State Brutality on Migrant Labourers in Ludhiana

Last month's brutal assault on migrant workers in Ludhiana, mostly from Bihar, by the Punjab Police and private goons has been of a piece with similar assaults in recent past on workers in Haryana – Honda workers at Gurgaon and workers of Liberty Shoes at Karnal. Brutal attacks on workers are clearly becoming the order of the day and migrant workers are thought to be particularly soft targets.

The local unit of CPI(ML), led by ex-MLA Tarsem Jodha who is a popular leader of brick kiln workers in the region, has stood by the workers since the atrocity took place on 25 August. The media coverage of the incident and prompt and sustained intervention on behalf of the workers by the CPI(ML) and other forces has forced the administration to release many of the workers who were initially taken into police custody. Six workers are however still in jail and have been implicated under Section 307 of IPC. The local unit of the Shiv Sena tried to give the whole thing a communal twist while some others wanted to drive a wedge between the local population and outsiders, but Ludhiana has so far not allowed them to have any success.

As a mark of solidarity with the migrant workers of Ludhiana and their just demands and struggles, a six-member CPI(ML) delegation comprising Party Central Committee member Prabhat Kumar, Bihar MLAs Arun Singh and Amarnath Yadav, AICCTU leaders Shyamlal Prasad and Santosh Roy and Party activist Anil Tewari visited Ludhiana on 30-31 August.

The team noted that the industrial town of Ludhiana has lakhs of migrant labourers, who routinely face police harassment and violence. Women workers, engaged as maid servants in domestic work, are often denied payment for heavy work, on one or the other pretext, and are removed form the job on allegations of theft without wages being paid. Often they face sexual harassment. Workers returning from night duty have to undergo frequent harassment by police. Policemen demand to see identity cards which they do not possess, and then humiliate and beat them, robbing them of whatever money is found on their person. On train journeys back home, their earnings are routinely looted by the police; their train tickets are destroyed, as a pretext for further harassment for ‘ticket-less travel'.

The CPI(ML) delegation visited 6-7 localities in Ludhiana which are mainly inhabited by migrant workers from Bihar , UP and Jharkhand. Besides meeting hundreds of workers and addressing thousands of workers in many mass meetings, the team met family members of many workers who were the victims of police atrocities of August 25.

That day, a worker went to the police thana to communicate the simple fact that his I-card requisition slip did not bear a date. The police tore up the slip, and beat up the worker. When a number of workers gathered in thana spontaneously to lodge their protest, the police not only let loose an attack on them inside the thana premises but also conducted an organised attack on Basti Jodhewal with the help of goons. Small shopkeepers and houses of workers were looted, they were brutally beaten up and hundreds of people were taken into illegal custody in the thana . More than a hundred were injured, some seriously.

The echo of this incident could also be heard in Bihar where condemnations were issued from many corners. The CPI(ML) in Bihar has lodged its strong protest with the Bihar Govt. against these incidents.

Workers told the CPI(ML) leaders that police and brokers demanded bribes to the tune of Rs. 3500 for 50 I-cards. Party leaders also met the affected shopkeepers as well as the workers who were seriously injured. One of them, Atiullah, was still in hospital. They also met the family members of the 2 construction workers, Prahlad Kushwaha (of East Chmparan Bihar) and Shyamu of Hardoi, U P, who were killed when a wall that was under construction collapsed. The families of those killed could get compensation only when CPI(ML) cadres led the workers to gherao the police station and demonstrate at the district HQ.

The Punjab government has shown a highly arrogant and anti-worker attitude to the present incident of atrocity on migrant workers in Ludhiana . Neither the Chief Minister nor any senior colleague from his cabinet has considered it necessary to visit Ludhiana . The UPA government at the Centre has also exhibited similar unconcern.

The team also met the DC of Ludhiana and handed him a memorandum demanding immediate release of all arrested workers and punitive action against guilty police officials who connived with private goons to unleash such brutal attacks on innocent workers. The arbitrary practice of registration of migrant workers has been temporarily halted, and the CPI(ML) demanded an end to this discrimination for ever. Pointing out that the incident has highlighted the need for protective legislation and institutional measures to defend the rights of migrant workers, the CPI(ML) demanded that the UPA government form a National Commission for Migrant Workers and bring about legislation, on the lines of the Act forbidding atrocities on scheduled castes and tribes, to protect the democratic rights and basic dignity and interests of migrant workers. Hundreds of unorganised sector workers in Delhi have sent their protest letter to the Punjab Govt. after a protest which was held in Delhi on the rights of such workers. The Party has sent a memorandum to the Punjab Chief Minister through the Resident Commissioner in Delhi demanding immediate actions to stop the atrocities on migrant workers. Hundreds of unorganised sector workers in Delhi have sent their protest letter to the Punjab Govt. after a protest which was held in Delhi on various issues.

- Prabhat Kumar