Working Class Struggles: Defying Assassination and Repression

May Day commemorates the historic struggles for workers’ rights and the legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs of 1886. In May 2013, the legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs continues to be most relevant and alive with meaning – as India’s workers fight courageous battles defying repression and assassination in different parts of the country. On the occasion of May Day 2013, we pay tribute to Com. Gangaram Koal, AICCTU tea garden leader martyred in Assam on 25 March 2013, and bring you updates on workers’ struggles in the Delhi-NCR region, especially the NOIDA workers who have been arrested during the All-India Strike and have since been in jail.

CPI(ML)’s Assam Leader Comrade Gangaram Koal Hacked to Death: Corrupt Ruling Congress in the Dock

On the night of 25th March, Comrade Gangaram Koal, General Secretary of Asom Sangrami Chah Shramik Sangh and member of Assam State Committee of CPI(ML), was brutally assassinated near his home at the Gutibari tea garden in Tinsukia district. Comrade Gangaram was a militant and popular leader of the tea community in the Dibrugarh-Tinsukia region, and he had been at the forefront of protests against large-scale corruption in gram panchayat schemes and in the public distribution system. Undoubtedly, he was killed at the behest of the corrupt nexus of panchayat representatives, government officials, and politicians, in particular the Congress MLA from Chabua Raju Sahu whose interests were threatened by his relentless activism.

Comrade Gangaram Kol’s home adjoins a tea estate in Gutibari in Tinsukia district. He had been returning home at around 9 pm on is motorbike when he was attacked by assailants with an iron rod and hacked to death with machetes. His body was discovered by a tea garden worker soon after.

Comrade Gangaram Koal had led a successful struggle last year to get the licence of a corrupt ration agent cancelled. The ration agent, known to be close to the MLA Raju Sahu, ran a ‘fair price’ shop in which 60% of the consumers proved to be bogus, and the remaining 40% genuine consumers had not got even a fraction of their due rations. Only recently, leaders of the ACMS (the tea garden union affiliated with INTUC) were heard publicly declaring that Comrade Gangaram, who challenged their role as agents of the Congress and the tea industry.

The ACMS acts to keep the tea garden workers as a captive vote-bank, and any emerging popular and independent leader from this community is ruthlessly eliminated or terrorized by the tea garden mafia. In 2000, Daniel Topno, a popular student leader from the tea community who contested as an independent MLA candidate and got substantial votes, was killed. In Sonitpur, Lakhikant Kurmi and Narayan Pondel, tea garden activists, survived a life-threatening assault. Not long ago, a close comrade of Gangaram Koal, CPI(ML) activist Shubhrajyoti Bardhan, was attacked twice – once at the Deputy Commissioner’s office where he had gone to raise question of irregularities in PDS, and once more in a village.

Comrade Gangaram had been the CPI(ML)’s candidate in the Lok Sabha polls from Dibrugarh in 2009, and had twice been CPI(ML)’s MLA candidate from Chabua in 2006 and 2011. His heinous political assassination has sparked off a massive state-wide protest in Assam. It should be noted that CPI(ML) activists have been assaulted just a few months back by goons when they went to the food and civil supplies department to register a complaint against irregularities in the PDS.

The Tarun Gogoi Government of Assam initially ordered a CID enquiry and was adamant against ordering a CBI enquiry as demanded by the powerful mass movement that emerged to demand justice for Gangaram Koal. On March 29th, Assam observed a successful 12-hour Bandh at the call of the CPI(ML), demanding a CBI enquiry into the assassination. A delegation of Opposition parties including CPI (ML), CPI, CPM, Aam Admi Party, AGP, All India Forward Bloc, Samajwadi Party and Revolutionary Socialist Party met the Governor with the same demand. Subsequently, the Government has had to concede the demand for a CBI enquiry.

However, it is important for the CBI enquiry to be time-bound. Justice delayed is often justice denied, and we can recall that the CBI enquiry into Daniel Topno’s murder is yet to submit its report even after 13 years.

Assassination has been a notorious stock-in-trade for the mafia of industrialists and politicians threatened by trade union movements. Trade Union leaders such as Shankar GuhaNiyogi and Darasram Sahu in Chhattisgarh, Datta Samant in Mumbai, Gurudas Chatterjee and Jagdev Sharma in Jharkhand are some of the popular workers’ leaders who were martyred at the behest of the powerful vested interests. Comrade Gangaram’s courageous struggle will be continued by his comrades – because murder never can and never will silence workers’ struggles for their rights and their dreams of an egalitarian world.

Remembering Gangaram Koal

(Gangaram Koal’s close comrade Subhas Sen, leading AICCTU activist in Assam, remembers the slain comrade.)

Com. Gangaram Koal was born on April 21, 1970 in a very poor tea tribe family of Gutibari village of Panitola Tea Estate in Tinsukia District of Assam. His father’s name was the late Somra Koal and mother the late Taramoni Koal. He left behind his wife Sokhila Munda - a school teacher, son Vishal - a student of class IX and a daughter, a student of class VI.

He matriculated from Panitola High School securing a First Division in 1989 and graduated from Dibrugarh University in 1998. The young Gangaram was the General Secretary of Panitola High School Students’ Union – at a school where Assamese speaking students were a majority and students from the Tea communities a minority. He was a popular student leader: a position that later on helped him to act as a bridge between the Assamese and Tea Tribe people. Later, he was elected first the Assistant Secretary and then the President of the Panitola Unit of All Assam Tea Tribe Students’ Association (AATTSA). In this position, he developed a closer acquaintance with the problems of life and livelihood of the tea tribes and tea workers, and seriously began to address those problems. But this experience generated in him a deep conviction that any organization devoid of working class ideology or any organization taking shelter in pockets of the Tea management will never be able to resolve these basic problems. From this point on, he was in serious search of an alternative, even as he continued his college education. While a college student, he leased several bighas of land belonging to his father, to fund the establishment of 14 primary schools for the kids of tea workers. Later on, 2 of these schools were elevated to M.E. School status and one to a high school - the Nokhroy High School. Com. Koal was for some years the Headmaster of that High School.

In the meantime his search for an alternative platform for struggle for the rights and dignity of the tea workers continued, and he came in contact with the CPI(ML) Liberation through one of his close friends.

After coming to Party and being enrolled as a primary member, he was given one important responsibility after another and worked hard to bear each of these responsibilities with full commitment. In Com Gangaram, the qualities of a dynamic student leader were honed by the introduction to Marxism-Leninism. He was one of the State and Tinsukia District Committee Members of CPI(ML), one of the CWC members of AICCTU and Vice Presidents of Assam State Commitee of AICCTU, besides being the General Secretary of Asom Sangrami Chah Shramik Sangha (ASCSS). He contested as a CPI(ML) candidate from Dibrugarh Parliamentary Constituency Seat and twice consecutively as MLA Candidate from the Chabua Legislative Assembly Constituency. He was also elected as a delegate from the Tinsukia District to the 9th Party Congress.

He resigned from the post of Headmaster and became a whole timer of the Party. A Party whole timer, Com. Gangaram, a modest, hardworking, and courageous working class organizer. As a resolute sentinel of people’s interest he had consistently been leading people’s movement against corruption in the village Panchayats, in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and also the inhuman exploitation of tea workers and the Tea Tribes community that had continued for more than two centuries since the British colonial tea planters brought Santhali-speaking tribal communities as indentured labour from the Chhota Nagpur plateau (now Jharkhand). To the ruling class he was a constant irritant, who had been eroding the Congress vote bank in villages and tea gardens, organizing tea workers who had been considered a ‘captive vote bank’ by the Congress.

So, the ruling Congress party and its Chabua MLA Raju Sahu in collaboration with the tea barons masterminded the brutal murder and got it executed by help of professional killers who beat him on his head and stabbed him with a sharp knife leaving deep wounds on several parts of his body including his face, and even partially slashing his throat. He was alone on his motorbike on the way to his home at about 9 P.M. after having attended a discussion on the preparations for the 9th Congress.

The corporate houses and the ruling political parties of Assam are hand-in-glove to plunder more natural resources like tea, petroleum, gas, coal etc., and in order to do so they are willing to turn Assam into a graveyard of democracy. Many CPI(ML) comrades have been killed in the past too.

On 29th March, there was a successful bandh in Assam. All democratic organisations and individuals rose to the occasion to rise in protest and demanding a time bound CBI enquiry, paying homage to Com. Gangaram and burning the effigy of the MLA Raju Sahu, the main conspirator. On the occasion of the bandh, trains were blockaded at Panitola Railway Station for more than 4 hours with participation of thousands of protesters. On 11th April there was a commemoration meeting at Panitola with participation of 42 organisations and nearly 4000 people. Organisation like the Mottok Yuba Chhatra Parishad, All Assam Moran Students’ Union, Asom Chah Janajati Jatiya Mahasabha, the Assam Tea Labour Union, the Brihattar Asamiya Juba Manch, the AASU, the AIPWA, the AICCTU, All Assam Bengalee Juba Chatra Parishad and others. On 12th April there was a Citizens’ convention at the Guwahati Press Club convened by CPIML, Sadou Asom Janasangskritik Parishad and People’s Forum for Democracy (PFD). Noted left intellectuals like Dr. Hiren Gohain, Paramananda Mazumder, Nalini Dhar Bhattacharjee were amongst the participants besides leaders of NEROWCC, APBEA, the UTCC, ASPWU, the Assam Juba Parishad, Assam Juba Control, the AAWU, the Ganakantha, AICCTU etc. Spontaneous movements were also organised even where the AICCTU or CPI(ML) do not have any organisation or political activities.

Comrade Gangaram Koal, we will always remember you. Your loss is an immeasurable one. But - they killed you hoping to kill the movement. But they don’t realize that they can never kill your spirit which will continue to inspire movements of the workers and oppressed peoples in Assam’s tea gardens and all over the

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