Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ML Update | No. 47 | 2014

ML Update
A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol.  17 | No. 47 | 18 - 24 NOV 2014

Chhattisgarh Sterilization Massacre 

The deaths of 15 women in a sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh are an indictment of the criminal complicity of the Chhattisgarh Government in a corrupt and callous healthcare regime. They are also a wake-up call for the entire country, about the grievous violence done to women's bodies by the 'population control' policies pushed by international funding agencies and the Indian State.      

The Chhattisgarh Government simply cannot wash off its responsibility for the deaths of the poor women who were killed. The emerging evidence shows that the immediate cause of the deaths could be either polluted drugs or due to sepsis from rusty or infected instruments used during the surgery. The drugs administered apparently showed traces of toxic substances. The State Government must answer why it continued to procure drugs from the Mahawar Pharma company even after it was charged with selling sub-standard drugs two years back? In March 2012, the Health Minister Amar Agarwal himself had informed the State Assembly that a case had been registered against this company for selling duplicate generic drugs. Seven medicines supplied by this company had been banned by the State Government at different points in time. The sterilization camps in the Health Minister's own constituency (one of them a short distance from his own home) had abysmal standards of basic hygiene. Operations were done on the floor, women were piled on to beds, rusty and infected instruments were used – all presenting a grim reality check that contrasts with the 'Clean India' hype pushed by the BJP Governments in the Centre and States. 

The doctor (since arrested) performed 83 operations in 5 hours. Though India adopts no sterilization targets nationally, states routinely adopt and push sterilization targets. In Chhattisgarh, too, the Government cannot deny that it had a policy of rewarding 'record numbers' of sterilization surgeries – on Republic Day this year, the Government had awarded a medal to the same doctor for performing 1 lakh sterilizations in his career. Target-driven and incentive-driven sterilizations lead to women being pressurized into having the surgeries, held in 'camps', thus privileging speed and volume of surgeries over safety and individual women's informed decisions. The State Government must squarely accept responsibility for the target-driven and incentive-driven approach.      

The Chhattisgarh Government and the BJP have been touting the State as a model of 'development', boasting of its forest cover and mineral wealth in order to woo investors. The fact is that the poor and the adivasis in the State have already been at the receiving end of a brutal war waged by the State in order to grab those very resources. Now, it becomes clear that the claims of 'development' mock the fact that the poor and deprived in the State have no access to basic, regular healthcare and contraception. Instead, they are given 'camp-based' healthcare – which means that time and again they are herded into camps where large numbers lost eyesight in botched cataract operations and 7000 women had uteruses illegally removed in botched and unnecessary hysterectomies in 2012, making it clear that the latest deaths are by no means an exception.

The Chhattisgarh Government's attempts to shield its Health Minister are highly condemnable. The Chief Minister himself should resign if he continues to deny the responsibility and liability of his Minister. But the problem goes beyond that of a single State alone. Facts presented in Parliament show that 707 women died between 2009 and 2012 because of botched sterilization operations in camps. This means that 15 women are dying every month in these sterilization camps – and these numbers are likely to be much higher since in many cases the health authorities distance the camps from the deaths. The sterilization massacre in Chhattisgarh has shocked the world – but the fact is that a massacre of the same scale happens routinely every month in India. If we are to stop this bloodshed of women, we need to review and reverse India's approach to contraception.

The question of people's and women's access to safe contraception needs to be prioritised, and the framework of 'population control' and 'family planning' needs to be abandoned. 'Overpopulation' in 'poor countries' as a cause for poverty and environmental damage is a racist myth that colonial and imperialist powers have historically peddled. Poverty, hunger, and pollution are caused, not by 'too many poor people' in 'poor countries', but because of the unequal distribution of the world's resources and wealth and by exploitation and plunder by the world's corporations.

International funding agencies are also implicated in the violence against women's bodies in the name of 'population control'. In the name of controlling 'overpopulation', these agencies, backed by the Governments of US and UK and powerful corporations, fund sterilization, as well as dangerous contraceptive implants, that endanger the lives and health of women in India and other target countries. The funds that flow in fuel the race to 'achieve' a high number of sterilizations, and the Indian health authorities also offer 'incentives' to women and men to get sterilized, but also to touts for herding large numbers of people for these operations. Rural health workers are rewarded for persuading larger numbers of women to come to sterilization camps, and penalised for failing to do so.   

 The Indian Government must stop accepting aid for 'population control' under any pretext. The Government must stop trying to control and regulate family size or population size. It must, in particular, end the practise of identifying 'high fertility' and 'low fertility' regions and communities. Instead, it must ensure that every Indian woman has access to a range of safe contraceptive methods. Sterilization surgery must be the last recommended contraceptive option, and hormonal implants must be disallowed entirely. Instead of these invasive methods, safe and non-invasive contraceptive methods must be made available. And women must be able to make informed, individual decisions about contraception. The camp-based approach to healthcare also must be abandoned, and replaced by public spending to ensure high-quality healthcare in the farthest corners of India, available to every Indian citizen.           

Jan Sunwai in Bihar

A massive jan sunwai was organized by the Party in Patna on 16 November, which reverberated with slogans for Left unity and a collective struggle for peoples' rights. Left leaders from various parties called for a strong joint Left struggle against the Delhi and Patna governments. The jan sunwai was attended by CPI(ML) General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI(M) General Secretary Com. Prakash Karat, CPI national secretarial board member Com. Atul Kumar Anjan and other Left leaders. Representatives from SUCI(C), Forward Bloc, various peoples' movements as well as journalists and intellectuals from the city attended in large numbers.

This jan sunwai was held after a 3-month long survey on the socio-economic conditions in Bihar organized by the CPI(ML). About 2 lakh rural and urban and poor and minority families had been surveyed as part of the Party's Bihar ka sach, logon ka haq campaign and an in-depth analysis of the data and information thus collected has been done. The survey documented a wide range of issues such as changes in the socio-economic and educational condition of rural and urban poor and minorities and the ground realities regarding implementation of various government projects. The survey had also identified new and emerging areas for concern for the peoples' movement. A detailed report of the results of the survey was presented at the jan sunwai on 16 November.

Addressing the jan sunwai, the CPI(ML) General Secretary pointed out that every year the government presents a 'report card' on development; however, this year the people of Bihar have decided to present their assessment and their own version of the government's 'report card' before the government could do so. This report card shows that the rights of the people have continually being impinged upon. He stressed on the need for a joint struggle on the issues which have emerged from the survey. He further called upon CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat, CPI leader Atul Kumar Anjan are other Left leaders to seriously consider the possibility of a joint Left rally in February 2015 aimed at asserting a robust and militant Left resistance to the existing ruling class regimes both in Patna as well as in Delhi.

CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat congratulated each and every person who was involved in conducting the extensive socio-economic survey of Bihar, which had brought out the truth about the state of 'development' from the point of view of the poor in Bihar. He pointed out that the land reforms agenda is pivotal to development in Bihar, but the Nitish government has effectively shelved this agenda. Incidents of violence against women and mahadalits are coming to light frequently, but the Bihar government is unable to take any action. He stated that the need of the hour was a forceful agitation for the rights of sharecroppers, the poor and the landless. He also asserted that the building of a new Bihar was possible only with Left unity. He said that the CPI(ML) report would act as a guiding principle for Left's agitations and initiatives in the future. Targeting the Modi government, he said that this government is betraying its promises to the people, and fostering an atmosphere of communal hatred in the country.

CPI leader Atul Kumar Anjan said that Left unity should be all-pervasive, from the streets to Parliament and Assemblies. He said that the Modi government is trying to inflict autocracy on the country. Much as this government boasts of development of the poor, the ground reality is that the rights of the poor are steadily being curtailed. MNREGA is being reduced, and LPG is getting costlier. He also pointed out that this crucial juncture, the survey conducted by the CPI(ML) is commendable, as it brings out the actual facts of poor people's lives and issues for future struggles.

Earlier, the jan sunwai started by paying tributes to popular leader from Jehanabad-Arwal Com. Shah Chand. One minute's silence was observed in his memory, after which the Party Bihar State Secretary presented the results of the survey. Com. Dhirendra Jha and Com. Rajaram Singh read out, respectively, the Summary of the survey and the political resolutions. Several demands were raised – including immediate release of those booked under the draconian TADA law, reinstatement of the Amir Das commission and action against all those providing political support to feudal forces such as the Ranveer Sena, immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Bandopadhyay report on land reforms in Bihar, water conservation, flood control, end to diversion of fertile land for non-agricultural purposes, implementation of a common school system, better health facilities and end to contractual labour. Former MP Com. Rameshwar Prasad and AIPWA leader Com. Meena Tiwari also addressed the jan sunwai. The programme was conducted by CCW member Com. KD Yadav. CPI State Secretary Rajendra Prasad Singh, CPI(M) State Secretary Vijaykant Thakur, SUCI State committee member Arun Kumar Singh, senior CPI(ML) leader Swadesh Bhattacharya as well as comrades Ramjatan Sharma, Nandkishore Prasad, Amar, Saroj Choube, Shashi Yadav, Mahboob Alam and other leaders also attended the jan sunwai along with several journalists and intellectuals from Patna and thousands of people from different parts of Bihar.

West Bengal Tea Garden Workers on Strike

On 11 November, tea garden workers in West Bengal registered a militant protest demanding minimum wages and other workers' rights. It is a well-known fact that tea garden workers in Bengal, who produce tea which is enjoyed across the world, work under abominable conditions and are paid extremely paltry amounts for their hard labour. The fact of the matter is that the wage paid to tea workers is less than the wage given to agricultural labours under MNREGA, which is Rs 167 per day in West Bengal. As a result of the persistent denial of rights, there have been several deaths due to malnutrition and illness in the tea gardens of north Bengal. On 11 November, lakhs of workers in nearly 300 tea gardens in Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a strike demanding the declaration of minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a meagre wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day. There was absolutely no work in 103 tea gardens in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration as the workers supported the strike.

The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions operating in the tea gardens, including AICCTU. CPI(ML) CC member Comrade Abhijit Majumdar is joint convenor of this joint forum of trade unions. All these trade unions had called this united protest against the Trinamool Congress led government in West Bengal, which has been continuously denying even basic rights to tea garden workers. While the trade unions have been insisting on the declaration of minimum wages, the Bengal government has only agreed to increase the wages by Rs 40 that too in a phased manner in three years — Rs 18, Rs 11 and Rs 11, respectively. Several rounds of negotiations had taken place between the tea garden workers and the West Bengal government; the government however refused to release a notification declaring minimum wages for workers in the tea industry.

The strike was a huge success as workers in three districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and parts of two districts Coochbehar and Uttar Dinajpur chose not to work. The Joint Forum of trade unions also called for a 12-hour general strike in the entire area, demanding rights for tea garden workers.

State-level Cadre Meeting in Rajasthan

A State-level cadre meeting of CPI(ML) was held at the Kisan Bhavan in Udaipur, Rajasthan, on 2 November 2014. The meeting was organized to review the campaign which was conducted in July in Rajasthan to expand and strengthen the Party organization in order to effectively meet the challenge posed in the context of the increasing corporate-communal dangers following BJP's coming to power at the Centre.

Addressing the meeting, PB member Com. Swadesh Bhattacharya said that the campaign conducted in July was not just a matter of Party expansion; rather, it is to do with an effective strategy to establish an effective network of the Party among the people to give a fitting reply to the increasing attacks on the poor and the workers by corporate ad communal forces who have become stronger after the BJP's coming to power at the Centre and now in States like Maharashtra and Haryana. To do this, the Party and peoples' organizations should be expanded through new memberships; also, Party branches and active cadre groups should be formed, Party publications should be distributed widely, funds should be generated, and close rapport should be established with people through initiating issues of interest to them.

Addressing the meeting, AICCTU National secretary Com. Rajiv Dimri pointed out the need to counter the Vasundhara Raje government's corporate-friendly policies and its assaults on the working class. Party State Secretary Mahendra Chowdhury presented an analysis of the July campaign and said that although the Party has taken initiatives in Jhunjhunu, Pratapgarh, and Udaipur districts, CPI(ML) needs to move forward quickly and take steps regarding membership renewal, expansion, and strengthening of branches. Com. Phool Chand Dhewa pointed out the laxity of the State leading team in the matter of increasing Party activity, and made suggestions for improvement and expansion. Several concrete proposals regarding membership and expansion were discussed and agreed upon.

Reports from Udaipur, Jhunjhunu, and Pratapgarh were presented and discussed. Comrades Ramchandra Kulhari, Gautam Lal Meena, Raju Lohar, Gotam Dhawda, Chandradev Ola, Om Prakash Jharoda, Shambhu and Raziya also expressed their views.  After inducting some new names into the State leading team, the meeting concluded by paying tribute to Com Shah Chand Mukhiya. 

Lucknow: Meeting Against 'Love Jihad' Myth Disrupted by ABVP

On 15 November, the ABVP in Lucknow University disrupted AISA's public meeting against the communal 'love jihad' campaign, which was to be addressed by AIPWA national secretary Kavita Krishnan. Prior permission had been taken by AISA – with the Lucknow University Proctor board clearly stating that they had "no objection" to the meeting. AISA had been running a spirited campaign against ABVP's communal hate, violence and riot mongering, specifically exposing the communal bogey of the 'love jihad campaign' in UP and elsewhere. This campaign had been receiving a good response from common students of Lucknow University. The ABVP, angered by AISA's spirited campaign, stated on the day before the proposed public meeting that they would not allow the meeting, going to the extent of threatening and intimidating AISA activists. They also put pressure on the LU proctorical board to cancel permission for the meeting. AISA however decided to go ahead with the meeting.

What followed was an open display of patriarchal violence, lumpenism and fascist assaults on freedom of expression. Goons affiliated to ABVP stormed into the venue of the public meeting, tore AISA banners and flags, disrupted the talk, and told the AISA activists present that they would not allow 'wrong' and 'immoral' speakers like Comrade Kavita to express their opinion. They also claimed that any meeting against love jihad would not be allowed, because it was "against Indian culture". ABVP continued to threaten and intimidate the women activists present, even as several girl students stated ABVP creates fear among women. ABVP raised threatening slogans saying, "Desh hai pukarta, pukarti hai Bharati; Khoon se tilak karo, goliyon se aarti". There was a not a single woman student with them, and one of them declared, as they attacked AISA, that 'khap panchayats hamara seena garva se ooncha karti hain, aap unke khilaf bol nahin sakte' (khap panchayats make us swell with pride, we won't let you speak against them). ABVP activists also tried to manhandle AISA leaders and Comrade Kavita.

After the meeting was disrupted, AISA led a protest march across the University against this fascist disruption and violence. Several common women students supported the protest, pointing out that recently at a dance competition organised by Lucknow University, girls who were performing dances had male students throwing coins and flowers at them. While ABVP was fine with that disgusting display of patriarchal 'culture', they were disrupting a peaceful talk, several women pointed out.

State-wide Agitation by Uttarakhand ASHA Workers' Union

Uttarakhand Asha Health Workers' Union affiliated to AICCTU organized a state-wide agitation against the repeated betrayals of the Uttarakhand government and demanding rights for the Asha workers in the State. Even though Asha workers are the backbone of the health department, the government is not even providing them a minimum honorarium.

In 2011, after a sustained agitation of Asha workers, the Uttarakhand Chief Minister had announced an annual incentive of Rs 5000. Three years after this announcement, even this small amount has not been paid to their accounts. The Asha workers' union had organized a huge demonstration in the capital Dehradun (called the "Jawab do-Hisab do" rally) on 15 September, to demand answers from the government for this betrayal. After this protest, the government was forced to promise payment of the incentive amount while also making assurances of action on other demands. However, till date, neither has the payment been made, and nor has action on any other matter been taken. The state-wide agitation was thus undertaken.

After demonstrations and effigy burnings across the State, the workers submitted memorandums to the Chief Minister through various authorized officials, and warned that the struggle would continue till their demands were met. The memorandum submitted several demands such as regularization of Asha workers with government employee status, Rs 15000 minimum monthly wage and Rs 5000 annual incentive with immediate payment along with arrears, Diwali bonus, free treatment for Asha workers in government hospitals and issue of health cards, accident insurance, end of PPP model in the health department, and guarantee of pension. Protests were held in Haldwani, Nainital, Ramnagar, Garampani, Betalghat, Dhari, Bindukhatta, Rudrapur, Kashipur, Bhikiyasain, Kapkot, Bageshwar, Dwarhat, Jaspur, Bajpur, Khatima, Sitarganj, Tanakpur, Lohaghat, Didihat, Dharchula, Ranikhet, and Almora.

Protests Against Rape and Feudal Violence in Patna

A protest was held in Patna on 7 November against the police inaction in a case of gang rape and murder of a minor girl in Mahua Bagh, Bihar. The young girl had gone to listen to a 'mata jagaran' at the local Shiva temple on 1 November – and had been gang raped. A delegation consisting of Gurudev Das, Jayprakash Paswan, Gopal Ravidas, Sharifa Manjhi and Nirmala Devi met the thana incharge at Parsa bazaar police station and demanded a speedy and proper enquiry into the matter, compensation of Rs 10 lakhs and a job for a family member, as well as action against the ongoing intimidation of the victim's family.

On 8 November, various women's organisations in Patna held a joint protest at Kargil chowk demanding justice for the Kurmuri gang rape victims as well as the Parsa Bazaar victim. AIPWA, Bihar Mahila Samaj, Kamkaji Mahila Association, Dalit Adhikar Manch, Women's Network and other women's groups, activists and intellectuals joined this protest. The protestors pointed out that despite growing instances of sexual, patriarchal and feudal violence in the State, the ruling government seemed determined not to take any strong action. Moreover, the opposition BJP forces choose to conveniently support the perpetrators in cases of feudal violence such as the Kurmuri gang rape case. The protestors pointed out the need to fight all instances of sexual violence, irrespective of considerations of caste and religion. The protest was conducted by Com. Anita Sinha. AIPWA general secretary Meena Tiwari, AIPWA state president Saroj Choubey, Sushila Sahay, Dr. Shanti Ojha, Shivani, Nivedita and Rampari amongst others addressed the protest. Vibha Gupta, Anuradha, Manju Yadav, Janki Devi and others participated in the protest.

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