Contract workers of Chhattisgarh seem to have played a significant role in the defeat of the 15-year-old BJP-led state government in the recent elections. Angry with complete indifference of the pro-corporate government towards the intense exploitation they face, thousands of contract workers had taken a pledge to vote out the incumbent government, said Lakhan Sahu, an office bearer of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, on the eve of polling.
Sitting in a small house in the Jamul Labour Camp in the Durg-Bhilai industrial area, Sahu said that there are about 50,000 contractual workers in the state, who, under the banner of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) and its affiliate, Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh, had pledged to end the rule of BJP in the state.
The workers were especially angered following the arrest of activist Sudha Bharadwaj in a “false” case. Bharadwaj had been associated with the CMM for many years.
“Our movement started in 1990, when 4,200 contractual labourers were thrown out, and their jobs were snatched by the cement industries, and Sudha didi played a big role in that fight. She was living in Dalli Rajhara then, and was teaching in a school,” says Sahu.
Sahu, 48, said that the contractual labourers in Chhattisgarh had seen Bhardwaj when she used to ride her bicycle for more than 20 km just to help the labourers.
“She was a school teacher then, and had one bicycle and only two pairs of clothes. She used to go to Durg to study law on her own cycle, and then come back here to stay with us. She fought our case without charging any money, and it was impossible for us also to pay fee to advocates, but today, she is behind the bars, and we are not able to do anything for her,” says Lakhan.
Savitri Sahu, 36, said in a choked voice that she never in her wildest dreams thought that she will have to see her Sudha didi behind the bars.
Savitri further says that the fault of Sudha didi was only that she used to take those cases in her hand as an advocate which were turned down by the other advocates.
“If helping poor and downtrodden is a crime then arrest us also. The contractual laborers living across Chhattisgarh will uproot this dictatorial government from this state,” Savitri added.
According to a Right to Information (RTI) reply received by Lakhan, there are more than 10,000 contractual labourers working in Durg-Bhilai industrial area. He has sought another reply from the Labour Department on the number of contractual workers across the state, and the reply to that is awaited.
The Congress won 68 out of 90 seats while the BJP could retain only 18 seats with eight out of 13 Cabinet ministers losing their seats.
The Pragathisheel Cement Shramik Sangh is one of the 17 units of the CMM, and works for the welfare of the cement workers.