Around 1000 workers of the Tungabhadra Irrigation Workers Union (TUCI), including computer operators, telephone operators, pump operators, and drivers from Raichur, Koppal and Bellary, have been on a strike since 17 March 2017.
The workers have been walking in the scorching heat for 28 days to cover a distance of 350km from Munirabad, Koppal to meet Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in Bengaluru.
The workers demands are transparent – an increase in their wages which would benefit a large number of people.
Each irrigation worker earns Rs 8,000 a month which they want to be increased to Rs 16,000, and paid to them at the beginning of every month. Furthermore, the workers demand that the government provides them with basic facilities to sustain life.
The Logical Indian spoke to Chetan, an activist who has been actively involved in the TUCI workers’ protest.
“Whether you can completely meet the demands or not is something you can decide after negotiations. The workers were doing a peaceful demonstration that was in the values of our Constitution. It was the government’s responsibility to acknowledge that they had walked for 28 days to reach Bangalore and talk to the CM. However, they were detained by the police near Tumkur, about 71km from Bangalore, on the pretext that they will be taken to the concerned authorities to meet their demands”, said Chetan.
An FIR has been filed against the protesters and many leaders have either been taken in police custody, sent back to Raichur, or left stranded. Four leaders are stuck in Raichur jail, with the magistrate not granting them bail, and about 300 workers are protesting in front of the District commissioner’s office. “The motive behind this was to divide the movement and shatter the unity of the workers,” added Chetan. “And this is not the first time that the state government has been working against the interest of the workers who deserve an economic improvement in their lives.”
The police imposes section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to prevent the workers from voicing their demands.
There have been similar cases where the government has failed to meet the demands or uplift the conditions of workers in our country.
Last month, Anganwadi workers from different parts of Karnataka protested against their menial wages. After four days of demonstrating in the heat, without proper food or water, Karnataka CM agreed to hike their pay.
Tamil Nadu farmers have also been protesting for almost a month now in Delhi, demanding the government to “prevent suicide by farmers who feed the nation”.
The Logical Indian Take
The state of affairs in Karnataka is a representation of the flaws in our government. Its insensitivity toward the plight of the workers shows a blatant disregard for the working class. Instead of sitting down for a discussion and negotiation demands, the police took a high-handed undemocratic step toward the irrigation workers and put them in captivity at Sira police station. Many of them were either put in buses or taken away in jeeps.
The working communities deserve more respect for their jobs and it’s essential that the government focuses on their economic development.
Imposing Section 144 of CrPC to prevent peaceful demonstrations is an undemocratic approach which empowers a magistrate to prohibit any assembly of more than four people. This gives the government a wide scope to restrict any action that it deems problematic. Silencing protests is not the solution, listening to the demands and reaching a consensus, is.