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 23, 2012

Batting for Brick Kiln Workers

The brick making industry in this country is one where there is tremendous exploitation of workers because these are mostly interstate migrants. The standard mode of recruitment is through agents who bring the team of workers from one state to the other by paying the latter an advance on behalf of the brick kiln owners. The brick making season roughly runs from October to May in the dry season after the monsoons are over and before they come in the new year. Typically the owners make all kinds of deductions while settling the final accounts of the migrant workers and the latter invariably get very small wages well below the statutory minimum wage. Women are a major part of the labour force and the picture below shows them at work.

The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action has been working for the rights of these migrant labourers in brick kilns in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh and in the process they have brought about significant improvement in the working and living conditions and wages of the labourers. Trade Unions of the labourers have been formed and these have carried out mass action, case work, legal action and advocacy on this issue. The PCLRA has now launched a mass action in  Bhilwara district of Rajasthan where the migrant brick kiln labourers have gone on an indefinite strike from 21.12.12 demanding better wages and working and living conditions. Sudhir Katyar of the PCLRA reports -
The Maandal – Asind brick kiln cluster of District Bhilwara. The cluster has 89 brick kilns. The number of workers is likely to be around 15,000. Majority of the workers are seasonal migrants. A significant number are interstate migrants. Workers were reported from five different states in addition to Rajasthan. These are UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, and Chhattisgarh. Amongst the interstate migrants, workers are mostly from UP (Banda and Chitrakoot districts) and Bihar (Banka, Bhagalpur). Amongst workers from Rajasthan, there is a large
group from Masuda tehsil in District Ajmer. The Union formation was done in the off season of July –August, primarily based on the bharai and nikasi workers of Masuda tehsil in nearby district of Ajmer. Most of these workers belong to the Rawat caste. The union formation drew good support from the community. The labor contractors also participated enthusiastically. Experience has taught us that it is a good tactics to involve small and medium labor contractors. A demand charter was drawn up before the season began. It
asks for wage hikes across all categories of workers and improvement in working and living conditions. A PCLRA team also visited Bihar-Jharkhand, a major source area. The picture below shows a brick maker family at their home in Bihar.

A PCLRA team has been active in the field since the season began in October. The Union executive meeting was held on 15th December. The meeting was very well attended. In addition to the Union Executive, representatives from almost 50 brick kilns attended the meeting. The Executive has taken following decisions
1.      From 16th December onwards, the demand charter will be given to the
employers, beginning with the Employers’ Association. The employers
are being given time till 21 December to give their response.
2.      On 21st December, work will be stopped. Workers will gather at
Jharnia Mahadeo for a public meeting.
3.      The next steps will be decided at the public meeting. It is
expected that if there is no settlement by then, the workers may
decide to go home.
The Union team undertook extensive mobilization amongst the workers between 15th and 21st December. It visited all the brick kilns and gave memorandum to the employers. It contacted workers and gave them pamphlet about the Union meeting on 21st. A memorandum was given to the brick kiln owners’ association.  While most owners accepted the memorandum, there were heated discussions with a group of 6-7 owners. Another team met the Government officers. The Labor Department was given the memorandum and asked to initiate a tripartite dialogue. The police and the administration were also given information about the meeting and workers’ problems. The Union team made efforts to develop a local support group. It met sympathetic members of the civil society including advocates, trade union members, and social activists.
The mobilization efforts met resistance from a small group of 7-8 owners. These owners own comparatively larger units centered around the village of Haripura. These are the owners who pay the lowest rates and stand to suffer the most from a wage hike. They challenged the Union to hold the meeting. The source of their confidence became apparent on the morning of the meeting when the local official responsible for law and order, the Sub Divisional Officer phoned the Union Secretary saying that he has cancelled permission for the meeting. Then the tent house supplier was threatened by the owners not to erect the tent. Union responded by mobilizing the support group to speak to the higher police officials. We asked the local police to provide protection. The local police responded and a police team was stationed at the site. The tent was erected again.
There remained the suspense whether workers will be able to resist the employers and come out of the brick kilns. The suspense was soon removed as workers started arriving in groups. Soon the tent was full and workers flowed outside. We registered almost 1000 workers and an equal number is likely to have gone unregistered. The numbers were beyond our expectation as is evident from the picture below.
The guests included the local city support group and supporters from outside the district. The workers were full of enthusiasm. After the speeches, the workers decided on the next course of action. The Union president moved the resolution for continuing the strike. The resolution was passed by a show of hands by overwhelming majority. Next the Union activists outline the strategy. It was decided to continue the strike for three days. If by the end of three days, the owners do not respond, then the workers will apply for release under the Bonded Labor Act and go back home. The Bonded Labor Act was explained. Nearly all the workers have taken an advance and that is the source of their bondage. The workers were told that they can apply for release under the Act and the bonded debt will be annulled. Format of an application under release under the Act was circulated and 40 such forms were circulated.After the meeting the workers went in the form of a rally to the nearby Haripura chauraha as a show of strength. The rally passed through the village where a large number of owners live. Finally a committee was constituted. It was decided that every day the workers will gather at Haripura chauraha in the morning and then the team will go wherever required.   
As the meeting ended, the owners’ reaction became clear. One owner threatened the Union activist. From one brick kiln, there was report of violence and a worker was beaten up. The workers responded by collecting together forcing the owner to run away. All work came to a halt. The Union informed the local police that paid a visit to the kiln. The owner later tried to effect a compromise. The city support group met the Labor Commissioner and asked for speeding up the process of tripartite dialogue. He has fixed 24th December for the meeting.


Lamp post (debasis) said...

But unless bonded labor abolition is enforced seriously by authorities, I am afraid things will not be in place. See here

Rahul Banerjee said...

the authorities are not serious about enforcing any progressive law that might help the poor!! anyway this particular campaign has ended positively for the time being despite some interim violence by the brick kiln owners as detailed in the next post.