Image Credit: Abhishek Kumar
For Khushiram, the 30-year-old ex-employee of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. and a member of the Maruti Suzuki Provisional Committee, the day of all-India general strike that would see workers from all sectors come together, was spent in the Manesar police station.
Khushiram is one of the 546 workers who were terminated by the Maruti management after the 2012 agitation. He along with twelve other people, two of whom are current office bearers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union while the others are currently Maruti employees, were picked up by the police at about 6 am in the morning. They were detained in the Manesar police station, which is in the Industrial Model Township (IMT) for about six hours.
All central major trade unions had called for a Bharat Bandh against the “anti-labour policies of the government”. It’s the 17th such strike that India has seen since the process of liberalisation was initiated in 1992.
Despite the detention of the Maruti workers and a number of nurses by Delhi Police, workers who were leading the strike in the Gurgaon- Manesar area claim this was the most successful strike ever. Satbeer Singh, member of the Centre of India Trade Unions, said that this was the largest, with almost 20 crore workers taking part in it. He and other trade unions claimed approximate 1,000 factories were on strike in the Gurgaon-Dharuhera-Bawal area in Haryana, with workers from factories like Maruti, HeroMotoCorp and Endurance participating.
Daily activity in Tamil Nadu was barely affected much, with transport services and educational institution functioning normally. Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru saw the workers of the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) and Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) join the strike, which threw a massive spanner in the public transport’s works. Many schools and colleges remained closed as a precautionary measure. Kerala too had most of its public conveyance services off the roads. Conditions were seemingly normal in Maharashtra, but some rural areas, especially in Buldana district had ‘rasta roko’ (block roads).
West Bengal saw clashes between the striking workers and the party workers of the Trinamool Congress in different district districts. According to a report, the Mayor of Siliguri Municipal Corporation, Ashok Bhattacharya, was arrested along with 15 other protestors and a North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus was vandalised in Cooch Behar. Otherwise, public transport remained largely unaffected. Further east in Tripura, there was no unrest, but the state went into complete shutdown. “The strike was total and successful. People from all walks of life spontaneously supported the strike to denounce the BJP-led central government’s anti-people labour policies and demanded increase of wages,” said Manik Dey, of the Tripura unit of Centre of Indian Trade Unions’ (CITU).
Odisha had a strong call of strike coming from the All India Government Nurses Federation and about 2,000 nurses stayed away from work. Train services were disrupted in areas like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Sambalpur, Rayagada and Berhampur. In areas like Patna, Purnea, Muzaffarpur, Begusarai, Bhagalpur and Gopalganj of Bihar, banks remain closed and private and public sector employees faced major difficulty in reaching offices. The situation was similar in Tripura with buses off the road and colleges, government offices and banks shut.
The only big central trade union to not participate in this strike was the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). BMS had pulled out of the nationwide strike in April (it did the same the last time too).
Khushiram’s experience indicates that in certain areas, there seems to have been an effort to ensure union leaders could not join the strike. He and the other twelve workers were released by the police after being charged with Section 151 (causing disturbance of public peace) and Section 107 (instigating others to do the same) of Indian Penal Code. Khushiram alleged the Haryana police went to neighbouring villages and forced those who were on strike to join work. ACP Dharambir of Manesar refuted these allegations. He told Newslaundry that the 13 workers were detained after the management from Maruti Suzuki complained against them.
As life returns to normal today, the Left will take satisfaction in the fact that in terms of numbers, this Bharat Bandh was a success, making its presence felt both on the ground as well as on social media. However, in terms of making an actual impact and securing the revisions that are in the Centre of Trade Unions’s list of demands, the road ahead is long.