Labour

The Life of Labour: Victory for Striking Nurses in Kerala, Manual Scavenging Claims 4 More Lives

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Police and politicians show their support for everyone except Zohra Bibi and other workers

Noida’s Mahagun Moderne building complex remains the centre of a raging class conflict more than a week after the confinement of a domestic worker that made national headlines. As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, Zohra Bibi was allegedly held captive for a night after demanding her unpaid salary. Her husband frantically looked everywhere and when she was finally brought out the next morning, weak and dazed, workers grew furious and the situation became tense.

Mahesh Sharma, the BJP MP from Noida, was quick to assure residents that he was on ‘their side’. In a meeting at the building complex, Scroll.in quotes the MP saying, to applause, “There is no doubt that the [Sethi] family is not at fault…It is clear that a group of people got together with the intent to injure and kill and they should be booked under those sections and under the Goonda Act. I assure you that they will not get bail for years to come. We will fight the case on behalf of the family.” He blamed the media and ‘human rights activists’ for turning it into a ‘communal’ issue.

The police on the other hand have been rounding up men from the settlements within a two kilometre radius of the building complex. They’ve arrested 13 men who have been charged with attempt to murder, despite no resident complaining of physical harm. When questioned by the Caravan, Arun Kumar Singh, the Noida SP, refused to answer the question saying “if the offence was not made out, then they would get acquitted”. The family members and the community are scrambling for bail with the help of unions and other groups.

The Sethi family has only been charged with “voluntarily causing hurt and wrongful confinement, the maximum punishment for both of which is an imprisonment of one year or a fine of Rs 1,000, or both”, according to the Caravan. “CCTV footage shows that the maid servant [Zohra Bibi] ran away from the employer’s apartment and she could be seen running from one lobby to the other. So the captive theory no longer applies,” Singh told Scroll.in.

The Sethi family has not been called in for questioning and whether any real investigation will happen is unclear. But the family has not found it hard to share their side of the story. “I feel that we do not have any human rights. We are the poor ones,” said Ms. Sethi to the New York Times. “We worship them [the maids], because they are such an important part of our lives…Hindus believe that if you are eating something and someone with an empty stomach is watching you eat, you cannot digest this food. We first feed them and then eat. I would give her tea before making her do her chores… They hate us for the money, they wonder: ‘Why are they so well off, so rich? Why do they have everything?’ They envy us, and this is how it comes out.”

Meanwhile, the Noida authority has acted with exceptional speed to raze “over three dozen shanties in the area where most of the agitators lived” according to The Hindu. Along with the shanties, makeshift shops that catered to residents from both the shanties and the building complex were destroyed. The sudden action left workers stranded in the rain with no roof over their heads. Those who ran the shops have lost their their livelihoods.

Victory for striking nurses in Kerala

Nurses in Kerala have been on strike since June 27, fighting for the implementation of a 2016 recommendation that would force private sector hospitals of a certain size to match government salaries. After early talks with the labour commissioner and the labour minister ended without their demands being met, the United Nurses Association and Indian Nurses Association went on strike. The two organisations began undertaking boycotts, protest marches and hunger strikes which ultimately paid off after a month of effort. The Pinari Vijayan-led government has finally decided to accept the demands and about 80,000 private sector nurses are expected to see the benefits.

In a series of emotional interviews with nurses, Times of India’s Anjana George shows what a difference it will make in their lives. One nurse tells her, “Many nurses are even now scared to raise their voice against the manipulations by private hospital managements. Most of the hospitals pay us 6500 for 12 to 14 hours of work and then deduct 3500 rupees for food and accommodation. Tell me, how can someone survive in today’s world with 2500 rupees a month?” With the success of this strike, these women and men will now hopefully receive the revised Rs. 20,000 per month.

Lost in the numbers: What happened to Skill India?

On the second anniversary of the Skill India Mission, R. Srivinivasan conducts a scathing autopsy of the troubled scheme in The Hindu. “With more skeletons tumbling out of the skilling closet every day, the PMKVY scheme’s expansion has been put on a ‘temporary’ hold, while the Ministry struggles to separate the genuine from the fake. Originally started with a corpus of ₹1,600 crore, which was quickly upped to ₹6,000 crore, the PMKVY, as per the Skill Development Ministry’s own investigations, appears to have turned into a gigantic racket for milking state funds.”

Four more lives lost to manual scavenging

Swarn Singh (45), Deepu Dubey (28), Anil (23), and Balwinder Singh (32) lost their lives on July 15 while attempting to clean a water harvesting tank in Delhi. Though an FIR was registered against the owner of the building and his staff, two of his gardeners have been arrested for not providing safety equipment to the workers before they entered the tank.  Read Bezawada Wilson’s response to this continuing violence.

Other News:

  • Automax employees left in the lurch as company declares closure without due process: More bad news from the Gurgaon-Manesar belt. “When around 300 Automax workers reached the factory gate of Automax on 26th June, 2017, they saw a notice on the gate that announced the plant’s closure. The workers who had worked in the company for over 2 decades found themselves overnight without their job.”
  • State transport workers in TN targeted for striking work in May: “While the money promised has been received on the one hand, the government and the management of the corporations have systematically targeted union activists”, reports Thozhilalar Koodam.
  • Rs 26,000 crores in construction cess lying idle while inspections under Contract Labour Act and Construction Workers Act plummet: Read more here.
  • After two weeks on strike, no job, no severance, and a splitting headache: China Labour Bulletin documents how a German factory’s relocation is leaving a number of workers without adequate medical attention.
  • In Columbia, six trade union leaders have been murdered since May: “An explosion of violence against trade unionists in Colombia, including the murders of six union representatives since mid-May, is putting the peace and reconstruction process in the country at severe risk.” Read more.

Weekend Reading

The women of Azadi Kooch: Devangana Kalita writes about some of the women at the forefront of the Azadi Kooch that marks the anniversary of the Una atrocities. And then in The Wire, a longer profile of Laxmiben Maheria: “Men would not understand what we (Dalit women) go through in villages and that is why I am here.”

How the gig economy is trapping workers in poverty: A comic on how the beedi industry has a fifty year headstart on Silicon Valley when it comes to making work more precarious.