A hurried report on Unorganised Workers Manch (OKSSM) and Right to Food and Work West Bengal’s campaign

October 11, 2015

4th October: Number of Rallies Increase to Three
5th October: Rally attacked by Ruling Party Goons at Keshpur
6th October: Mass meeting in Baruipur, South 24 Parganas
7th October: Rally from South 24 Parganas Broken Up By Police
7th October: Agreement signed on Rally’s Demand for 20% Bonus for Tea Garden Workers

·         Closed gardens owned by Duncans visited
·         Deputations to District Magistrates in Purulia, Midnapore, Bankura and North 24 Parganas

On 4th October, while the rally in North Bengal that had started its journey from the Assam border continued its campaigning in the tea gardens of the Doars, another rally started from the Orissa border with 20 motorcycles, a pick up van with mike set and a jeep. There were about 75 people in this rally.

This rally was attacked at Keshpur block on 5th October by goons who belonged to the TMC late in the evening. We received reports from the morning of TMC goons gathering at various places to stop the rally, and we were also told by the villagers who were hosting us, that our hosts had been warned against keeping us in their village for the night. Despite this, after successfully campaigning in Keshpur town, the villagers insisted that the rally come to their areas.

The rally had a police escort with it from the time it entered Keshpur. It headed for Bibekpur village in the neighbouring Anandapur PS At Gameria, a village from which the rally turned off the main road for Bibekpur village, a mob of 150 people, shouting slogans eulogising the TMC and Mamata Banerjee attacked the rally with a country made bomb. The rally broke into two parts and one motorcycle with three riders was taken off the route by the mob. These three people were told to leave the area immediately by the mob. One of them- an old man of about 55 years – was also slapped. The police helped the rest of the rally bikes and the two vehicles to cross the area. Later the mob on about 25-30 motor cycles chased the rally till it reached Bibekpur village . Entry into the village was blocked by the police jeep and our jeep.

An hour of slogan shouting, calling us “Harmads” ( a word commonly used for CPM goons), followed. An inflammatory speech by a local TMC leader, Tanoy Dandpat, followed , with slogans of “Go Back”. The rallyists began informing the press and senior party leaders of the TMC. They contacted the DM also. Later, the Home Secretary was contacted by friends from Delhi. Within an hour or so, things calmed down.

The villagers who had disappeared into their houses during the terror slowly came out of their houses, brought lights for their guests and made arrangements for their stay. The primary school where the rallyists were to stay was locked up by the goons. Villagers were told that if anyone allowed the rallyists to sleep on their verandahs or in their houses , their houses would be looted the next day.A good dinner which was being cooked all the time the trouble was going on was served and we were helped to our beds. The next day, the villagers kept expressing fear about reprisals after we left. Three –four families from Keshpur reported that their shops had been forcibly shut down because of their involvement with the rally. We therefore went and lodged complaints with OCs of both police stations before leaving the area.

The rally covered an excruciating distance of almost 150 kilometres from Bibekpur in Paschim Midnapore to Purba Khanpur Bamanpara. The roads were terrible, and the motorcyclists , many of whom have never travelled long distance found it exhausting. The journey seemed never-ending especially as a large part of it had to be covered in the dark.

An extra bonus was a tea stop at a village in Burdwan, where the local people began talking to the rallyists. Many were sympathetic and though it was almost 9 at night, a crowd gathered around. We managed to sell a number of the small booklets we had printed for the campaign.

The North Bengal rally travelled through the closed Duncans gardens of Hantapara, Gairganda, Dumchipara, Tulsipara and Lankapara, expressing its solidarity with the starving people of the closed gardens on the 4th. They held a meeting with men and women from Lankapara tea garden, where they were hosted by the local unit of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, with the local Panchayat from GJM, Dumbar Tamang in the lead.

The rally was received at Birpara by Sunil, the Secretary of the Birpara Taxi Union, who also organised snacks for the rallyists. In Chowpati, Birapara there was a street corner. The idea of alternative politics and the demands of tea garden workers were explained in this meeting. After this meeting, the rally travelled through different tea gardens in Birpara, and Dhupguri and reached Champaguri bazar in the evening, where rallyists were again received by the local people and a meeting were organised by the local activists. Nearly 150 people were present in the meeting. Then, in the night the rally headed for Neyaselli tea garden for the night stay. On the 5th, the North Bengal rally covered Chalsa. Here in a public meeting Kiran Kalindi from PPWU and Sushovon Dhar from Osongohito Shromik Songrami Manch explained the demands of the campaign and the idea of alternative politics. After this, the rally campaigned in Batabari then Nowera Nudy Tea Gardens, both owned by the Tatas. The latter garden has recently been the site for a clash between workers belonging to the PPWU and some goons from the TMC. The clash was instigated by management to avoid discussion on the workers’ charter of demands the next day. 16 people from PPWU have a false case against them at the moment . The rally participants addressed this issue. The rally went around the tea garden and addressed a publc meeting in the market. With this public meeting they ended their long journey of about 275 kilometres.

The rally from Orissa border had started from Ainkula in Dantan 1 block at 11:40 AM on the 4th. On this day the rally campaigned through different blocks like Mohanpur, Dantan-1 and Dantan-2 and addressed public meeting on their way to Kharagpur. The campaign and speeches at Kharagpur evoked much interest. At Kharagpur , they visited seven villages in the area surrounding Changaul

On 4th October, a third rally where the bikes had started from the Jharkhand border joined the campaign. On the 5th, they gave a deputation to the District Magistrate  Purulia, and then proceeded towards Bankura, staying the night at Chhatna. On the 6th, they joined rallyists in Bankura to meet the District Magistrate Bankura, while a cultural team performed outside the DM’s office. This rally travelled through extensive areas of Purulia, Bankura and Burdwan districts on 4th, 5th and 6th October . They were pleased to find that people listened to their ideas of alternative politics and people’s rights. Our campaign on the non-implementation of National Food Security Act and NREGA was also well received. They finally met up with the rally from the Orissa border in a small village in Burdwan. The rally was now almost a kilometre long.

Ironically despite all the attacks by party goons and the antipathy shown by TMC supporters to the red flags of the rally, the rally on the 6th was hosted at the house and village of the Food Minister Jyotipriya Mullick. His elder brother, Dr. Debopriyo Mullick made all the arrangements and also ensured our security.

On the 7th, this huge rally met members of Udayani Social Action Forum at Masagram in Burdwan . A day long campaign with members of the self-help groups in this area followed. Heavy rain and counting for the by-elections at the BDO office meant they could not make a deputation to the BDO at Pandua as planned earlier.

On 7th October 2015, the rally met with resistance from the active police which break up our state wide campaign at Baruipur. The motor cycle rally was stopped early in the morning by police from the Baruipur Police Station, when they were about to proceed from the place where they had stayed on 5th night at Sashan after a successful day of campaigning at Baruipur.

Motor cyclists and the jeep which had the mike that was being used for the campaign were not even allowed to get on to the road.  The excuse given by the police has been that the bike rally did not have “permission”. As far as we know, no such law exists banning motor cycle or other rallies or processions in South 24 Parganas district.

Police threatened to take away the papers of all the bikes and the pick-up with mike that was with the rally. Police also insisted that banners be taken off and that the mike be removed. All this is illegal and much beyond the powers that the police has.

It should be mentioned that the police, including DGP Police, and all concerned SPs from all districts through which the rally is passing were informed about the route of the rally, number of participants on motor cycles, stoppages, chief places of campaigning and major programmes on 29th September 2015. No information or feedback has been received from the police till date about the illegality of the programme. Also, the programme has been going on for six days without any such information.

On the 6th, a rally also started from the Bangladesh border near Hasnabad in North 24 Parganas and travelled to Badu while campaigning on the way.  The rally campaigned in Barasat the district headquarters on the 7th and gave a deputation to the District
Magistrate.

It however did not enter the city of Kolkata as previously planned as there was fear that the police would seize their motor cycles as they had done at Baruipur that morning.

Today – on the 8th- we are now proceeding towards Krishnanagar in Naida, where all rallies will meet to proceed to Plassey tomorrow on the 9th for the culmination of the rally.

There has been good news in the meantime. Tea garden workers after completing the rally in their area came for negotiations to Kolkata on 6th and 7th for their yearly bonus. This was the third round of negotiations.  Progressive Plantation Workers Union and the United Tea Workers Front managed to fight along with other unions for a 20% bonus and late at night the bonus agreement was signed.

For more information about our work and struggles, please  look at our  blog site at http://khetmajoorsamity.blogspot.com