Over 3,000 employees of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous District Council (NCHADC) in Assam’s Dima Hasao have not got their salaries for 13 months now. They were last paid in November 2016.
Since 1952, the council has run Dima Hasao under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution, which provides for autonomous decentralised self-governance in certain tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. The Chief Executive of the council is equivalent to the Chief Minister.
The first protest against the non-payment of salaries started on June 1. They called it “indefinite ceasework”. At that point in time, it was almost 9 months that the salaries were not credited to their accounts. The protests were triggered because of the suicide of a female employee.
Timeline of protests
Earlier on May 30, an employee of the council, Putuli Giri committed suicide. She was under extreme financial stress and was a single mother. Her suicide led to protests. But because of limited media coverage, the voices failed to reach concerned ears.
Since then, the protests have been going on. On July 2017, the then-Governor Banwarilal Purohit was in Haflong. The employees decided to hold a protest then. “There was a clash with the council members and the protest turned violent. The police lathi-charged and injured many protesters,” says Daniel Langthasa, a musician-cum-activist from Haflong.
The then-Governor, who was also the head of the council intervened and managed to give two months salary to the people. “The truth is only some of them got the salary,” Daniel clarifies.
Daniel further says, “The Council keeps on saying that there is not enough revenue generated to pay the salaries of 3000 employees. There is also a lot of mismanagement going on. The political turmoil in the area is what led to the issue of pending salaries.”
On May 22, the National Investigation Agency had convicted two members of NCHADC for diverting funds to terror-linked accounts with the help of elected councils. Jewel Garlosa and Niranjan Hojai, the two members, led the now-disbanded militant group, Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel). These two members are now with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On November 13, Daniel with a few friends started the #BetonDeu movement. Beton Deu means ‘give our salary’. They called it ‘Sing-In For Salary’ protests and performed in front of the Council, at Haflong Bazaar, Guwahati and at India Gate, New Delhi.
#BETONDEU Employees of N C Hills Autonomous Council of Dima Hasao, Assam have not been paid over a year's worth of salary. An employee committed suicide earlier this year and the rest are dying a slow death each passing day. Employees have been beaten up by the police for asking what is rightfully theirs. The Govt. is treating their employees like slaves. They are crushing our will with their power. But the fight has just begun! THE PEOPLE UNITED SHALL ALWAYS BE VICTORIOUS!!!
Posted by Mr India on Wednesday, November 15, 2017
“Because of the non-payment of salaries, all our aspirations are gone. We also think like every other parent that our child will be an engineer or a doctor. But now we cannot even pay their school fees,” says Joymendro Thaosen, the Vice-President of the Employees Union.
Parents silently watching their children being suspended from school because they cannot pay their fees on time. Employees working overtime as farmers, daily wage earners to make ends meet. Parents watching the health of their children decline as they cannot provide nutritious food regularly. Employees committing suicide due to financial crisis. These are just few of the heart wrenching stories of the employees of N C Hills Autonomous Council in Dima Hasao, Assam who still have no clue as to when their pending salaries of 10 months will be cleared by the Government. Is Democracy still a government FOR the people??? What will it take to break the hearts of our politicians? #NCHAC #nopaynowork #nosalary #haflong #dimahasao #assam
Daniel says that some of his friends are helping the kids by donating money but that is not a possible solution.
Joymendro laments,“Reporters are calling us every now and then but what is happening to those reports? Are they reaching concerned ears? We need our livelihoods back. We need our rightful money.”
He further adds “We have been protesting for a long time. Some of our colleagues have gone to jail too. But it is of no use. They keep on saying that they will give us our money, but nothing has been done yet.”
When asked why do they still go to work even after so many days of non-payment, they say, “One day they might just pay our salaries.”
The organisation along with other unions plan to stage a protest on January 22, 23 in Haflong. They hope something or somehow or somebody takes their voice to concerned ears.