Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Unexpected Victory

The strike of the Brick Kiln workers in Maandal town in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan has finally reached a successful conclusion but not before some anxious moments in between. Sudhir Katyar of the Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action reports - 
A meeting of striking workers was attacked violently on 23rd December 2012 by the brick kiln owners two kms from Haripura chauraha. Suddenly the brick kiln owners came in a group of ten vehicles and attacked the workers and union team from behind. The attack was sudden. The women with children were also not spared. The workers dispersed under this sudden attack. The Union team members had to flee for their life. They were pursued by the attackers.

The attack was pre-planned. Earlier the owners had collected in Maandal town and held a meeting. They gave an application against the Union to the Police Station and then went to the meeting site for the attack. The police and the administration supported the owners as is evident by the statements they gave in the media blaming the Union for provoking the owners. The media too is giving more prominence to the owners’ version. A picture of women workers at the meeting is given below.

The Union team  met the district collector. He was handed a list of 15 groups of workers who want to be released from bondage. This is going to be the main strategy now as the owners are not interested in a dialogue with the workers. The news from the kilns is that the owners have forced the workers to resume work under threat. The workers want to leave but the owners are making them work under force. The individual team members could reach back the office only by late night. Some of them had to walk and run for kilometers, pursued by the attackers. One member of the team was fetched back at 12  midnight from police station Aasind where the owners had left him. The team was not in a position to venture into the field amongst the workers. So the strategy shifted to Maandal and Bhilwara. One team went to the SP office to apprise him of the situation and seek protection for team members.
The Union responded to the attack by staging a dharna in front of the SDO office in Maandal. It was not easy to call workers to Mandal as it is some distance away from the kilns. Many workers said that they do not have the money to buy tickets for travel. Finally around 80 workers turned up for varying durations. The news from the brick kiln was mixed. At many kilns, workers had started work as the owners promised a hike in wages. The brick carriers, a critical part of the work process, were offered a hike of Rs. 10 from 80 to 90. Most had begun work. The pathera, brick molders, were offered varying hike. Wages were hiked from Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 per 1000 bricks – an increase of 16 to 33 percent. Some had resumed work while some held on. 
Then the outside pressure brought upon the local administration, that was hands in gloves with the brick kiln owners, started to have some impact. The Chief Secretary, the highest official of the State rang up the administrative and police heads of the district. Many major civil rights people inquired into the incident and talked to the District Administration.By evening the pall of gloom that had hung over was beginning to lift. The team was enjoying the martyrdom. The violent incident had a positive aspect as well– it had established firmly the credibility of the Union amongst the eyes of the workers.
Even after four days since the attack took place the First Information Report (FIR) was not filed by the police. The police said that they had complaints against the Union by the Brick Kiln Owners as well and those will be filed first. When we went to meet the highest police official of the district – the Superintendent of Police (SP) he almost got us arrested on the spot, blaming us for spreading unrest. In fact one member of the delegation was sent off to the local police station for a brief while under Section 107 of CrPC, a draconian provision that allows police to detain almost anyone for 24 hours. The local official apparatus is fully in control of the local political clique that has decided that the Union cannot be allowed to function. It must be beaten out of the place. The strike as a result was effectively over. All workers returned back to work under threat of stoppage of food allowance and denial of basic necessities like firewood and drinking water. 
Finally the battle was won even though the workers had gone back to work. A meeting was held on 28.12.2012 between the brick kiln owners of Maandal Asind area and the Union. The meeting was called by and mediated by the Police Department of Bhilwara. Almost the entire top brass of the police was present. The owners agreed to pay a wage rate of Rs. 400 per 1000 bricks to the pathera workers, the brick molders. For redhiwalas, the brick carriers, the wage rate will vary between Rs. 80 to 100 depending on whether the redhi is given by the employers and the distance of carriage. For brick molders, the most numerous and the least paid group of workers, the new wage rate represents an average wage hike of 33% that translates into a wage hike of Rs. 20,000 per family for the season. Around 5,000 families are expected to benefit. The total incremental wages thus will be Rs. 10 crores for this category of workers alone. The owners will also compensate the Union for the damaged vehicle. But more important than the wage hike is the fact that the Union has gained recognition from the employers and the administration. The owners expressed their willingness to negotiate a new agreement for the next season before the beginning of the season itself in July, stating their problems in hiking wages in the middle of the season.

So how did this transformation happen? Especially when the workers had all gone back to work! The agreement came about primarily because of the brazen attack on workers and the hanging sword of the FIR that had the potential to implicate a large chunk of owners and sections of police. The newspapers of the day carried the report that the SP, the top police official had issued notice to the SHO inquiring into delay in filing the FIR. The police department was caught in a web of its own lies and complicity and was under extreme pressure from the higher administration that the Union was able to garner. The Chief Secretary, the highest bureaucrat, took interest in the matter. Thus, a judicious use of lobbying with the higher level bureaucracy and the threat of legal action in the High Courts was able to bring about this victory for possibly the weakest section of the labour force in India - migrant bonded brick kiln labourers.

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