Mumbai: Days after The Wire reported the inhuman condition in which police allegedly dumped nearly 120 migrant labourers in an enclosed container truck and pushed them outside the Gujarat state limits into Maharashtra’s Palghar district, the Gujarat police have now initiated an inquiry. Valsad district superintendent of police Sunil Joshi has confirmed that the police have initiated a probe into the allegations.
After walking for nearly six days from Bengaluru, around 120 labourers had entered Vapi in Valsad district of south Gujarat, on March 31. They were allegedly beaten up by the police and forcibly stuffed into two container trucks and sent out of the state. The labourers, who originally belong to several districts of Rajasthan, had told The Wire that they were brutalised by the police and were not given a choice.
The labourers had claimed that the Gujarat police had promised to drop them to their home district in Rajasthan. But instead of taking them towards Rajasthan, the labourers claimed that they were taken 40 kilometres in the other direction, and dropped back in Maharashtra. “We were suffocating inside (the enclosed container truck and some of us had begun to faint. Children were howling and gasping for air. And then one of us found out on the phone that we were back in Palghar. We panicked and began kicking on the container truck’s lid. One door finally opened and the drivers were compelled to stop the vehicle,” one of the labourers, Prakash Bishnoi had narrated their ordeal to The Wire.
The Palghar district police, who were deputed on the border, had stopped the truck and rescued the labourers. The police had recorded the statements of the truck drivers, who claimed they were acting on the Vapi police’s orders.
After the news report was published, Joshi said that the “higher authorities” directed his department to look into the allegations. “We have recorded statements of some labourers who are in the state limits. I can’t divulge more,” he told The Wire. He also added that the inquiry is looking both into the allegations and the “authenticity of the news article”. Deputy superintendent (headquarters) Manoj Sharma is heading the inquiry.
Palghar district collector Kailash Shinde told The Wire that he was approached by the Gujarat police, seeking permission to record the statement of the labourers who have been sheltered in the district. “We have sheltered them and have been providing them food. We are ensuring their welfare, like we are doing in the case of several other migrants who were stuck in the state because of the lockdown,” Shinde said.
Out of the 120 workers who were in the trucks, the Palghar district is housing around 30. The rest have dispersed and the police claim they have been looking for them.
This incident occurred on the same day when solicitor general Tushar Mehta had on oath claimed before the Supreme Court that there was “no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages”. Mehta had further claimed that all migrant labourers had been shifted to shelter homes and are being provided with basic amenities like food, medicines, and drinking water.
But the same night, several labourers had complained of police atrocities in Gujarat.
Reacting to the published news article, several labour organisations and academics have written to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani seeking strong action against the policemen who were involved in brutalising the migrant workers.
The letter, signed by over 40 different NGOs and academics, states:
“We acknowledge the pressure under which the police have been working across the country. While it is imperative that the police be allowed to do their job with utmost cooperation from everybody in the wake of the nationwide COVID19 lockdown, torture and harassment of the poor under no circumstances is justified. This was a large group. There was no need for the police to get violent. Nor was there a need to forcefully push 120 people, including women and children, into a container truck such that they suffocate for hours enroute.”
Among the signatories are NGOs like Aajeevika Bureau, Centre for Labour Research and Action, Working Peoples’ Charter, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Kotra Adivasi Sansthan among others. The letter has demanded an inquiry into the incident and also a statement from the state’s CM into these allegations. No such statement has been issued yet.