other choice…Women workers in the leather and textile mills have to work night shift because the expensive machinery used in these factories are highly efficient; productivity and profitability is greatly increased by day and night utilization of the machinery.” So clearly, night shifts are a compulsion – not ‘optional’ – for most women workers, especially the more vulnerable ones.

The Question of Domestic Labour
A letter dated 17 June 2014 of TN Labor Department circulated among the recognized trade unions (TUs) is seeking opinions of TUs on the proposal of Flexi Career Private India Limited which suggests night shifts for women workers which is supposed to help them better discharge their family responsibilities. This is a remarkably hypocritical reasoning. But a BJP spokesperson on TV, used the same argument. She argued that that women want to work the night shift so that they can ‘spend the day with kids’ and ‘take power naps in the afternoon’! ‘Spending the day with kids’, for women, means cooking and caring for kids all day – i.e a full day shift after the night shift!

The National Commission for Women (NCW) report in fact, found exactly the opposite of this claim. It noted, “We have observed that married women find it slightly difficult to carry night shift jobs because of family demand and their reproduction function.”

Most women workers actually work a ‘double shift’ because after work, they have the burden of domestic labour that the Government glorifies and justifies by calling it ‘family responsibilities.’ This is precisely why many women might not want to be forced to work at night. The argument that women can be ‘empowered’ by exchanging a full night’s sleep for a ‘power nap’ in the afternoon is laughable.
Factories and other work places should be mandated to provide child care and wholesome, affordable meals for workers and their families. Without these measures, women’s ‘double shifts’ can never end, and night shifts would become intolerable.

This part of the NCW report clearly shows that there is neither growth nor opportunity for women workers coming for night shifts. It is indeed an additional ordeal for women who are already under the burden of unpaid work at home. It actually disturbs the natural biological clock and thus night shift for women, and for men too, is unnatural. In reality if at all any section of women are demanding night shifts it could only be from the need of some additional income and nothing about self-actualization or empowerment.

Tug of War Between Labour and Capital Over the Working Day
It is important to contextualize the question of night shifts historically. The working class movement, male and female workers together, struggled to limit what constituted ‘the working day’ while the capitalists strove to extend ‘the working day’ to swallow up the night as well as mealtimes, toilet-time and so on. Karl Marx in Chapter X (The Working Day) of Capital Volume I, explains this struggle between labour and capital at length, with a wealth of historical detail.

Night shifts were employed in 19th century England to maximize the extraction of surplus value from workers’ labour. Trainees from the age of 16 were put on day and night shifts alternately and their beds in their dorms were always warm as they were always occupied by the worn out trainees in days and nights alternately. Capital invested in the machinery cannot lie idle when the worker sleeps. The machine has to be put into optimum use to extract as much profit as possible. This greed of the capitalists invented night shifts. Workers working on night shifts means, in an overall sense, extending the overall period of overall labour put into production and thus increases profit rates.

Thus night shifts have little to do with ensuring equality or acting in accordance with Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution. If the government is serious in ensuring equality, steps must be taken to increase the number of women workers in engineering and automobile sectors which are relatively better paid and have better working conditions.

Night shifts for women are being legalized, in the backdrop of the moves afoot to dismantle existing labour law protections entirely, and ongoing rampant violations of existing labour laws. Without putting in place stringent monitoring and implementation of labour laws, as well as introducing stringent measures to ensure health and safety rights, child care, as well as measures against sexual harassment and gender discrimination at workplaces, the move to open the doors for night shifts for women is just another step in the campaign to turn our factories into sweatshops, where global MNCs can employ cheap labour to ‘Make in India’.

Politics in India

Gana Mancha Enquires Into Rape-Murder of CPI(M) Supporter

– Liberation, Sept., 2014.

A seven-member delegation team from Ganamancha, comprising of representatives from all the constituents of Ganamancha from Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation [CPI(ML)] Liberation, Left Collective, Radical Socialist and others – visited Sunai village in Contai on 21 August for a fact-finding on the barbaric gang-rape, torture and lynching of a woman who was a Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M) supporter and the wife of a CPI(M) activist. The team was joined in Contai by the CPI(ML) Liberation’s Purba Medinipur leaders Ashish Maity and Sukchand Mandal. The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) goons who brazenly perpetrated this heinous crime are henchmen of Dipendu Adhikari, the brother of TMC leader and Tamluk MP Suvendu Adhikari.

When the team announced its decision to visit the village, the police at first tried to dissuade them from going there, citing security reasons (that the police will not be able to provide security to anyone who visits the village)! Despite such attempts the team reached the victim’s village around noon. An atmosphere of complete terror and silence loomed large and people were terrorized of political backlash to even talk about the matter. The two women members of the delegation, Chandrasmita Chowdhury and Archana Ghatak, spoke at length with the victim’s family and her mother-in-law. The delegation also spoke to the victim’s husband in Tamluk town, later during the day.

The victim’s family members spoke about the long torture they faced from the TMC henchmen. The husband of the victim, who was a local committee member of the CPI(M), had been forced to flee the village along with their young son ever since the TMC came to power in 2011. The victim had been staying with her in-laws since then. The victim worked as an Integrated Child Development Scheme worker. The woman was under continuous threat for her family’s political affiliation. On 15th, her brother-in-law was kidnapped by the TMC goons and the family was asked to pay ransom for his release. The TMC men came to their home and beat up all members of the family including her, the sister-in-law and even the old mother-in-law and asked them to pay a huge sum of money (12 lakhs) as “fine” imposed by the TMC men. This so-called “fine” was nothing but a pretext for what was to follow. The men threatened to expect them again. When the victim refused to pay and fled to a nearby village in fear she was forcefully dragged, gang-raped, brutally tortured, and lynched to death. Her body was found hanging from the ceiling in her house. Liquor bottles, an iron rod (with blood stains), chilli powder and pointed objects like safety-pins (purportedly used for torture) were found lying at the place of crime. The TMC men tried to masquerade the lynching as ‘suicide’ and the police made the brother-in-law write a coerced statement (supervised by the Tamluk IC himself) to hush-up the brutal rape-murder. Before the truth came to everybody’s attention, the victim’s husband gave the full statement and a hush-up was no longer possible.

During the 2 days (15th to 17th) of kidnap, threat and torture several phone calls were made to the police. But nobody came to rescue till the woman was dead. After the matter came to media spotlight, the police under pressure have arrested three small fries, but the masterminds named by the victim’s husband are at large and continue to roam free. This horrifying incident as well as the continuous assault on democracy in West Bengal’s villages continues brazenly even as TMC leaders like the infamous MP Tapas Pal and his likes continue to instigate their local henchmen to rape, murder, arson in order to silence all political opposition. This trend has been continuing in Purba Medinipur for long, and all the left activists of the CPI(M), CPI(ML) Liberation and others have been on the receiving end of such attacks.

A more detailed fact-finding report will be released soon. In the days to come, Ganamancha, CPI(ML) and other democratic forces, AIPWA and other women’s organizations will jointly take the struggle forward till justice is achieved for the victim. The struggle for democracy and against TMC terror cannot and will not rest in West Bengal.

Struggles in India

Tea garden workers rally for rights

– Liberation, Sept., 2014.

Thousands of workers from tea gardens affiliated to 22 labour unions of north Bengal organised a rally at Siliguri in Darjeeling on Wednesday demanding a minimum wage structure for workers of tea gardens.

The workers who had assembled from nearly 300 tea gardens in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri , Alipurduar and even from smaller tea gardens of Uttar Dinajpur district walked a three-km stretch in Siliguri town. The representatives of the 22 labour unions submitted a memorandum to the Joint Labour Commissioner, North Bengal Zone. The protests took place in the wake of starvation deaths of workers of locked-out and abandoned tea gardens.

The protest was addressed by Abhijit Mazumdar on behalf of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), among others.

Below is an excerpt from the memorandum to be submitted to the Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman:

Reclaiming the rights of the tea workers in West Bengal

India remains the second largest tea producing country in the global arena. Notwithstanding this deep market penetration of the captains of the industry, the huge working population (more than 400,000-4 lakhs- permanent labourers) engaged in the tea sector in West Bengal are rendered impoverished and malnourished, living on a lower than subsistence wage structure and are being deprived of the statutory entitlements due on them as per The Tea Plantation Labour Act, 1951. Presently 6 tea gardens in the Dooars region are lying closed, the resident workers are dying in hordes (the death toll reached beyond 100 in the last 6 months or so) in absence of basic living amenities like food, medical facilities, potable drinking water, access to alternative employment opportunities and minimal wages, suffering from prolonged malnourishment and starvation. The erstwhile managements of all 6 closed tea gardens and scores of purportedly declared sick gardens, as speculators, amassed huge surplus during market booms without spending a farthing either for labour welfare or the rejuvenation of their plantations, and refusing to shoulder the associated social cost or liabilities. They left their gardens leaving the entire working population to their fate, defaulting even on the amount of money to the tune of crores payable to the workers as PF and gratuity.

The very recent report based on a thorough survey of all 276 organised tea gardens, conducted by West Bengal State Labour Department is full of incriminating evidences against the managements of several closed, sick and even open gardens.

The gravity of the prevailing situation warrants a strong and effective intervention on the part of the Central Government machinery to chart out a viable course for immediate opening and revival of the closed tea gardens in West Bengal.

The Tea Plantation Labour Act (TLPA), 1951 enshrining the basic rights of the working population is rampantly flouted and in the name of revamping the act the planters are pleading to revisit it towards scaling down further such statutory rights vis-à-vis need-based wages (ascertaining the base on 3 consuming units), subsidized rations, proper housing facilities, supply of fuels, medical and educational facilities for the workers and their wards etc.

TPLA ought to be reinforced with vigour and any violation of any sort must be met with penal actions.

The Tea Board of India, formed under the provisions of Tea Act 1953, must ensure its avowed assistance to the tea sector in terms of replantation, rejuvenation of poor yielding and old aged tea-bushes, modernization of operations, spreading popularity of tea domestically and globally, creation of irrigation facility, drainage and transportation facility, assistance of product diversification, improving labour productivity, skill improvement, upgradation, value addition etc. It must look through and monitor that no measure of such assistance be falsified by the planters and engaged in maximizing profit and siphoning off the surplus by adopting unfair means.

Anniversary

Birth Centenary of Late CPI GS Chandra Rajeswara Rao

– Liberation, Sept., 2014.

On 11th August, leaders of left parties addressed a mass gathering in Hyderabad to mark the birth anniversary of the Communist leader, late Comrade Chandra Rajeswara Rao (popularly called CR), who had been General Secretary of the Communist Party of India for 28 years.

In the gathering of thousands, there were some 1500 volunteers in red shirts. On the dais were CPI General Secretary Sudhakar Reddy, CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat, senior RSP leader Abani Ray, as well as CPI Secretaries from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and organisers of the Centenary Celebration Committee.

Speaking on the occasion, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya recalled Comrade CR’s participation in the Indian People’s Front Vijayawada Conference in February 1992, and his emphasis on militant peasant struggle and movement-oriented Left unity. All the Left leaders hailed Comrade CR’s legacy from the Telangana days and in anti-communal mobilisation and stressed the need for broad unity of Left and democratic forces and joint struggles against the Modi regime and the heightened corporate-communal offensive.

On 10th August, an international seminar on ‘Social Movement and the role of the Left’ was held as part of Centenary celebrations. Representatives from Cuba and Vietnam, and leaders of Communist Party Bangladesh, and Workers Party of Bangladesh addressed it. It was inaugurated by veteran CPI leader AB Bardhan, and Prabhat Patnaik delivered the keynote address. CPI(ML) Liberation CCM Comrade N Murthy also addressed the seminar.

Struggles in India

Joint Anti-Imperialist Rally in Kolkata by Left Parties

– Liberation, Sept., 2014.

On September 1st, a joint anti-imperialist rally by 15 Left parties including the CPI(ML) Liberation was held in Kolkata against US-Israel aggression on Gaza. Starting from Ramlila Maidan in central Kolkata, the rally marched to Deshbandhu Park urging people to come together against the attack on Gaza, against US interference in India and to seek answers from the NDA government on why it was cozying up to Israel and caving in to US pressure to embrace FDI across crucial sectors. The rally called for reverting back pro-US, pro-Israel foreign policies of the government of India. The rally was held on the day that marks the beginning of the Second World War with fascist Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

The CPI, CPIM, CPIML Liberation, RSP, Forward Bloc and SUCI as well as other parties and groups, participated in the protest demonstration. Thousands of people joined the demonstration and raised slogans “Us imperialism Hands off Syria”, “End Us aggression in Middle East and Israel’s aggression on Palestine”.

Starting from Ramleela Park in central Kolkata, the rallyists marched up to Deshbandhu Park. The rally was addressed by CPIML Politbureau member Com. Kartick Pal, Suryakanta Mishra of CPI(M), Manju Majumdar of CPI, Manoj Bhattacharya of RSP, Hafiz Alam Sairani of FB, Soumen Bose of SUCI (C), and Santosh Rana of PCC-CPIML.

Obituary

UR Ananthamurthy

– Liberation, Sept., 2014.

As Liberation goes to press, we are saddened to hear of the demise of towering Kannada litterateur UR Ananthamurthy. Born in an orthodox Brahmin household, his first novel Samskara was a powerful critique of the hypocrisies of Brahminism. He was one of the pioneers of the Navya movement in Kannada literature. His literary oeuvre includes five novels, one play, eight short-story collections, three collections of poetry and eight more of essays.

In his writing, and as a public intellectual, he was a scathing critic of communal and casteist bigotry, earning him physical assaults as well as threats and abuse. In spite of this, he remained one of the country’s most steadfast voices in defence of secular, democratic values. His public stand against the rise of Narendra Modi who personified the fascist danger for him, made him the target of threats to his safety in the past few days. But he continued to defy the threats, declaring that bullies should not be allowed to turn citizens into cowards.

Liberation salutes the memory of UR Ananthamurthy!

Culture

Red Salute, Nabarun Da!

– Pranay Krishna, Liberation, Sept., 2014.

This house of words I have built
will break down weeping
after I die
Nothing so astounding about that

I’ll be wiped away from the mirror in the home
The walls will be empty of my pictures
Thinking about it
I never did like walls
Now the sky shall be my wall
On which birds will use chimney smoke
to write my name
Or the sky shall be my writing desk
the moon a cold paperweight
and stars will twinkle on a black velvet pincushion

No need for you to grieve
in my memory
My hands do not tremble
as I write these words
But yes they did tremble profusely
when they first held your hands
partly in passion partly hesitation

My lovely wife my love
my memories will ever surround you
But you need not cling to them
No you must shape your own life
My memories will ever be your comrade
If ever you love someone
gift him all these memories
make him your comrade
Of course I leave all of these up to you alone
assured that you will not make mistakes

When you start my son
on his journey to learning
teach him to love people, sunlight and stars
He will solve the most complicated arithmetic
and fathom the algebra of revolution
much better than me
He will teach me to walk in marches
on rocky paths and on grass
Tell him also of my shortcomings
see that he doesn’t scorn me
My dying is no big deal
I knew

I was not long for this world
But my faith never wavered
transcending all death
rejecting all darkness
Revolution has lived long
Revolution has lived eternal
(Last wish, Nabarun Bhattacharya)

Have you ever heard such a “last wish” as this? How would that life have been, whose “last wish” this was? On 31 July 2014 when all of us were celebrating Premchand Jayanti in our cities, Nabarun Da bid a silent farewell to the world at 4.30 in the morning. I met him for the last time on 23 February at Max Hospital in Patparganj, Delhi. Amidst talk of the Lok Sabha elections, Left unity, and some light-hearted banter, discussion about his health was not very detailed. He mentioned that if radiotherapy reduced the size of the tumour, an operation might be possible. And also that he might be able to complete a novel and some stories.

At the national conference of the Jan Sanskriti Manch at village Khewli in Dhumil (Banaras) in 2008 he was requested to read his “Yeh Mrityu Upatyaka nahi hai mera Desh” (translated by Manglesh Dabral into Hindi). After reading two lines in Hindi he started reading the rest in Bengali. It was like the roll and rumble of storm clouds. The memory of that reading gives me goosebumps even today.

As an intellectual Marxist the strength of Nabarun Da’s character lay not just in his activism and his creative work; it was seen aso in the way he fearlessly stood up personally against instances of tyranny, oppression, and treachery against humanity in India or anywhere else in the world. He never waited for anyone’s approval for telling the truth. I remember an incident before the last West Bengal Assembly elections. After Singur-Nandigram the defeat of the Left front seemed definite in these elections. Even intellectuals who had basked in the patronage of the Left for decades were now singing the tune of Mamata’s “Maa, maati, maanush”. All the former (and not so former) revolutionary intellectuals, even those who called themselves Maoists, were eulogising Mamata. Nabarun’s was the sole voice which spoke out and said that the alternative to the Left front was not Mamata but a revolutionary Left alternative. If such an alternative is currently unavailable in Bengal, should intellectual Marxists not work towards making it available? Instead, to support one of the available bourgeois alternatives is an abdication of responsibility by the intellectual. This could only be said by a person who had seen the role of intellectuals in organizing the Naxalbari movement and communicating its message to the people and who himself had played a part in this role. Nabarun was an intellectual whom the Left front as well as the Mamata government found greatly inconvenient. It was not for nothing that when his 2003 novel “Kongal Maalsaat” (Warcry of the Beggars) was made into a film by Suman Mukhopadhyay in 2013, the Mamata government could not tolerate it and it had to face all possible obstacles from the censors. In the original novel Choktor (practitioners of black magic) and Fyataru (flying humans) are imaginary characters who are at war with the rulers. These rebels have been trained by Dandbayosh (an ancient, talkative crow) and the ghost of Begum Johnson. These characters are not like traditional “upright” soldiers but often lie and cheat for their livelihood. They reflect the harsh realities of oppressed and marginalised people. Nabarun wans to show that none but the common people can be the strength of revolution, no matter how bad their physical or emotional condition might be. A few pure and idealistic revolutionaries can never replace the people.

These rebels do not have modern weapons but only spades, knives, vegetable choppers, and broken bits of furniture. They also have supernatural help in the form of small flying saucer-like objets which can sever the head of the enemy. The screenplay of the 2013 film made some significant changes from the original novel; keeping in mind the change of government in Bengal, characters like Choktor and Fyataru who used to be representatives of rebellion, are shown to become part of the ruling trust for the sake of power, prestige, and financial security. That is why Dandbayosh says, “The fight will go on. This (the change of rule) is only temporal”. The Mamata govt and the censor board may have ostensibly objected to abusive language, poking fun at movements, showing and making objectionable comments about Mamata’s swearing-in ceremony, but the true objection was to this intrinsic change from the original story.

Nabarun was not only the son of Bijon Bhattacharya and Mahashweta Devi, he was also the inheritor of a great tradition of Left cultural activists, which he never forgot for a moment. Addressing the 13th national conference (2010, Durg-Bhilai) of Jan Sanskriti Manch, he said, “They ask me…from childhood onwards, you have seen many people, you are Bijon Bhattacharya’s son, you were with him, you have seen Utpal Dutt, you have given…reflector…in Ritwik Ghatak’s film, you have seen Manik Babu, Arun Mitra, Vishnu De, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Makhdoom Mohiyuddin, Balraj Sahni…now how do you plan to review life? What will you do now? Should I go and join the market forces and create something for the market? Might be that will fetch me some money. Actually I require money, but I cannot afford to earn it by indecent means…bcause you understand…one of my novels is ‘Auto”…about an auto driver. So I told a young aspiring film maker that you go ahead and make a film based on it. It is his dream to make a film. And then the biggest hero of Bengal, who has a production house of his own, he said to me, give me “Auto”, you will get a very good ‘this’…price. But I told him that ‘Bhai! this is not for sale. It is my word as given to him an he is a young man. If I don’t help the young man, he will reject me and all the youth will reject me in future.’ That is one thing I am afraid of. I don’t want two face. that will be ‘paap’—our Indian concept ‘paap’. Certain things should be renounced to gain something. And there’s another thing. There was a French intellectual, Guy Debord. Bahut pagla tha. If I remember right, he committed suicide. There’s a book of his, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’…This damn bloody capitalist society is always trying to create spectacles…This society of spectacles must be challenged and that is the risk. That is what, not only our forefathers have done, it is also done by the international literati…a great man like Aragon, like Eluard, like Neruda, like…everyone. So we belong to a very great heritage which we cannot renounce.”

Nabarun Da did not merely possess the joyous imagination of revolution. Again and again he saw the obstinate head of revolution raise itself even after it was crushed by oppression, even after it was pushed to disillusionment and distortion. He had researched deeply into world-revolution attempts. In the speech quoted above he said, “And this is the heritage we must keep alive, and this is the struggle in which we cannot lose…May be, we will die. You see, defeat is nothing, defeat is nothing. All the wars cannot be won. Che Guvara didn’t win, but he has won it forever. That is the main thing. We must keep everything in perspective. We must fight globalization, we must fight local reaction, we must fight the show of military state power in the adivasi area and we must protest everything illegal, evil and pathetic that is happening in my country.”

Nabarun was an intellectual of the Bengal Naxalbari movement, whose basic pledge and significance he had an immense capacity to renew according to changing world situations. Poems like “Yeh Mrityu Upatyaka nahi hai mera desh” and all his stories like “Aamaar kono bhoi nei to?” are inspired by true incidents which he saw as well as experienced. Talking to Amar Mitra and Sabyasachi Deb about the creative process of her immortal novel ‘Mother of 1084’ Mahashweta Devi said, “…I knew about the two big carnages at Barasat and Badanagar. Naxal youth were massacred at both these places. But prior to this a murder took place at Shri Colony near Vijaygarh. My student Sujit Gupta was murdered, whose father was a doctor’s compounder. I was witness to one part of the incident. The other things I came to know through my son Nabarun and other people. Nabarun was associated with the communist party. He tried to help the Naxal panthis in many ways.” (Mahasweta Devi: In Conversation with Amar Mitra And Sabyasachi Deb(Indian Literature, Vol. 40, No. 3 (179), (May – June1997)

For Nabarun Da Naxalbari was never a past story. He assimilated the historic significance of that movement, and tested its relevance in the new situations and in the context of the traditions of the Indian Left movement and revolutionary struggles all over the world, and he also continually renewed it as a living truth for the artist within himself.

Nabarun possessed the eternally passionate heart of an artist, which enabled him to move to and from all genres. His creativity flowed to and from film, theatre, story and poetry, often breaking banks. The story teller in Nabarun Da collects ammunition against an inhuman system. The mould of the story is shattered in his stories and novels, narration scatters and merges into other narrations, the inner world of the characters is also immensely divided, as though they inhabit and are exiled from many worlds simultaneously, their actions and dialogue also seem superficially illogical (but not unrealistic). As such, what gives unity of aim and structure to his story-world is the deep anti-system consciousness of the storyteller which was forged in the fire of the Naxal movement of the 70s and the 80s. His narrative is armed with weapons such as magic and fantasy. It is ‘dangerous’ to look at the business of our society from up close because such a view will show clearly how uncontrolled, illogical and unequal this society (the capitalistic world) is. When the handful of people who run this world cover their willfulness, wrongdoing and crimes with the veil of logic and realism, it seems beyond the ken of common sense to distinguish between the logical and the illogical, the real and the unreal. The capitalistic world covers itself with the armour of realism, and it is to pierce this armour that great writers use the weapons of magic and fantasy. Nabarun Da was one such living and working great artists of our time. The humour and banter of his characters are clad in the sickness and distortion which the obscene controllers of this world will not allow them to shake off. Even the distorted humour of his characters reveals the art of laying bare life’s illogic and cruelties. Novels such as ‘Herbert’ (1993) and ‘Kangaal Maalsaat’ (2003) are examples of this artistry. The protagonist of ‘Herbert’ is Herbert Sarkar, so named because he is ‘white’ (‘gora’). Brought up in North Kolkata, Herbert is an orphan. He is insecure, lonely, self-hating, half-mad, a self-proclaimed medium who communicates with spirits of the dead, and a bad poet. The one love of his life is at once tragic and comic. He seems to be a character whose destiny is failure and anonymity, but he continually startles the reader with his feints and tricks. It is as if he is telling us that however broken, scattered, cursed, and ridiculous a life may be, it is never meaningless; it has infinite possibilities of originality. The novel starts with Herbert’s suicide and takes through his life in flashback. It takes us into the depths of not only the protagonist’s life, but also those of Kolkata city’s unique culture, politics, and human nature over the last many decades. Herbert’s self-proclaimed skill of communing with spirits, through which he had carved out his destiny, was declared fraudulent by the logical intellectuals. Faced with legal action, a shocked Herbert commits suicide. But just as his body is placed in the electric crematorium, there is a terrible blast and the whole building is shattered. Many people present are injured. The headlines are full of Herbert’s posthumous ‘terrorist’ activities, and a high level enquiry committee is set up to investigate into the matter. The blasting impression of his miraculous powers becomes deeper in that moment of his death. The symbolism of this magic realism can be interpreted in innumerable ways. The magic of Nabarun Da’s art is indelible even after his death. Without doubt, this magic will terrorise the ruling classes forever, no matter how many enquiry committees they constitute.
For this moment, even his physical absence invites us to tea from the kettle which is boiling at the mouth of the volcano.

By simply stroking pen on paper
you will not be able to spring
the picture to life
For none can do this.

The gunpowder and coal
that lie beneath the picture
Can you light
a spark there?

That’s when the picture will
rise to its boiling point
flowers will blossom on the red-hot earth
on the parched, burnt, tattered earth
flowers will bloom.

A kettle sits
at the crater of the volcano
I’m invited to tea
there today.

Hey writer, the strong and mighty wielder of the pen
will you go there?

(Hey writer, Nabarun Bhattacharya)

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