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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Inequality of Access to Justice

Getting justice in this country is costly. Whether it is initially from the police or later from the courts. That is why poor people are in most cases unable to access it unless there is an organisation supporting them. The Int Bhatta Majdoor Union based in Ahmedabad is one such organisation that has been fighting for the rights of the brick kiln workers in Gujarat in particular and also in the rest of the country for over five years now. Here is a report from them about the gang rape of an Adivasi minor girl brick kiln worker and the extortion from her co workers by their employers and the action that the union has taken to bring the culprits to justice.
Rape and extortion at a brick kiln in Baroda district, Gujarat
Geeta (name changed), a 16 year old tribal girl, is a resident of Limkheda village in Dhanpur taluka of Dahod district of Gujarat. She has three brothers and three sisters. She has studied till class VIII.  For the first time in her life, she went to work in brick kilns at Navik Bricks, a brick kiln in Sankheda block of old Baroda district in the month of February 2014. Her brothers and cousins were already working there. The group had started work in the month of November and had spent almost four months by the time Geeta arrived to join them. Some members would come back to their home village some 150 kms away and then join back after a couple of days’ rest. The group of six persons was recruited to work in the brick kilns by Avani bai, a female labor contractor from a nearby village. The family group was advanced an amount of Rs. 90,000/- against six persons to work in brick kilns. Geeta’s family took Rs. 60,000/- for four workers while her uncle took Rs. 30,000/ for two workers. The group was engaged to transport fired bricks from the kiln for loading in trucks.
Dahod district is part of the tribal belt in Western India that stretches across a number of states. Tribal community is universally recognized as the poorest community in India. Dahod district is the main catchment for cheap wage labor in construction and agriculture sector in plains of Gujarat. The family owns a small amount of land that is not enough to provide sustenance. As local labor is not available, the family members migrate for wage labor work. The normal migration route is for agriculture work in Saurashtra, a far off region of Gujarat, an overnight journey away. This was the first time when the group went to work in brick kilns.
In February, Avani bai put pressure on the family to send one more workers for work as the advance was against six workers, but only five were working. So Geeta also went to the kiln as there was no other person left at home. After she started work, she was stared at and followed by three young men whom she did not know by name. One of the group members would repeatedly smile at her. Six days after she had arrived, when Geeta was loading bricks in the truck, this person climbed on the truck to receive bricks from Geeta. He pressed her hand. Geeta then moved away. That night Geeta was sleeping outside her hut with a group of young girls. Late in the night the three young men covered her mouth with a cloth and lifted her to nearby fields. They took her to a nearby hut where she was raped by the young man targeting her while the other two kept guard. By this time, the other girls realized that Geeta was missing. They raised an alarm. The workers gathered and rescued Geeta from the hut. One of the group members pursuing Geeta was the son of the owner of the kiln while another one was supervisor at the kiln.
After the incident the group decided that they will not work anymore at the brick kiln. The labor contractor and the kiln owner did not agree to let the group go back. They instead said that the family should reach a settlement about the incident, but continue working. The settlement offer was to marry the rapist and get some money. The workers did not agree to this. They informed their family members back at home who sent a vehicle to pick up the family. The vehicle arrived at the brick kiln two days after the incident. The female members of the group sat in the vehicle to go back. At this point the brick kiln owner collected a group that attacked the workers. They beat up the jeep driver badly who ran away. The kiln owner removed the tires of the jeep and kept it in his compound. The female workers were asked to go back to their huts. They were asked to pay back a sum of Rs. 1.5 lakhs (Rs. 150,000/-) if they wanted to go back.
It took the family members a week to collect this amount. A group came from the workers’ village along with the village headman to pay the ransom money and bring the group back. Even this did not happen easily. The workers report that the owner collected a group to kidnap Geeta but somehow they were able to sit in their jeep and go back to the village.
After the group reached the village, Geeta’s father approached the village headman to help in filing a police case. The headman approached the head constable who was on the local beat. Rs. five thousand was paid. A food and drink party was organized. However nothing came of it.
Dhanpur block is a major source area of brick kiln workers for brick kilns in Central Gujarat. Ahmedabad based Int Bhatta Majdoor Union has been active in this area. It has helped workers get their back wages in a number of cases. Bharat bhai is the Union cadre from this area. Almost six months after the incident, he came to know about the incident. He immediately contacted the Union. The whole group came to the Ahmedabad office on 18th September. After a debriefing session, the Union team went to the Sankheda police station on 20th September to file a report. Geeta’s brothers who had migrated were called back to give evidence. A police report has been filed under sections 370 A, 376, 342, 323,114 and POCSO Act section 3,4. For the first time, Section 370 of IPC that deals with human trafficking has been invoked after much argument with the police. 
The case is remarkable for its extreme brutality, but is in many ways symptomatic of the vulnerabilities faced by the brick kiln workers across the state and the country. It shows almost complete absence of regulation of any kind at the brick kilns. The system of advances leading to debt bondage, non-payment of wages, extortion if the workers want to leave early, violence including sexual violence – all these features are common to brick kilns all over the country to some extent. The incident has taken place in a state that has been touted as the model for the whole country. The brick kiln falls in old Baroda district, the constituency of the current Indian Prime Minister till he resigned his seat to keep the other seat won by him. The case illustrates that the law and order machinery of the state is outside the bounds of the poor unless mediated by civil society groups of which there are not many. The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action is one such group that has been actively working for the informal workers and is providing support to the Int Bhatta Majdoor Union in this case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rahul, it is horrifying, and timeless, very unfortunately. Incidents like this have been common in the lives of poor people for many centuries in our country. I am so happy that the Int Bhatta Majdoor Union did take effective action. I am proud that you, my classmate are doing so much for the helpless of India. Thank you. Gargi Das