2nd September, 2016. The day India’s workers went on a nationwide strike.
This reporter’s first destination was Jawahar Bhawan in Lucknow. For the uninitiated Lucknow is the capital city of Uttar Pradesh (the largest province in India). A large group of women in parrot green Saris called out to me in the midst of their sloganeering. They had seen my camera. Clearly and as stated by them later no reporter, channel or camera unit had spoken to them till then.
Green sari is the uniform of anganwaadi workers. They had come from all across the state of Uttar Pradesh. There are four and a half lakh anganwaadi workers and two and a half lakh assistants in the anganwaadis of Uttar Pradesh. Their slogans of “Azadi” , an age old slogan by women’s movement was echoing in the entire premise of Jawahar Bhawan. Their other slogan could have pierced your heart – Roti Do Ya Maut Do. Give us bread or Give us death.
Their demands are- The Anganwadi workers must be paid 10,000 Rs and their Assistants 5000 Rs. They should be observed as state government employees.Anganwadi centers should be closed for summer holidays. Both Anganwadi workers and their assistants should be entitled to post retirement Pension. There are many vacancies for angwanwadi workers. The people in service should be immediately promoted to these posts. Cooking Gas connection in every anganwaadi center. An insurance policy of 5 lakh for all anganwadi workers and their assistants. 25% yearly increment for both Anganwadi workers and their assistants.
Some of the Angan waadi workers and their assistants screamed at this reporter- “3,000 Rs mey tumhara ghar chal sakta hai?”. Can I run my house in Rs 3000?
Anganwaadi workers are mostly women but no one has cared to ask why were they protesting on the streets. “What does woman empowerment mean to Prime Minister Modi and chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav?”. The women add they have jobs, families and small kids to attend to. However, they had all traveled to Lucknow (Capital of Uttar Pradesh. The biggest province in India) so that their basic demands were addressed. When the women workers march on the streets, history tells us, Governments and Leaders fall- they screamed and asserted!
Some of their demands are- Land rights and Labour rights of Famers and workers respectively must be protected.
-Land Rights of the poor should be the focus of this government and not land acquisition.
– Social Security of all workers, weavers, craftsmen must be ensured.
– The constitutional Right of workers to express their views, form unions and protest against any Government’s anti-people policies must be restored and not played around with.
-All power plants, dams and highways like Kachri Power Plant or Kanhar Dam must be made in consultation with the local people of the state. All illegal land acquisition must stop.
– Dalits, Adivasis/tribals and other minorities must not be branded Maoists and Terrorists the moment they protest or don’t want to comply with the powerful people. False cases and false encounters to silence the underprivileged must stop.
– Women safety must be ensured by the Government
– All the rights given to communities under Forest Act must be ensured
– Forest Officers when found working against the Forest Act must be investigated. Forest Communities are owners of Tendu Leaves, Honey and small fish cultivations under Forest Act . Their rights must be protected.
– The violence against the poor in the name of Gau Raksha across the country must be immediately stopped and the perpetrators must be severely punished.
– Communal Violence Bill must be passed immediately.
– The State must encourage hospitals like AIIMS to be established in the country. Privatisation of education must be stopped and public education system must be strengthened.
Just as I stopped listening and listing the demands of this group I heard a huge uproar. A crowd was rushing towards the same venue where the workers unions were protesting.
These were well dressed people. Some among them were conspicuous by their marigold garlands and Tika (A colourful mark some Hindus put on their forehead after their prayers). They looked privileged. This group had the confidence and assertion to take over the street and take on the Police. The Police force that was relaxed around the workers union now rushed towards the new crowd of people. The workers in the park huddled together. They were watchful and concerned. Someone in the crowd said “opposition waaley aagaye” suggesting BJP workers may have come on the streets to silence the workers protest.
This reporter moved closer to the other group now. Some of these people were fainting in the summer heat. Some were shouting at the Police Force that was refusing to let them go further. The loud but unclear slogans gradually became audible. These people were sloganeering against the Police, then the Chief Minister, then the Prime Minister. They were also on the strike!
They were from the Teachers’ Union and like the Anganwadi workers, craftsmen, nurses, weavers and all other workers across the country they had come out to protest. Some of them were parched and dehydrated but all of them looked determined, feisty and fearless.
The Strike in Lucknow, this 2nd of September 2016, moved from parks and government offices to the streets! Minimum wages, Healthcare, Holidays, Post retirement Pension, permanent posts and Salary increment talks are clearly back in vogue. At least on the streets, in the common wo/man’s household and on the social networking sites. Not so much in newspapers and News channels.
The legitimacy of basic demands sounded irrefutable with the slogans of “Hamari Maangey Poori Karo” rising high!