Bijolia begins again every October

Every year, the mines slows down and stops at the onset of monsoon, and then resume after harvest. Right now, the stone pits are still full of green water from the rains.
The work is on pause for everyone to return from home after Diwali. Many young men, a few women whose homes are nearby, who did not leave, sit around tea shops, and in the common spaces waiting. But it feels strange. When they speak, it is as if not like the mood of a break or rest, as they wait for the full mine operation to start in another fifteen days. Over and over, it is a: What, but this. This sucks, this kills but this, if they will just increased our wage but this. Maybe I was missing something, but they seemed to be saying, this work seems to ruin everyone’s lives when it exists, and yet even the last resort is ruined if our work is replaced by machines. In the evening, returning from the conversations at tea shops and squares, it seemed like I had been talking to pools of distressed, tied down to stones, in pain people over and over.
Though in late afternoon sun, slumped by the temple wall, Nand Lal Bhil and Ratan ji Bhil cracked one joke after another about Nand Lal’s impending death. “I almost left the house, then I got stuck in the hedges and came back,” Nand Lal grinned. “But I have a ticket (Silicosis certificate) from the Government. At any point, I may have to leave again..”
IMG_4826.jpg
Nand Lal had worked in the mines breaking stones for the same contractor forty years, since he was ten, till he fell too ill to work. He was treated for tuberculosis for five years. A year and a half back, the hospital diagnosed him with silicosis. “I had energy, enthusiasm, health, everything. Then one day life took it all, like grime from skin.”
“This is how disease, death befalls.” he said.
“It strikes you, like lightening.”
Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 11.27.16 PM

Advertisements

The curious case of the alphabetically accused

On January 30, 2015, the Supreme Court while hearing a Special Leave Petition for bail for two jailed Maruti workers, Sunil Kumar and Kanwaljeet, gave the Haryana government two weeks to respond why the workers should not be granted bail. SC had on 17 February 2014 declined to hear the workers’ bail plea as eye-witnesses were still being examined. It asked the Haryana court to complete examine eye witnesses by April 2014, though the local court later missed this deadline. Below is a report from August 2014 on the legal case against a majority of the workers.

IMG_6208

Co-workers, families of jailed Maruti workers marching to Haryana Chief Minister Bhoopinder Singh Hooda on August 3, stopped on the way by the police in Rohtak. Photo: Anumeha Yadav

The Hindu

Manesar (Haryana): On Thursday, 147 workers of Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) in Bhondsi jail will be waiting patientlyfor the decision of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana on bail plea of two of the 147 workers. They have been in jail since two years after manager Awanish Kumar Dev was killed in an instance of rioting in Maruti‘s Manesar plant on 18 July 2012. The rioting in July 2012 was preceded by months of strikes by the workers demanding an independent union in 2011 that had caused a loss of over Rs 2500 crores to MSIL, India’s largest automobile manufacturer.

While all 147 workers have been charged on eighteen counts, including rioting charges, and under Section 302 of IPC for murder of Mr Dev, a pattern has emerged from the evidence against the workers. In case of 89 workers, the Haryana police cited the testimonies of only four labour supply contractors hired by the MSIL. Each contractor has testified to witnessing workers indulge in violence such that the names of the workers allegedly seen rioting fall in an alphabetical order.

Rioters seen in alphabetical order

Court documents show witness Virendra alias Rajender Yadav has named 25 workers such that all workers’ names fall in the alphabetical range of A-G. Another witness contractor Yaad Ram testified that he saw 25 workers rioting all of whose names fall in the next range G-P. Witness Ashok Rana names 26 workers who were allegedly rioting whose names range from P-S.The final witness Rakesh of Tirupati Associates who supplied 900 contract workers to MSIL testified to allegedly seeing 13 workers whose names, continuing the alphabetic sequence, are in the range S-Y.

On July 5 in the district court, all four contractors failed to identify any of the 89 workers named by them. “The management had originally named 52 persons in the FIR, mainly from the union’s body. The police picked up another 100 workers over the next two-three weeks and assigned 89 names alphabetically to the labour contractors with there being no other witnesses. They did not produce any witnesses at all against another 11 workers,” said defence counsel RS Hooda commenting on the evidence against 100 of 147 workers.

Special Public Prosecutor KTS Tulsi declined to comment on this pattern of the testimonies. Witness Virendra alias Rajender Yadav who has named workers with names ranging from A-G told The Hindu that his firm VGR Engineer Pvt. Ltd. supplied 700 workers to the Manesar plant in July 2012, and at present it supplied 600 workers to MSIL’s Gurgaon plant.

Car doors’ recovery

As rioting weapons, the police show they have recovered 139 car door frames and iron rods from workers weeks after the incident. For instance, they show Maruti Suzuki Workers Union’s head Ram Meher was arrested 13 days later on August 1, 2012. The Recovery Memo records that a car door frame over 2 feet in length, with sharp metal planks welded at both ends allegedly used as rioting weapon was found inside his bed in his residence in Ashok Vihar, 25 km from the Manesar plant. Similarly, they show Sarabjeet, the Union’s General Secretary, was arrested on August 1, 2012 and a car door frame recovered from inside Sarabjeet’s bed at his Laxman Vihar house, 22 km from the Maruti plant, was the alleged weapon.

Inside Bhondsi jail, 15 km from Gurgaon, Ram Meher said the pattern was repeated for several workers. “The police say we hid and carried door frames for kilometres, in some instances till another district. How could have we? The police planted these and showed arrests after many of us surrendered,” said Ram Meher.

“The alphabetic order of witness is a matter of probability. It is less probable but not impossible. I cannot comment on other details as I was not the DCP in charge at that time,” said DCP (South) Gurgaon Vivek Sharma.

The District Court in Gurgaon has already rejected the workers’ bail plea thrice, most recently this June. The High Court turned it down in May.

Adivasis’ dangerous journey into the urban jungle

Last month two 14-year-old adivasi girls, who had migrated from Khunti district to work in Delhi as domestic help, were found dead in mysterious circumstances, both within two days of each other.

On April 19, Jyoti Mariyam Hora died soon after she was brought to the Madan Mohan Malviya Hospital in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar. Two days later, Dayamani Guriya, who had studied with Jyoti till class VI and had migrated to Delhi with her, died in mysterious circumstances at the Ranchi railway station when she was being sent back to her village in Torpa in Khunti with police’s intervention.

The Delhi Police have arrested one Chandumani, who had brought the two girls to Delhi. “We are waiting for a second autopsy report to verify if Dayamani was poisoned. Jyoti’s family members have left Khunti accompanied by a police team to bring Jyoti’s body back,” said Superintendent of Police, Khunti, M. Tamilvanan.

The two incidents are the tip of the crisis unfolding in several adivasi homes across Jharkhand, where hardly a week goes by without reports of children and youth, especially girls and women, missing or rescued from metropolitan cities.

There are 14 children from villages of Murhu block alone in Khunti. In March, Miti Purti (name changed) of Kotha Toli, Khunti, returned from Delhi with a debilitating skin infection, earning Rs. 27,000 after working seven years in Delhi. Mani Dondray, 15, worked in Delhi for seven months but had to return after she contracted TB and became severely underweight.

Sumi who fled from the house she worked at in Delhi and returned to Jharkhand in November 2012.  Photo by Anumeha Yadav

Sumi who fled from the house she worked at in Delhi and returned to Jharkhand in November 2012. Photo by Anumeha Yadav

Missing children

On a clear evening in March, as dusk fell, Dayakishore Tirkey, a tall farmer in his late 40s, waited patiently for his turn to speak to police officials at the Mahuatarnd police station. Two days back, he had got word for the for the first time since, three years ago, his 15-year-old daughter Supriya had left their home in Guera village in Jharkhand’s Latehar district to find work in Delhi.

“We got information from Delhi about a girl who is from Guera village. Her name is different from her given name but we made her talk to Dayakishore on the phone and they both recognised each other. Now we will arrange for him to go to Delhi to identify and get her back,” said Mahuatarnd Station House Officer (SHO) Anil Kumar Singh.

This is the third instance since January where the SHO has had to act on information from Delhi about adivasi girls reported missing and found or rescued through police raids at placement agencies’ offices in Delhi. “The adivasi girls educated in missionary schools are well-educated, but the poorer families’ children in government schools frequently drop out by class VI or VII and leave to work in cities. These adivasi families do not have the tradition of keeping in touch with or keeping watch over their daughters. The police have to routinely bring them back and try to get them their unpaid wages from placement agencies in Delhi,” he said.

Tirkey, who owns a small plot of land in Guera, says he worked a few years as a tailor in the army. “When Supriya asked me if she could go to Delhi with Dominica Minj, a woman from the nearby village, I had said no. I have worked in Delhi, Rajasthan and U.P. and know what cities are like. But she told her mother and left,” he spoke outside the police station.

The next morning, he left for Latehar, the district headquarters 140 km away, from where he would board a train to Delhi with a change of clothes and Rs. 210 — all the money he could manage.

More mysterious deaths

The same week that Tirkey boarded a train to Delhi, in Chekma, the adjoining village Manju Lakda, in her early 20s, came home to receive her younger sister Shanti’s body sent in an ambulance from Delhi.

“My brother, who is studying in Uttarakhand, youngest sister, who also worked as a domestic help in Delhi, and Sunita the younger sister of Dominica Minj who had first taken my sister to Delhi four years — brought Shanti’s body back. Dominica and Shanti called and tried to mislead me on the phone. At first they told us the wrong hospital’s name and to the police who had come to the hospital after my sister died they said they did not know whose body it is,” she recalled. “It took my brother and sister two days to find Shanti’s body in the mortuary. They saw marks of vomit-like substance on her face,” said Manju who is training to be Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) in Visakhapatnam. The family is still awaiting the final autopsy report from Maulana Azad Medical College, Delhi, to make sense of Shanti’s mysterious death.

A mobile phone — which the family has put in a plastic bag and hung on a tall stick at their door to be able to receive better phone signal — rings and Manju gets up to answer it. “The phone does not always work but Shanti would call once in three months or so. She said she got Rs. 3,000 as wages but I am not sure if she got the salary or the placement agency. She had left after she finished IX with Dominica from our village. Two years back she called and said she was unwell and we should come to Daltonganj station to receive her. She had contracted TB in Delhi. She stayed home a year. My husband works for the mission here and we got her fully treated. Then she left for Delhi again with her younger sister and worked in a house in Kashmiri Gate,” says Manju’s mother Sabhani Khaka. The family says Dominca Minj has threatened them for pursuing the case legally. “She is close to the parties [splinter Maoist groups active in Latehar] and says she will get our family members abducted,” said Shanti’s kin.

Minj, who was in Chekma to visit her father, denied the allegations. “I had taken seven girls including Shanti once to a placement agency run by Mahendra Singh in Naraina Vihar in Delhi. I got Rs. 6,000 per girl. But the girls get money too and wanted to go on their own,” she said. No complaint or FIR has been registered yet in Latehar.

Read the full report in The Hindu here. In October the same year, a Santhali girl in her late teens was rescued from the house of Vandana Dheer, a MNC employee, in Vasant Kunj in Delhi with evidence of torture and beatings. Two reports from her home in Sahebganj in Jharkhand here and here.

Thinking about Baran, December 2010

I got a chance to speak about my experience of reporting on bonded debt among Sahariya tribals in Baran in Rajasthan at May Diwas celebrations organized by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajsamand district in May 2011. MKSS organizes a mela for May Day every year at Bhim in Rajsamand.

285 from Anumeha Yadav on Vimeo.

Roughly translates to: I had first traveled to Kishanganj and Shahbad blocks in Baran in December 2010 after listening to 16 Sahariya agriculture workers at a MKSS dharna in Jaipur for minimum wages in MNREGA. They said they had been in bonded debt since years, in some instances since two to three generations to rich landlords who were charging interests on small loans at rates between 60 to 70 percent. At the time, Rajasthan government ordered that these 16 families be freed of their bonded debt. Two weeks later, the administration handed each of them Rs 1,000 under a centrally-sponsored bonded labour rehabilitation scheme that has not been revised since 1978. But even this instance was not enough to goad the administration into acknowledging the problem. District officials continued to refer to “hali” system as a traditional agriculture practice in Baran and tried to wash their hands off the responsibility for a district-wide survey saying the agriculture workers had migrated from the neighbouring state Madhya Pradesh.

The extent of feudal exploitation in Baran is still unraveling. Since November 2010, more than 165 families have fled landlords’ farms with their families, in some instances walking over 80 kms over two nights to reach Eklera (the village where the first 16 families started work under MNREGA), to demand their bonded debt of years and decades be waived off and they be given their land occupied by the richer farmers. This summer, 40 Sahariya families in Sunda village in Kishanganj set up a community grain bank with assistance from the NGOs Jagrut Mahila Manch and Sankalp pooling the grain they receive under PDS so they do not have to depend on landlords for monthly wheat rations.
(video by my roommate and friend Hannah Pitt:)

Kids, Giridih

Fresh coaldust arrives from sponge iron plants. Kids run to find manganese scrap to sell. In Giridih, Jharkhand, today

Kids looking for manganese scrap in coaldust from spone oron plants. -AY

How to cheat workers of minimum wages

Delhi Metro workers losing crores in wages; allotted fake Provident Fund accounts by contractors

Workers hired through multiple contractors by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) are denied their minimum wages by employers who have allotted fake Provident Fund and health insurance accounts to siphon off their money. Questioned about this, officials said that while they were aware of the workers’ complaints, they had not yet blacklisted any company, despite the fact that the Delhi Metro paid a share of the workers’ PF, which runs into crores, as part of contractors’ bills.

The DMRC employs over 4,900 workers through more than 19 contractors to work as ticket-vending operators, security guards and housekeepers who clean and sweep metro stations. Workers like those employed by Bedi & Bedi Pvt. Ltd. say when they made inquiries about their provident fund, they found their employer had allotted them fake account numbers. Inquiries at the government health insurance office at Kishanganj by 25 employees showed that Bedi & Bedi had not contributed Rs. 25 lakh — including Rs. 6.8 lakh deducted from workers’ salary — to the funds. Fourteen of the 25 workers had been allotted numbers which did not exist in government records.

Guards, sweepers at Acme Enterprises, A2Z Securities, and even workers hired by Prehari Security Services as guards outside the DMRC office in Connaught Place also said they still do not have PF or health insurance accounts and contractors continue to pilfer over a fourth of their wages this way. They say housekeepers who sweep and metro stations are treated the worst.

Documents obtained by Delhi Metro Kamgaar Union through Right to Information (RTI) applications showed that Keshav Security Services, a company similar to Bedi & Bedi, and also the largest supplier of housekeepers to DMRC, allotted two different PF account numbers to workers in 2009 and 2010. Calculating PF contributions at the rate of the 24 per cent of Rs. 7254 per month, the minimum wage for unskilled workers, about Rs. 1.26 crore is siphoned off in a year from just 607 employees. “The company keeps two accounts — one for DMRC records and a separate register where they keep our accounts. I have worked here for eight years since the Metro started, but never heard of anyone getting their PF funds,” said a worker who took part in the strike at 11 stations on the Blue Line on October 13.

Read the full report here.. In response to The Hindu’s report, the Provident Fund Commissioner’s office in Delhi began a probe into this wage theft on December 3, 2012. A follow-up report here.

Maruti restarts production at Manesar, workers protest at Jantar Mantar

Maruti restarts production at Manesar, workers protest at Jantar Mantar

Bigul Mazdoor Dasta who work with thread-makers from Karawal Nagar and with Delhi Metro workers protest against dismissal of Maruti workers at Jantar Mantar. Maruti restarted production after hiring 100 additonal security guards. 21 August 2012

A video I shot in February when Maruti workers declared their union at Maruti Suzuki India Limited’s Manesar plant in Haryana.

My recent posts on Kafila on Maruti, and other instances of workers-employers’ conflict in Delhi-Gurgaon region are here and here.