As workers and farmers unite against the Narendra Modi-led government’s anti-farmer and anti-labour laws, students, activists and media persons are facing increasingly brutal repression by the State. A press conference was organised in Delhi on March 1 by over 36 civil society groups to demand the release of political prisoners and highlight the ongoing torture on those still in jail.
The conference, organised by the Mazdoor Adikhar Sangathan, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, Mazdoor Patrika among others, was addressed by dalit labour rights activist Nodeep Kaur, who was released on bail on February 26 after 45 days in custody.
Addressing the press conference, the 24-year-old activist said, “Even though it is a victory that I am out today, but I am unhappy. The real victory will be when what we are fighting for is achieved. I was beaten up, dragged by my hair and abused viciously, only because the police and the State feel that they can attack dalits and no one will rally behind us and speak out for us. I was campaigning against the anti-worker labour laws and demanding the companies to pay wages to those who had not been paid. But we were singled out and lathicharged. Not only that, the police then levelled charges of extortion and snatching against us.”
Also read: Investigation: Was Activist Nodeep Kaur Sexually Assaulted in Police Custody?
She added, “The police is using brutal force and third degree torture as a machine of the government to attack those who are highlighting the issues of the people.”
Meanwhile, even as Nodeep has been released, the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan’s president, Shiv Kumar who was arrested with Kaur, continues to languish in jail despite the fact that a medical examination has reportedly revealed several brutal injuries as well as trauma inflicted on the activist in custody.
Speaking at the press conference, Shiv Kumar’s father Rajbeer pointed out that his medical report has still not been made available to the family. He has also not been shifted to a medical facility in Chandigarh despite orders from the High Court.
“My son was arrested in early January and we found out only on January 31. We have been able to meet him only once. The police came over asking for his whereabouts. When we sought to meet him, we were told that he is being quarantined for 15 days. He has fractured limbs, several injuries and his nails were also removed,” Rajbeer alleged.
Activists have raised several questions about the continued incarceration of Kumar – the first being, if he was detained on January 16 then why was he produced in court almost 10 days later on January 24. Activists also alleged that he has been made a target of casteist slurs and was being made to clean toilets.
Farm leaders who were present at the conference stated that they were united in this struggle of workers against the repression and the denial of their rights. Sujeet Singh Phool of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), (Krantikari) said, “State repression is the biggest threat to nation's democracy. We are demanding an enquiry action against officials who have tortured activists in custody. Moreover, the farmers’ protest is not merely about farmers. This is a movement of anyone who believes in the idea of democracy of India. They must be understood together.”
He added, “Over 200 kisans have died amid the protest for several reasons and to us this is also a product of state repression. Whether it is false cases and arrests of those who participated in protests, all this is a part of the state’s repressive tactics.”
Activists pointed out that the labour laws – which enable hiring and firing easily, do away with the concepts of grievance redressal and unionisation of workers. Further, these laws that will compel the workers to toil for over 12 hours a day without wage guarantee are in fact a death knell for India’s working classes, pushing them towards enslavement, as highlighted by the activists.
Sucheta De of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) said, “Both farm laws and wage code acts are to enslave the labourers and farmers. This is what Shiv Kumar and Nodeep were talking about. The workers are being fired left right and centre alongwith substantial wage cuts, further pushing the labour towards bonded labour. Elected governments are not concerned about labour rights. Workers are now understanding it and standing side by side with the farmers against ‘company raj’, which is why the government is now scared of those organising and rallying support and wants to crack down on every pillar of dissent.”
The organisers have unconditionally demanded the release of Shiv Kumar. The also called upon the public to understand the pattern of state repression and demanded punishment for those who have violated the law to inflict torture and harassment on activists.