Yatra From Tarapur to Jaitapur
[An AISA team led by AISA national president Com. Sandeep Singh along with a group of students from TISS, Mumbai, participated in the “Tarapur to Jaitapur Yatra; 23—25 April 2011” organized by several organizations and concerned individuals against the proposed nuclear power project at Jaitapur. They joined a 7-member team led by Com. Uday Bhatt of the Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) of Maharashtra. Saptorshi, a research student of JNU, reports.]
When we reached Tarapur we saw a heavy presence of Maharashtra police and plain clothed police. The first move of the police as soon as activists from different parts of the country reached the venue was to take their vehicle along with the drivers under informal custody.
The meeting at Tarapur started with the enthusiastic performance of revolutionary songs by young activists from two cultural groups based in Maharashtra. A large number of local people participated in the meeting and extended their hospitality to the activists who came from different parts of the country.
The meeting in Tarapur was significant in itself because Tarapur hosts the biggest nuclear power plant in India. While it has been celebrated out of all proportion across the country as a mark of national progress, the people of Tarapur have a very different picture of the plant. While many families who had given land for the project have not received adequate compensation or the promised employment, their life is constantly under threat from the nuclear plant which, according to nuclear experts, hosts some of the most vulnerable nuclear reactors of the country. It is relevant to mention that two reactors of the Tarapur nuclear power plant are boiling water reactors which are similar to the reactors of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and are even older than the latter.
The meeting was participated by many eminent personalities. It was conducted by Prof. Banwarilal Sharma of Azadi Bachao Andolan and the speakers included Justice P B Sawant (former Supreme Court Judge) and Justice Kolse Patil (ex-judge, Maharashtra High court), Admiral Ramdas, ex-chief of the Indian Navy, Saumya Dutta of Bharat Gyanvigyan Jatha, Neelkandan Cherikkatu, ex-nuclear scientist at BARC, Advocate and senior environmental activist K Ashoka Rao of Central Public Sector Employees Union, Vaishali Patil of Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Janandolan, Dr. S P Udaykumar of the Tamilnadu anti nuclear movement, and Dr. Gabriele of NAPM. Sandip from Haripur of West Bengal and activists from other parts of the country opposing nuclear power projects in their respective areas also shared their views and extended their solidarity to the people of Jaitapur.
After the meeting in Tarapur the activists were stopped by the police when they were trying to get to their vehicles to go to their next scheduled mass meeting at Thane. A group of activists comprising of Saumya Dutta and others had already left for Thane under cover, so that the Thane meeting could be attended by at least some of the activists. After a long altercation with the police the activists at Tarapur decided to march ahead in civil disobedience. When the police stopped us the civil disobedience took the shape of a “Raasta Roko” and ultimately culminated in a mass arrest. The activists were taken to the Penn police station and on their way the energetic sloganeering of around 150 activists drew the attention of a lot of people.
The police arrested us at around 4.30 in the afternoon and then started playing delaying tactics where they did not book any charge against us. In the meantime the police had threatened the bus drivers and so pressurized the bus owners so that they were not ready to continue with the Yatra. The activists along with many women activists tried to reason with the police and wanted to meet with the Superintendent of the police station. It was at around 10.30 in the night it was decided in a mass meeting to hold a mass hunger strike. It was only then the police let the activists leave without filing any charges. Due to the loss of vehicles it became very difficult to continue the yatra. But with whatever available resources the organizers managed to get conveyance till Tara.
At around 7 in the morning we saw police barricading all the gates of the Yusuf Meher Ali Centre where we were staying. It was decided that the activists would get out of the center in small groups without drawing the attention of the police. However, our team was detained by the police at a place around Penn. We were taken to the Penn police station where we met several other activists. Towards late afternoon we met with some more activists who told us that a small group of activists led by Vaishali Patil and the local Peasant and workers Party MLA could hold a public meeting despite heavy police restriction at the Penn market.
In a couple of hours we were released. Vaishali Patil told us that the Yatra had to be called off due to logistical reasons but a group of activists had left for Jaitapur. After our release and return back to Mumbai we also decided in consultation with the comrades of Lal Nishan Party that the AISA team would visit Jaitapur and the other villages.
Jaitapur Firing Victims
We visited the villages of Sakhari Nate, Mithigawane and Madban. In Sakhri Nate village we met Abdul Sayekar whose only son, Tabrez was killed in police firing on 18 April. Tabrez was a daily wage earner who like many others earned his living from the sea and was perturbed by the prospect of losing his meager source of livelihood.
On 18th of April, district collector Ajit Pawar led a huge battalion of Maharashtra police which started barricading the village of Sakhari Nate. “The police and the media has spread rumours about the people attacking the police but the truth is most of the people were not around when the police started cordoning the village. There were just women and children in the houses,” said Mansur Solkar who was there trying to pacify the police. A fisherman Naushad had witnessed the whole event and reported that the police had started shooting without even giving the people a warning.
We were told that a young man called Mustaq was hit by a bullet in his head, and Tabrez who was close by, was shot while trying to help him. The police took his body while he was still in his senses, they allowed no medical help and he was taken to the local hospital in a cart which delayed the process of medical help and probably exhausted the chances of his survival. The police did not release the body for a long while and only after long protest could the body be handed over to the family. There were marks of police boots on Tabrez’s chest.
We met at least thirty people who were wounded in the police atrocities of 18th April. The most shocking thing about the whole incident was that the police had not only rampaged the houses and molested the women they had shot bullets at young children. We met three young boys who had bullet injuries: Zubhak Pervez (10), Shahrukh Nuroodeen Mollah (16) and Zaihim Zakir Borkar (17). Mohd. Ali Munir Dhadwarkar (18) showed us his bandaged chest where a bullet had been removed. Sahi Shaukat Bhatkar (18) also had a bullet injury at his chest and the first operation to remove the bullet from his chest had failed. We also met Shoaib Hussein Bhatkar (22, bullet injury in the chin) and Talib (18, bullet injury at head). In the house of Majid Kasam Mirkar, we found two bullets and a police baton. Majid’s daughter was feeding her 40 days old daughter who said that she was molested by the police and had to run for life leaving her little daughter behind. If the police were indeed trying to disperse an unruly crowd as they claim, then why did they need to go and rampage the houses of people?
Unfazed by the severe repression, the people were determined to continue the resistance and kick out the Areva Nuclear Power Plant which threatens their lives and livelihood.
Sand Workers’ Struggle
The NDA Government introduced earthmover machines for sand extraction from the Sone river. Before the last assembly elections, some contractors who enjoyed the patronage/protection of JD(U), BJP and RJD leaders, had begun using these machines on some of the banks of the Sone. Sharp protest by sand workers caused a slight decrease in the use of these machines. But with the return of the JD(U)-BJP to power, the contractors were emboldened and there was a tremendous increase in the use of machines for sand extraction. On several banks of Bikram, Bihta and Maner blocks of Patna district and Sandesh and Koilvar blocks of Bhojpur districts, nearly 50 earthmover machines were being used for sand extraction. While contractors raked in profits, thousands of workers lost their jobs. The livelihood of several small time tea-stall owners who had set up shops near the sand mines was also affected.
In Bihar, the Nitish Government’s development model seems to be: Make the contractors richer while the workers get poorer! Thousands are forced to migrate in search of jobs, as neither have new factories been set up nor new employment opportunities created. In the name of industry, only the sand mining industry provides livelihood to a substantial number of workers. Now, workers in this sector too are being rendered jobless! Sand workers launched a sustained agitation in protest.
On 8 December 2010, thousands of workers carrying shovels staged a huge demonstration outside the newly constituted legislative assembly. The demonstration ended only when workers received an assurance from the Director of the mining department that the use of machines for sand extraction would be banned through a law on the lines of the NREGA clause that makes manual labour mandatory. But the next day, the order issued by the Director read, “If workers are available, machines should not be used,” leaving a loophole wide open.
Workers warned district administrations that if the use of earthmovers for sand extraction was not stopped by 19 December 2010, they would storm the sand shores. Accordingly on 20 December 2010, around 400 workers gathered at the Kauriya shore. Equipped with shovels and the party flag, they staged a militant demonstration against the earthmovers and the contractors. Seeing their militancy, drivers fled the shores with the machines. When one contractor defiantly continued using the machine, it was destroyed by the workers. A hut belonging to one of the contractors was burnt by the workers and the sand extraction work came to a stop. Two workers were also injured in the struggle. At the Mehsuniya, Suraundha, and Amanabad shores, similar scenes were played out and sand extraction stopped. By the time the workers reached Amanabad their numbers had swelled to 1500. From there they returned to Parev where they held a mass meeting. On 21 December the workers succeeded in stopping the machines, and workers were once again employed for sand extraction.
Despite the assurances by the directorate, Nitish Kumar’s mining and geology department adopted dilly-dallying tactics like asking for Bhojpur DM’s opinions. The government’s intention was to drag out the movement and tire out the workers.
Protest rallies were organized on 25 December at Amanabad, Bendol and Pairav. Soon after, with the objective of developing the party among the sand workers, a party organizer was assigned for Maner Diyara. Twenty five new members were recruited and a party team was also set up in Parev.
On 12 January 2011, the sand workers once against gathered on the shores demanding a stop to sand extraction and loading by JCB machines. Thousands of workers gathered to march along the 8km stretch from the shores of Bihta to Maner. The information regarding the programme had been sent to the mining minister and district officials. This time the contractors had already removed the earthmover machines and did not seek a clash. A mass meeting was organized at Chaursai shore where nearly 2500 workers participated, addressed by party leaders and sand workers. They announced that if extraction and loading by machines did not stop, all the roads leading to the shores would be blockaded. They also appealed to truck owners not to bring trucks to such shores.
This was perhaps the first gathering by the party in Maner Diyara. Following this, several battles against JCB-Poklen earthmover machines were fought. On 16 January 2011, the workers marched to the Bindol shore and had the machines removed. On 17 January, an intense fight took place between the contractors and the villagers when digging by the earthmovers caused the village road to be blocked. The government and the administration shamelessly sided with the contractors.
Earlier on 3 January 2011, on a TV show, Bihar’s mining and geology minister, S N Arya asked for a week’s time from our party representative, and also appealed to us to postpone the movement called on 6 January. The party agreed to the request to postpone the protest, but when they submitted a charter of struggle to the Mining and Labour ministries, the mining minister expressed his helplessness in stopping the use of JCB machines or taking action against the sand mafia. This mafia had worked for the JD (U) and the BJP during the elections and has a strong hold over the government.
On 28 February 2011, nearly 1500 sand workers blocked the Koilvar bridge in spite of the 100-plus police force, commandos and platoons. They demanded that the Government stop defending contractors and sand mafia and implement the agreement. The Koilvar bridge, also called the lifeline of Patna, was blockaded for two hours, forcing the administration to capitulate. The SHO of Bihta expressed regret and a written agreement was signed.
Under the pressure of the movement, the administrations ordered immediate removal of JCB and Poklen machines from all the shores. The written assurance also states that the legal action would be taken against those guilty of violation.
In the rally, the names of the sand worker leaders who would contest the panchayat elections from the party were also announced. Earlier, prior to the blockade, an 18 km march on foot had been organized on 25 February from Maner to Parev, against use of earthmover machines, skyrocketing inflation and corruption.
An interim agreement was reached on 29 January 2011 till the time a policy decision was taken by the government. In its written copy, however, the administration tried to justify the use of earthmovers, but conceded the need to ensure work for all the workers. It was broadly agreed that the workers would work during the day and the machines would be run at night. It was mentioned that the workers would be given work till they wanted it, and the machines would be used after they left. However it also added in the agreement that the workers would have to inform everyday who will load how many trucks. Once this stated number of trucks were loaded, machines would be used. Our representatives registered protest against this on receiving the copy of the written agreement.
However, the sand-mafia and the contractors who had the protection of both the Nitish government as well as the local RJD MLA Bhai Virendra, began the use of machines in violation of the agreement from the very next day. On 9 February, the rage of the angered workers was unleashed on the shore of Koilvar. Contractors were beaten up. The inspectors supported the contractors by directing that the trucks be sent to the shores where work was being done by machines rather than workers. The workers gheraoed the station for three hours and demanded the removal of the thanedar. The same day he was transferred after party leaders met the DCP.
On 18 February, 1000 workers demonstrated in front of the Koilvar block office. On 21 February again, talks were held but neither the attitude of the contractors nor the role of the administration changed. A padyatra was planned. In this movement, the sand workers have received the support of the local shop keepers, common people and a large number of peasants. Not only is sand being taken out of nearly 1000 acres of land, but also from the agricultural land of peasants near the river who are being given nothing in return.
The media has been claiming that the state’s revenues are suffering losses due to the agitation. The truth however is otherwise. All the shores of Bhojpur, Patna and Chapra districts have been given out on rent for sand extraction to sand mafia for only 53 crores, whereas calculations reveal that in these three districts, sand worth Rs 7 billion is sold every year from the shores of Sone river alone. There are several small rivers in these districts and if the estimate of entire sand is made, it would be much higher. The contractor-mafia want to use the machines so that maximum sand could be taken out and sold. The government is auctioning the shores of all the rivers in Bihar like this which will result in huge losses for the state revenue. Like 2G spectrum, this is also an auctioning scam worth millions.
In the next phase of the movement, the party has decided to visit all the shores of the Sone river and stage a demonstration outside the state assembly. Our demand is that sand mining be treated as an employment generating area and a law like NREGA be formed which would impose a complete ban on the use of machines.
The sand workers are a new segment of the rural poor amongst whom our party is active. In order to integrate this new section into the party we will have to find new ways of working and expand our work sphere. Till now 175 members have been recruited to the party from among the sand workers and party branches have been set up on 7 shores. A leadership group has also been organized for the shores of the Sone river in Patna district where the movement is on. At present, the movement is being led by the leadership of the party committee however soon a plan is being made to establish a union of sand workers.
Brutal Eviction of the Poor in Jharkhand
"April is the cruellest month....” indeed for lakhs of urban poor of Jharkhand. In the scorching summer heat of April-May, the NDA Government of Jharkhand has been using brutal force to evict them from government/PSU land, leaving them homeless and without a roof over their heads. People protesting these evictions have been subjected to police firing, which has claimed lives and injured many in Dhanbad, Ranchi and Bokaro. Most of the evicted people are poor workers, who have settled since several decades on the surplus land belonging to PSUs.
Overall nearly 5,00,000 people are slated to be evicted or affected by these evictions in coming times. The evictions have come about in the wake of a High Court verdict ordering clearing of encroachments from land belonging to government and PSUs. The Government is pleading that it is bound by the orders of the Court. But this plea cannot hold any water. For one thing, why could the government not have ensured appropriate rehabilitation and resettlement? Further, why is the government evicting the poor while more powerful people who have grabbed land are not being touched?
On 5 April, in Islamnagar in the state capital Ranchi, people had settled on around 20 acres of government land. The Government served an order of eviction and started bulldozing even without giving people a chance to appeal for more time. Still, people appealed in the HC and the HC did grant them a relaxation. Yet, on the very morning when the HC’s response was due, the Government assembled the bulldozers and police force. Most of the homes were bulldozed by the time HC order relaxing the deadline came about! Police fired on people of this settlement (mostly minorities) protested the eviction, killing two.
In Ranchi, people who eke out a living as street vendors are being evicted with all brutality but the powerful business people are spared. A big company Usha Martin has encroached on 80 decimals of land to make a gymkhana. The company applied for and got three months of grace from the HC. The HC actually showered praise on the company and asked others to similarly ‘volunteer’ to step back from encroachments. A commercial gymkhana is equated with the hutments of the poor, and while the former gets grace period, the latter are forcibly evicted at gunpoint! Similarly vegetable vendors near the Court premises were evicted with bulldozers within ten days of the expiry of the lease, while the Government allowed Tatas to maintain their commercial empire for ten years without renewal of the lease! Not just that, the lease of the Tatas was renewed after a decade, with a waiver of Rs 5000 crore worth of dues!
In the PSU land too, the officials and politicians who have failed to vacate quarters or built homes illegally on empty plots have not been touched; while workers and poor people have been evicted on a massive scale. In the HEC, Ranchi, massive street protests have forced the Government to halt the eviction proceedings temporarily. But thousands have been evicted from PSU land and four killed in police firing in Bokaro. In the same Bokaro, flats grabbed by Shibu Soren and JVM leader Samaresh Singh remain untouched, and some of these premises are being used for commercial purposes – yet the government is yet to even serve a notice of eviction! But workers have been forcibly evicted from quarters and hutments demolished, rendering thousands of poor families homeless.
The ruling class opposition in Jharkhand is playing politics but displaying hypocrisy on the issue of eviction. The Congress is striking a posture of resistance to evictions. But on the issue of PSU lands, surely the Congress-led Government at the Centre could intervene if it chose?! Similarly Babulal Marandi, the first CM of the state, is also playing the politics of hunger-strike and protest. The people of the state have not forgotten that he presided over the brutal police firing on tribals protesting eviction at Doranda and Tapkara!
The CPI(ML) Liberation and other Left parties and people’s movements have launched a state-wide resistance to the ongoing evictions and repression. On 7 April, a state-wide protest was held, and a Rajbhawan March on 25 April. On 2 May, a very successful Jharkhand Bandh was observed.
Anti-Eviction Struggle of Urban Poor
Patna’s Jagdeo Path became a battlefield last 5-6 April 2011. The people of Musahar Toli not only taught a lesson to the rifle-wielding musclemen patronised by JD (U), they even put up an effective challenge to the police force. With this struggle, the poor established a new example of a brave protest in Patna in recent times.
This movement by the urban mahadalits received tremendous support and posed a challenge to Nitish’s much-touted claims of concern for the mahadalits. Even the Nitish-struck media could neither discredit the movement nor make it disappear from the newspapers.
Our party needs to undertake an in-depth analysis of this movement and draw lessons from it. On 5 April, in the presence of the police force of as many as four thanas, the musclemen of builder Amit Poddar tried to take control of the cemeteries of Jagdeo Path and Modmusahar Toli in Siddharth Nagar. The musclemen were armed with rifles. Battling against random firing the women, men and the youth got hold of the builders and beat them up severely; they were rescued by the police. 25 year old Butti Devi lost her life in the protest struggle and 5 others were injured. After crushing the attempts of land grab, the people kept the Bailey Road jammed for several hours. This cycle of events continued the next day.
In a protest against this incident on 8 April 2011 in Patna, the effigy of Nitish Kumar was burnt in offices of 8 blocks of the district and a protest march was taken out on 9 April. On that day it was also announced that a Pledge Meeting would be held on 26 April on the location of the incident. Earlier, on 7 April, the party’s Bihar state committee sent a fact finding team to the place where the incident took place and they met the victims and their families.
After 1980, this is the first incidence of this kind of protest by the urban poor. In the beginning of the 1980s while the poor and the landless peasants were contending with feudal forces in the rural areas, IPF was being formed and the party was establishing connection with the urban poor. In January 1980, the CPI MLC, Ramesh Singh called musclemen from Mokama and Begusarai to uproot the slum dwellings in Lohanipur. In those days, the party was involved in underground work in Lohanipur. The people living in the slums gave a determined fight and were able to send the musclemen packing. A few leaders of the party made their abode in the slums itself to carry forward the struggle. This slum in Lohanipur is present even today. Here, besides other castes, people belonging to the Mushahar group were present in large numbers.
Immediately after this incident, the poor living in the slums of Naya Tola and Mussalhapur were also involved in brave battles against destruction of their slum dwellings. In Naya Tola, a 20 year youth was martyred against which a 3 day bandh was declared in Patna. During the bandh all the shops and markets remained closed at the local level. The poor of the Maila Tanki and the homeless also soon joined the struggle.
In Mahmudichak (Rajendra Nagar) also, the poor fought against the musclemen bravely. In the days to follow, Shaheed Bhagat Singh colony in Kankadbaagh became the new site of the struggle. A statue of Shaheed-e-azam Bhagat Singh was also established here which was inaugurated by Anjali Dutt, wife of martyr Batukeshwar Dutt. The fight continued from 1983 to 1985. In 1983, during the protest, Com. Seetaram Paswan was martyred by a police bullet. In the leadership of the party, a demonstration was organized outside the civil court carrying the body of slain martyr.
Slowly several slum dwellings of Patna got associated with the party and the movement of the urban poor created a new identity. In 1985-89, several planned assaults on urban poor were carried out by the then Bindeshwari Dubey’s Congress government. First, several slums located in the land currently for officer’s flats in Bailey Road were uprooted. Immediately the police destroyed the slums in Rajvanshi Nagar and Harding Park. In the process of destruction in Harding Park, a three year old girl lost her life. Our party was not active in these areas. In absence of an organized protest, the government was successful in creating an atmosphere of fear and the final assault in this series was launched in Bhagat Singh colony where our base was also present. One severely cold winter night an attack was launched that took people unawares, and the slums were destroyed. Despite being uprooted, people organized themselves into groups in several areas since along with them some belonging to the leadership had also been displaced. It is these leaders who by staying with the displaced masses, got them together slowly and tried to re-establish them and met with some success.
The party’s work is still continuing among the people in Kankadbagh’s RMS colony, Ashok Nagar, Ravidas Toli and Rajendra Nagar Sabzi Mandi. Even though the movement by the slum dwellers left a mark in Patna, and in several settlements male and female leaders and activists also emerged, this historic and determined movement that continued for five years eventually petered out. Slowly the party activists’ and leaders’ discipline of centring in these settlements began to weaken. Earlier several leaders used to stay there and were a part of their everyday struggles, braving repression and even jail. However, slowly the culture of make fleeting visits became more pronounced.
For the urban poor, the question of ‘home’ is one of life and death. Only those organizations can provide leadership whose leaders maintain a ‘fish and water’ type of relation with the masses. In the absence of such strong association, the movement is bound to become a victim of tokenism and legalism.
In a district like Patna which is not a factory-centred industrial enclave, the urban poor have a close connect with the rural areas. Instead of focusing our attention and efforts on bringing the movement among them back to life, our analysis has been limited to the fact that our slogan for the urban poor was overstated and a victim of left deviation. Naturally this analysis has led to a defensive attitude which has weakened the development of a determined struggle of the urban poor. Our slogan of the earlier period was, “the land on which we are settled is our land”. This was changed to “Arrange permanent residence for the urban poor”. The demand for permanent residence is not wrong in itself. However, the essence of ‘right to residence’ which is evident in the first slogan is missing in the second one.
For Jagdeo Path Mushahari it is the first slogan that seems more appropriate. Government and builders eye this land which is worth crores today. Struggles of the urban poor have taken place all over Patna, and many of them are now stuck in court cases. But the people of Jagdeo Path Mushahar Toli have once again blazed a path of militant struggle.
In the coming days it is likely that moves to uproot the poor will intensify with the rising cost of the land. The party organization will have to work towards building struggles on the Jagdeo Path model. Legal possibilities must be utilised and government policies exposed in a planned manner. The experience of our struggles in the 1980s suggests that the struggle must be taken out of the legal domain. However it is not possible to achieve this objective by the way of temporary, disconnected, fleeting visits. The party, especially the leaders will have to make shelters in the slums. Among the urban poor, special emphasis would have to be paid on the Musahar Toli, because from the time of party’s origin, this community has remained in the forefront in the revolutionary struggles and despite Nitish’s tactics targeting Mahadalits, this community has stood steadfast with our party.
It is by developing the movement of the urban poor that we can prepare a committed mass base in cities and effectively expose the Nitish government’s development slogan.