People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 19, 2004
J&K: Ask For Wages, You’ll Get Shot
CPI(M) Demands Inquiry Into Police Firing In Banihal
O N Trisal
DISPLAYING its contempt for democratic rights, the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government of Jammu & Kashmir unleashed brutal repression on the peaceful struggle of workers demanding payment of minimum wages in Banihal on September 10. Comrade M Hanif died in the police firing and 45 workers were injured in the police action. Many are waging a battle for survival in various hospitals at Srinagar and Banihal. The CPI(M) state secretary Mohd Yusuf Tarigami in a statement on September 11 strongly condemned the savage attack on workers and demanded a high level credible probe into the incident and provision of relief to the victims.
Hundreds of workers, engaged in construction of railway line at Banihal remained on dharna for over a month, demanding the right to form a union, besides the implementations of labour laws. On September 5, with the initiative of Tarigami, a settlement emerged in which it was agreed that the local Tehsildar would conduct the election of the workers’ union and a detained union leader, namely Shafqat, would be released. As a result of this settlement, the election was duly conducted and a new union came into existence, as per the agreement. Strangely, the management refused to recognise the elected union. It may be stated here that the contract for construction of the project is assigned to the IRCON but at the moment, Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) is operating the contract as reportedly the contract has been sublet. The HCC is notorious for its anti-worker and brutal policies.
On September 10 when hundreds of workers were on a peaceful dharna at Banihal, the local administration, in collusion with and at the instance of HCC management, resorted to unprovoked and indiscriminate firing upon the protesting workers, in which scores of workers were seriously injured. Many are presently battling for life in various hospitals. One of the injured, Tariq Saleem Jeela, is in a quite critical condition.
The people in Banihal town, seething with anger against the administration for such a brutal assault on peacefully protesting workers, held a dharna the next day demanding inquiry into the firing. The police once again resorted to firing and lathicharge on the demonstrators, injuring many.
CPI(M) leader in Lok Sabha, Basudev Acharya visited Banihal on September 15 and met the victims. He expressed sympathies with the workers. At a press conference held in Srinagar on the same day, Tarigami assailed the PDP-Congress coalition government for "trampling the democratic rights of the people". He charged that the government was turning Jammu & Kashmir into a police state. "Police is running the affairs of the government and doing whatever they like", said Tarigami.
He said the Hindustan Construction Company, known for its anti-labour and brutal methods, appeared to have purchased the local administration, which did not hesitate to take the lives of workers with impunity. It went to the extent of outraging the modesty of the mothers and sisters of the workers. The extent of savagery was such that the local SHO asked the police, with his pistol in hand, to "kill this bastard" – the victim being none else than a young boy, Shafqat, who was elected as the president of the worker’s union, stated Tarigami.
Accusing the police of resorting to "hooliganism and authoritarianism", he said there seems to be no accountability in the state. He questioned the CM whether this was his ‘healing touch’ policy, which envisaged a minimum amount of restraint at the hands of powers that be. "Despite an army of ministers in the coalition government it is the police which reaches each and every spot to suppress the voice of the people wherever they raise their legitimate demands", he alleged.
Tarigami expressed concern that with elementary democracy under threat in the state, it would provide a tool in the hands of those who preach secession.
Under the circumstances, the minimum that needs to be done by those at the helm is to order a high level credible probe, provide immediate relief to the victims of firing, take action against the wrongdoers and ensure implementation of labour laws.