Repression on Workers Continues in NOIDA

“We might as well commit suicide – we cannot be assured of a daily meal since my husband was jailed” – Shakeel’s wife says in a distressed phone call to CPI(ML) activists in Delhi. She and her children have been surviving with the help of funds collected from other workers’ families by the AICCTU and CPI(ML).

Shakeel, a member of Delhi Street Vendors’ Union affiliated to the AICCTU, lives in Mayur Vihar Phase-1 Delhi. He is a migrant worker from Bihar. On the morning of 21st of February, he had gone to the AICCTU’s Sector 10 office to help the NOIDA comrades prepare for a small procession on the second day of the Strike. In his pocket, he had Rs 40,000 that he had taken from someone for his daughter’s marriage. That morning, a large posse of police officers had descended on the office, accompanied by the media; had arrested all those in the office, and had announced to the media that they had nabbed the culprits responsible for arson and looting in NOIDA Sector 20 (Phase-II) the previous day.

Another worker arrested that morning was Gauri Shankar Pal, also a migrant worker from Bihar, who is a street vendor selling boiled eggs in Khora Colony, Ghaziabad, just 1 Km. away from the AICCTU’s Delhi-NCR office branch in Sector 10, NOIDA. Gauri Shankar is the only earning member of his family, and his family is in great hardship ever since he has been in jail.

Anoj Kumar Singh works in a factory far from NOIDA Phase-II. He has two small children (aged 1 and a half and 6 yrs.) Since he has been jailed, there no one to support his family. His wife, Poonam, is now taken up a job as a domestic worker to survive, leaving her two kids behind while at work.

CPI(ML)’s Delhi State Committee member Shyam Kishore Yadav was also arrested on that day. Shyam Kishore is just recovering from a serious accident in which his hip bones were fractured; even now, he has trouble walking. His brother Hareram, also a CPI(ML) activist, is also in jail. Hareram suffers from TB; with the TB treatment being interrupted in jail, his health has deteriorated.

Workers in NOIDA are being punished for the remarkable success of the all-India Strike, with their democratic rights under an all-out assault by the police and administration, under pressure from the industrialists’ lobby. In NOIDA, workers were picked up by police from trade union offices, homes, streets. Trade Union members all over NOIDA were targeted, while innocent workers were also picked up at random. The arrested workers have remained in jail ever since. They were denied bail in the Sessions Court, in spite of the fact that the FIRs against them are blatantly, obviously false.

In the FIR that named Shyamkishor Yadav, the SHO of Sector 20 police station stated that she and her team were on a raid when they received information that a group of people were gathering to protest. On reaching the spot, they found 34 people, whom they instantly recognised as the ones responsible for the arson and looting carried out the previous day. She further stated that they arrested all of them, and that their families would be duly informed of their arrest. She took care to add that the guidelines laid down by the honourable Supreme Court were followed to ensure that there were no human rights violations, and those arrested had no complaints against the police! The Sessions Judge asked the police how they could claim to recognize so many people: she quizzed them on whether the men’s faces were towards them all the time during the violence on February 20th? The police claimed they had a video clipping of the violence that took place on February 20th. The counsel for the AICCTU members asked to see the video footage with the Judge, and also provided photographs of the AICCTU members to match with the faces of people in the video. We did this, knowing full well that there was no way any of these men were anywhere near the spot where the violence took place on the 20th February. However, the video was not shown to us – it was seen by the Judge in her Chambers, accompanied by the police. Subsequently, the Additional Sessions Judge passed an order denying bail. That order states that the accused causes crores of rupees of property to be destroyed in 200 factories; that they set fire to vehicles and factories; and that the police arrested the workers having recognised them in the video clipping! The bail rejection order states that “the accused have indulged in anti-people activity and have caused damage to public property.” In a blatantly biased and illegal way, the bail rejection order deems the accused to be guilty even before the trial has been held – on the basis of a video clipping which would in fact go to prove the innocence of these workers!

As we go to press (22 April), just a few of the arrested workers have got bail. There is a virtual emergency in place in NOIDA in the working class localities, and there is palpable fear in working class settlements. On 20 April, some students from Delhi and the CPI(ML)’s Delhi State Secretary went to NOIDA to campaign for a Convention to be held in Delhi on the 23rd April and for a March to the NOIDA DM’s office on the 25th April. When they reached the AICCTU office in Sector 10, they were told that the SHO of the Sector 20 Police Station herself had come with her team and sat near the office for a long time, warning workers that there would be more arrests if they distributed any leaflets or campaigned in any way! I made a call to the NOIDA SSP to ask him about this intimidation by the police. ‘Why are people being prevented from distributing leaflets,’ I asked. He replied, “What is the content of the leaflet? Is there anything against police or factory owners?” It has, then, become the job of the police to enforce a gag order on any criticism of factory owners or police by workers and trade unions!

In Uttar Pradesh with Akhilesh Yadav as CM, it is interesting to reflect on the role of the police. The police does not so much as lift a baton against the Samajwadi Party-backed mobs of the dominant community who have repeatedly assaulted the Dalits of Ramgarh village in Dadri (Greater NOIDA). Likewise, they watch benignly as communal mobs repeatedly attack minorities. But when a 10-year old Dalit girl complains of gang-rape by Rajput criminals, the police in Bulanshahr was quick to confine her over night in the police lock-up, separated from her mother! In Aligarh, the police refused to register an FIR when a little girl went missing. When her raped and murdered body was found the next day, her parents protested – and the police was caught on camera brutally hitting the grieving family and knocking one old lady to the ground. And in NOIDA, the police has arrested workers wholesale, without bothering to investigate the events of February 20. So, the police that won’t raise a finger against perpetrators of dalit atrocities, communal violence or rape, is quick to beat up protestors and arrest innocent workers.

The NOIDA police’s motto is ‘Always Alert and Serving People’. Given the way it is arresting innocent workers and terrorizing unions, it should be ‘Always Anti-People, Serving Corporations’.

If the NOIDA police and UP administration really wanted, surely they could, in the two months since the Strike, easily use the available CCTV footage to identify the real miscreants and arrest them, instead of booking TU leaders and innocent workers who had nothing to do with the incident? Actually, the stray incidents during the Strike have just been used as a pretext to crack down on the entire workers’ movement and to terrorise workers against joining trade unions. The police, acting at the behest of the UP Government and factory managements, is hell bent on preventing workers from organising against denial of minimum wages, exploitation of contract workers in violation of the law, and denial of the right to unionise. It is an all-out crackdown on democracy – and calls for widespread democratic mobilisation in defence of democracy in NOIDA, as well as a concerted effort on part of the Central Trade Unions that had called the Strike.

Liberation Archive