New Delhi: Labour activist Nodeep Kaur, who was recently released on bail, said that state repression was on the rise, saying anyone who raises their voice is “called names and labelled” and will be booked under stringent laws.
She was speaking at a press conference organised on Monday by 37 groups to discuss “repression by state forces” and to demand the release of Shiv Kumar, president of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan and other “political prisoners”, including those arrested post the riots in Delhi.
Along with Kaur, speakers included Shiv Kumar’s father Rajbir, freelance journalist Mandeep Punia and some representatives of trade and farmers’ unions and civil society groups.
Kaur, a 24-year-old activist from the Dalit community, thanked journalists for raising the issue of her arrest and torture in police custody. “But just because I am out of jail, doesn’t mean our fight is over. Our demands are still unmet, we Dalit workers still go to sleep hungry,” she said. Further, commenting on the new labour laws that were passed soon after the three farm laws, she said that making a workers’ union or protesting and demanding fair wages can never be unlawful.
Victory is not that I am out of jail. Thankful for that but true victory will only mean these laws getting repealed, when men and women earn equal wages, and when workers have the right to raise their voice against oppression and inequality without fear or threat.
– Nodeep Kaur
— Ismat Ara (@IsmatAraa) March 1, 2021
The labour activist said, “State repression is on a rise. Whoever – Muslim, Dalit, Adivasi or Sikh – raises their voice, is called names and labelled, booked under stringent laws and jailed. It shows that the state is scared. It is scared of us protesting, of us distributing pamphlets.”
She claimed that in her conversations with other incarcerated women, many told her that they were “raped for 15 days straight” and that “torture is quite common” for them. She said, “The police are simply a tool of the state. They are machines. They do not have brains.” Kaur herself has raised allegations of torture against the police.
Kaur also clarified that she doesn’t support any political party.
She said the new labour laws will repeal many of the protections afforded to workers.
“The government benefits from dividing us into Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. They say that Hindus are in danger because of Muslims. But when you go on the ground, a common person only wants some food and shelter. Nobody cares about creating a separate state. They just want to fill their stomach before they go to sleep,” she said, referring to the government and BJP leaders’ attempts to claim that the farmers’ protest is being led by “Khalistanis”.
Rajbir, the father of labour activist Shiv Kumar, said that the family was not informed about the son’s arrest for several days.
Kumar was arrested by the Haryana Police on 16 January, four days after the arrest of Kaur, on charges of “extorting and attacking factory owners” in the Kundli Industrial Association.
“My wife is ill, they came home and got her to sign some documents. She is uneducated and doesn’t know what she signed. Since his arrest, we have been trying to meet him but haven’t been allowed to,” he said. He added that his son was brutally beaten up and when he saw Kumar, his were badly injured and his nails were “black and blue”.
"When I saw my son come out of the car, his legs were bruised, nails were black and blue. We cannot imagine how much he must have been beaten up, that his injuries still seem so fresh, even a month after his arrest," Rajbir, #ShivKumar's father. @thewire_in pic.twitter.com/HhBXhIhC2y
— Ismat Ara (@IsmatAraa) March 1, 2021
A report submitted by the Government Medical College and Hospital in Chandigarh to the Punjab and Haryana high court on February 24 revealed that Kumar was subjected to multiple injuries, including at least two fractures. The report further suggested that Kumar has swollen feet, broken nail beds, discolouration, post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms and more possible fractures. It quoted Kumar on how the police brutally tortured him while he was in custody.
Rajveer Kaur, who is a member of the Bhagat Singh Chatra Ekta Manch and is Nodeep Kaur’s sister, reiterated that their fight will continue. “My sister is out of jail, but is still facing charges. The state targets innocent people and not those who commit violence. What does this mean? That the state is siding with the criminals or protecting them,” she said.
Rajveer Kaur added that along with releasing activists who have been protesting the farm and labour laws, those who were arrested in the aftermath of the Delhi riots should also be released.
Other speakers slam new laws, arrests of activists
Sucheta De, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, said that the new labour laws will allow the exploitation of workers. She said, “Workers will not be given their dues, and nobody will be held responsible for it. The company’s owners will exploit workers. There will be no labour officers and no enquiry.”
De ridiculed the charges against Kaur and Kumar, saying that if anybody can be accused of extortion, it is the government through its usage of intimidation tactics.
She mentioned some of the activists and students involved in the anti-CAA protests who were arrested after the Delhi riots. “These friends are in jail for a peaceful protest. Umar Khalid, Meeran Haider, Devangana Kalita, Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi and others who have been falsely framed,” De said.
Nandita Narain from the Delhi University also said that the current state of affairs suggests that instead of moving on from being colonised, the country has simply moved from “white oppression to brown oppression”.
Sanjeev Mathur, a member of the Bahujan Samajwadi Manch, said, “When we met last time, we were talking about Nodeep Kaur’s release, now it is Shiv Kumar. Now that Nodeep has been released, the truth about the police and state authorities has come out. The kind of treatment she received at the hands of the police is unconstitutional. What happened with Nodeep inside the police station should be the subject of enquiry and such officers must be investigated.”
Joginder Singh from the Bhartiya Kisan Ekta said, “Our daughter Nodeep was speaking against the government continuously and fighting for our rights. The BJP leadership takes pride in India’s democracy, but how can it be a democracy when the government is constantly passing anti-people laws, from CAA to farm and labour laws?”
Surjit Singh Phool from the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) said that the fact that over a hundred farmers have lost their lives during the farmers’ protest is a sign of state repression.
Freelance journalist Mandeep Puniya spoke about several journalists nationwide who have been incarcerated or are facing charges for doing their work. Punia himself was arrested while reporting on the farmers’ protest.
On Monday, he spoke about the torture inflicted by the police on him during his arrest. He said, “I was actually arrested at 7 pm, but police showed arrest time as 1 am. This gap was when I was tortured violently. They took me to an old building and beat me up badly on my left leg. It was cold, they took my jacket away and switched on the fan. They told me that they have thrashed many journalists like me.”
Among the organisations that organised the press conference were AISA, AISF, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, Karnataka Janashakti, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, SFI and United Against Hate.