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Persecution of Contract Workers in Chhattisgarh

LETTERS

Issn 0012-9976

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Persecution of Contract Workers in Chhattisgarh

T
his letter is to alert your readers to the developing situation in Chhattisgarh, where the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) and its cement industry affi liate labour union, the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh, are coming under intense, concerted attacks from the Swiss multinational cement manufacturer, Holcim, and the apparatus of the right wing state government.

The latest incident occurred on 6 March, when Y P Singh, the security offi cer of Ambuja Cements (which is now controlled by Holcim) got into an altercation in the village market of Rawan, district Raipur, where the company is situated. According to villagers, he was brandishing his revolver, threatening and abusing people, when some unidentified youth chased and roughed him up. Using this incident as a pretext, Y P Singh and another company official have lodged a bogus police complaint accusing senior u nion leaders of dacoity, alleging that they have snatched the cartridges of his revolver! Hundreds of villagers are witness that these leaders were never at the spot, but the police has maliciously implicated them in such a s erious offence in a completely spurious case. This highlights the present atmosphere of r epression in Chhattisgarh.

This incident has to be viewed in the context of the union’s struggle to protect the rights of contract workers, a majority of whom are from local peasant families and whose lands were acquired for the plant and mines. The union has organised the contract workers to demand minimum wages, provision of provident fund slips, statutory proofs of employment, etc. Before the workers were unionised, this Swiss multinational giant was even deducting money for safety helmets and boots from their paltry wages!

The contract workers’ struggle in this plant is unique in the support that they have drawn from local farmers, who are also organised for their own grievances against the company. The company has not yet rehabilitated all the farmers whose lands it occupied 25 years ago. The company has also failed to fulfil its promise of providing employment and is accused by

march 26, 2011

the villagers of illegally encroaching their nistari (common) lands.

This joint struggle by farmers and contract workers for their lawful rights has resulted in a severe backlash of repression against their organisations. Over 75 of the most active union workers have lost their jobs at the factory in the past six months, and police cases were registered against 20 workers and farmers last year by simply l abelling them “criminal elements”.

The cement wage board award (known as the Nevatia award), to which Ambuja Cement (now, Holcim) is a signatory, is a hard-won agreement between All India Cement Manufacturers Association and the central trade unions. According to this agreement no contract labour would be employed in cement manufacture at all, and even if such labour is employed, it would be limited to the loading and unloading of raw materials and packing, and would be paid at the same rate as the permanent workers.

This landmark award is being grossly and blatantly violated by all private cement plants in Chhattisgarh, including the multinational companies, Holcim and Lafarge, and the huge Indian company Ultratech of the Aditya Birla group. The proportion of permanent workmen in Chhattisgarh cement plants is barely 10%. Holcim, which pays its European workmen $8 for every hour, pays their counterparts

– the contract workers of Chhattisgarh – a mere $2 for an entire day (a 32-fold difference)! It is a small wonder that Holcim has closed down its Spanish plants, is preparing to close down plants in the United States, while planning several more plants in Chhattisgarh.

Farmers, organised under the banner of the “Udyog Prabhavit Kisan Sangh” are strongly opposing the setting up of new cement plants. These farmers have faced displacement with paltry compensation and there is an almost universal violation of the state’s rehabilitation policy promising permanent employment to one family member per affected family. Today, the farmers also face a severe crisis of water for irrigation purposes since water is getting diverted for industrial houses, and cement companies are encroaching on village commons – grazing grounds, roads, canals, and village ponds. Recently, a dam built for irrigation

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EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

in village Kukurdih was “acquired” for the purposes of Ultratech Cement, and more than 600 farmers in the villages of Guma and Pounsari are being coerced into giving their consent for mining, further stirring up an already agitated population.

As a long-time organiser and supporter of workers and peasant struggles, it is not surprising that CMM is facing increasing repression. Attempts are being made to identify CMM with the Maoists, and recently police planted the bodies of two alleged Maoists, who had been killed by them, near a CMM office in Jamul so as to create such an identity and provide them a pretext to attack the union.

The present spate of false cases seems to be another attempt to crack down on the CMM. We request everybody to protest against these attempts to brutally suppress the workers’ movement.

Sudha Bharadwaj, Bansi Sahu, Kaladas Dehariya and others, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha

Plagiarism

P
rashant Iyengar’s, “Pirates, Plagiarisers, Publishers” (EPW, 26 February) was an eye-opener. The author rightly points to the high incidence of plagiarism in Indian research. The causes for this are many: severe research burden on students and difficult deadlines, lack of incentives to do thorough research, lack of expertise and absence of proper guidance by supervisors, among others.

But one point, and probably the most central one, which the author fails to ask is why do students plagiarise and why has it become so routinised? It appears to me that the reason is that a majority of students take admission to research-based courses merely to bide their time, while they search for employment. Further, in most universities favouritism, politics and patronage of influential people in the admission process result in a large influx of students in research courses who lack both aptitude and ability for research. Both faculty and students treat MPhil and PhD as a mere “class” which they have to pass and get the degree.

Secondly, many faculty members avoid guiding research students by arguing that research students should not expect to be taught but should do their own study. Given

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
march 26, 2011

that research orientation and methods classes are often weak or absent in many universities, many students do not know even the basic ways of quoting and referencing. Therefore, research students, to meet their submission targets end up r esorting to plagiarism. Finally, the current pressure to publish – to get a research degree, to get a job and to get promotions

– also plays a part in fostering plagiarism. I would argue, therefore, that plagiarism is a system-produced trend in India. There is a need to reform research processes in Indian universities. Research course work should be mandatory and even faculty should be given proper research orientations wherever required.

Adfar Rashid Shah

Jamia Millia Islamia

New Delhi

Media and Corruption

T
he media, which is referred to as the fourth estate, is the central pillar of modern civil society – external and independent of the state. It is supposed to be the principal agent of public vigilance. Therefore, it is imperative that the media in a democracy remains free of commercial interests and autonomous vis-à-vis the state. But, unfortunately we witnessed prominent media personalities acting as intermediaries between the state and commercial interests, moulding public opinion through manipulation and control. More over, the corporate media itself was involved in the cover-up which raises serious questions about its credibility. It was another form of “paid news” and it was only due to alternate media like blogs and twitter that these issues remained in the spotlight.

However, there is a larger process operating in the Indian media that is making it more corrupt and devoid of ethics and values. Media in India is becoming more “hyperreal”, in the sense that Jean Baudrillard used it to mean that there is no longer a “reality” that television allows us to see. Indian news television constructs a new reality which is different from the ground reality and this new reality is considered as ultimate and true by the people who view it. Duplicity becomes part of corporate media culture and hypocrisy is embedded in the character of the public personality.

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Television constructs a new reality on the basis of which public opinion is formed. This becomes a direct threat to democracy because the public figure is no longer motivated to be genuinely responsive to the codes of ethics and justice but is more concerned about maintaining his “media image”. The political leader may not do constructive work but project an image through the media that he is working for the people. Justice may not be done but it just needs to be shown through the media that it is done. Politics and public life become a form of constructed symbolism and media becomes the carrier of these drafted symbols. Henceforth, the success or failure of a political leader, the capitalist and the media personality, lies not in maintaining ethics and integrity but in making sure that impropriety is not exposed in the public domain. The grand cover-up during “Radiagate” by the mainstream media was part of such an attempt, which was, thankfully, thwarted due to the responsible journalism of some prominent editors and the alternate media.

Before the liberalisation era in India, the bureaucratic apparatus was considered to be the villain of the piece, an abode of corruption and inefficiency. Capitalism is much more dangerous since it is based on the philosophy of dissatisfaction. Only when one is dissatisfied, there emerges the need for more consumption, which leads to further growth and revenues. A person becomes corrupt because of this underlying state of dissatisfaction. Such corruption is more deep-rooted but it is camoufl aged to appear just and fair. Corrupt media in a capitalist society is a fallout of the larger process of consumerism.

Sabareesh Gopala Pillai

University of Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram

Correction

I
n response to my review of Bridging Partition: People’s Initiatives for Peace between India and Pakistan (EPW, 12 March), it has been pointed out to me that details about the contributors did appear in the second print run of the book on pages 353-357. The copy I had reviewed was from the fi rst printing. M V Ramana Princeton University USA

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