The workers’ issues are widely discussed in India before many years. , we are not noticing the widespread unrest among the workers for their rights and needs. This does not mean that the workers are getting their wages and are assured of their rights. But in contradiction, the exploitation is increasing day by day. It is due to the overexploitation and coercion going on in the industries that prevents the voices of the workers frombeing heard outside. But these issues are getting unnoticed by the people.
Even in the year of 2021, when the modernization is claimed to have reached its zenith, the workers and women are getting exploited and abused in factories. Recently, we were able to notice the arrest of NodeepKaur, a workers’ activist charging non-cognizable offence. She was sent to judicial custody for 14 days. That is why, we, the members of AIRSO and AIRWO, headed for a fact study of the issue to recognize the rights violations that occurred in the issue.
We are acknowledging the efforts of NCHRO in creating a fact-finding report, which helped us to get a lot of information. It also served as a source of reference.
Background of Kundli
Kundli is an industrial block of Sonepat, Haryana, in which, there are more than 2 lakh workers, who are working in almost 1,800 industries. These industries produce a wide variety of products ranging from food products to steel. It is a site of Haryana from which, a lot of export takes place. Most of the workers in Kundli Industrial Area are migrant laborers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. Most of those migrant laborers are from minority communities or from dalits and backward communities.
During this COVID-19 period, the closure of these industries led to a mass movement of workers back to their hometowns and villages. It was a condition of mass unemployment for these workers. But after some months, when the industries opened most of them came back and started working.
We have already seen the background from which workers come. They are really poor and landless in their homelands. The caste and class barriers forced them to migrate to find a good living. Beyond the unjust wages, they also face health problems, working in the industry. Due to lack of rest intervals and long working hours, many of the workers have problem in vision. There are a lot of women too, who are unduly treated and discriminated in the industry. They are also not provided a hygienic living environment. They are paid less wages and are forced to work for hours than others. Even they were abused, sexually and mentally by the company management.
Their wages are lower than 6,000/ month even though the minimum wages fixed by Haryana state is 9,458/ month (as on 01/07/2020) for the unskilled laborers. Even they don’t receive there is a huge delay in the payment of the wages. These issues occur on a regular basis in the industrial area.
The workers are not allowed to form unions by the management and owners. They try their maximum to stop any kind of unionization. There is an organization of the owners and managers, namely, KIA (Kundli Industrial Association), which acts as a barrier for them to form unions. This organization is registered under HSDIIC for maintaining the issues of the factory workers. They proclaim themselves to be one of the most progressive industrial associations. But the reality is different. When they use security team/bouncers for suppressing any kind of struggle in the industry, the workers find themselves in a situation of insecurity. Even before a year, there was an allegation that the response of the team, when contacted for any problem resolution is really bad. They mistreat the people who contact them for resolving issues. KIA has a Quick Response Team (QRT), which responds to the stress calls made by the company management. A report from Groundxero says “The sole purpose of the QRT is to intimidate workers and quash any attempts at building unions, a constitutionally guaranteed right of every worker, through brute force and violence.”
In this situation, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan that was established in 2016 strives to unite the workers in Kundli for their rights. MAS was active from 2018. This is the base of the class relations between the workers and the owners and management in the Kundli industrial area.
Struggle for Due Wages and Suppression
The struggle for getting the unpaid wages to be paid began a month ago. They didn’t go for protest, in the beginning. But later, they started organizing and striking for their wages. It was done in a peaceful manner. Till date, a sum total of 5 lakh rupees were given to 250 workers as a result of their continuous struggle. But it was not sufficient for all. They went on with their struggle. The QRT reacted to this issue. On 22nd December, 2020, the workers organized under the leadership of MAS and protested at a steel factory. That day, the bouncers came to suppress the struggle. But they failed due to the support from the struggling farmers. The MAS sent letters to the company regularly on their wage issue and also demanded their wages to be paid. At that time only, the company paid them the above mentioned 5 lakh rupees.
On 28th December, 2020, the bouncers from QRT attacked the workers, who marched for their wages. They abused the workers who took part in the march. Later, on 12th January, 2021, a fight took place between the QRT members and the workers at Company Address, M/S Elc mech Pvt. Ltd. Plot N0.349 PH-4, Sector-57 HSIDC, KUNDLI. There was gunfire by the QRT bouncers against the workers. The KIA argues that the QRT members fired in self defence against the sticks and lathis used against them. The FIR is silent about this fact. The police, without enquiring about these matters, charged Section 148, i.e., Rioting with deadly weapon against NodeepKaur, who was a leader of the protest. The FIR states that, on 12th January, 2021, 11:00AM, the workers peeped into the factory and demanded wages. The accountant, Mr. LalitKhurana stated that they were taken away from the factory by the guards. They called the police and the police came immediately. As per the FIRs, there were around 50 people, of which, 2-3 women also were present. The report also says that the workers also injured the police. But the FIR is silent about the people who got injured.
Reading the FIR, what we felt was that it was just one-sided. It doesn’t account the arguments or allegations of any of the workers’ representatives. The wokers lament fully says that NodeepKaur was forcefully taken away from the mass that got dispersed to save themselves from the police violence. She was presented before the magistrate and was remanded for 14 days. She was charged Sections 148(Rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (Unlawful Assembly), 186 (Obstructing Public Servant), 307 (Attempt to Murder), 323 (Voluntarily Causing Hurt), 332, 353(Assault on Public Servant), 379B (Theft), 384 (Extortion), 452(House Trespass), 506(Criminal Intimidation).
It is really shocking that Nodeepkaur is facing violence in the jail. As per the statement of RajveerKaur, Nodeep’s elder sister, given to us, Nodeep’s shoulders were injured, blood was coming from her feet and also there is suspicion that she was sexually assaulted. Even the FIRs of this case are not published in the website. These issues pose a big challenge to the common people in accessing these resources.
That is why we went to the police station on 22nd January, 2021, 3:07PM and enquired about the issue. There were three people, of which, two were in police uniform and one was in civil dress. We went to get detailed information on the issue. We demanded to talk with SHO but they refused. With the two policemen, we spoke the matters, but in between, the man in civil dress, spontaneously, jumped towards our team member, Mr. ShishuRanjan and suddenly, rebuked him and told him to leave. Even he was to apply force. That time, our team member, Mrs. Urmila stood in between and he stopped his attempt. We were not given any information on this and were asked to go.
We took the SHO’s mobile number and called him. He was busy and told us to call later. Then we tried many times, but there was no response. Then we talked with the workers at Kundli. They told us that, we could not rescue our leader from getting arrested.
The Payment of wages Act of Haryana govt. is inadequate in protecting these workers. There is law to protect only the workers who are paid under Rs. 1600 per month. The law provides that all the wages should be paid within a week after the expiry of the period. Therefore, the erroneous laws are also to be changed so that the workers’ justice can be ensured.
Conclusion and Demands
What we understand from this issue is that this is a reckless assault on womanhood, workers and entire humanity. That is why; we have to resist this move with full strength as soon as possible. These issues clearly reveal the corrupt and prejudiced nature of the Haryana Police. What happened in Kundli was a clear expression of misogynistic brutality. So we want all kinds of exploitation of workers and women to be ceased. Even the Supreme Court remarks on women in the farmers’ issue was also extremely patriarchic. The new amended labour codes are also exploitative. That is why; it is an urgent need to curb all kinds of assaults that take place against the workers and women. We are placing in front of you the following demands:
a Release NodeepKaur and take back all the false charges against her immediately.
a Take legal action against the members of KIA, who took part in the violence.
a Immediately make adequate legislations for ensuring the workers’ rights.
a Repeal all the anti-worker labour codes.
Members of the Team : ShishuRanjan, Member, AIRSO, New Delhi, Niranjan K S, Member, AIRSO, New Delhi,,Urmila, All India Vice President, AIRWO, Pramod Kumar, Member, AIRSO, Chhattisgarh