A tree with deep roots, if uprooted and planted in alien soil, might live but often sans its vigour. The same can be said for refugees. A couple of weeks ago, along with a bunch of my classmates, I visited the refugee camp of Burmese Rohingya Muslims at Kalindi Kunj in the vicinity of our university campus. The visit was part of an initiative to help them with old winter clothing after hearing about the unliveable conditions of the camp.
The Rohingyas, an ethnic group hailing from Myanmar (Burma), chiefly from its Rakhine (Arakan) State, happen to be one of the most oppressed people in the Asian sub-continent.
This is a guest post by Bigul Mazdoor Dasta Noida is one among those places which are highlighted as the hub of the ’emerging’ and ‘shining’ India. The glittery shopping malls, world class expressway, flyovers, F1 International circuit, luxury apartments, villas etc. are cited as the symbols of India’s ‘growth story’ and Noida has all of these. For the last couple of decades, the mainstream corporate media has been busy selling this growth story to the emerging urban upper middle class; in the process making them a customer of artificially inflated dreams such as having one’s own luxurious house. But, curiously, the harrowing stories of those whose labour power is responsible for this so called development are conspicuous by their absence in the mainstream media’s narrative. The labourers come into the news only when some untoward incident happens and they are immediately held responsible for any such incidents without carrying out any investigation. One such horrendous incident took place on April, 28 at one of the hundreds of construction sites in Noida in which the security guards of the site opened fire on the labourers and in the process injuring some of them. On the morning of the April 28, the workers of the 3C Lotus Panache company’s constructions site at Noida’s Sector 110 witnessed the naked reign of terror by the company’s management. At the beginning of the morning shift at around 8 a.m., the workers had reached the construction site to join the construction work of the multi-story apartment complex, but they had to stand in a big queue because the security guards at the gate were taking a long time to intensively check each worker and make an entry. When some workers protested against this lax attitude of the guards, saying that they had to listen to the supervisor’s abuses if they were late even by one minute, a heated exchange took place between the security guards and workers and suddenly the guards started firing indiscriminately over the workers. As per the media reports, two workers were injured, but when a team of Bigul Mazdoor Dasta visited the workers settlement adjacent to the construction site, some workers said that the number of the injured workers could be four which includes a child as well and one of the workers is seriously injured and his life is in danger. As per the records of the district hospital in Noida, only one worker was admitted on April 28. Other workers were admitted to some private hospital.
The workers settlement adjacent to the construction site where the incident took place
I live in Noida, which is the child of an extra-legal union between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Noida is not-quite Delhi, not-quite U.P, not quite itself on most days. Living in a cusp has several advantages, however, the main one being that one can look either way, up at Delhi and right down over U.P’s scruffy head. I found myself doing both in the recently-concluded U.P election. Curiously it seemed, for Delhi people, U.P’s 2012 elections were flush with new meaning. For decades the favourite whipping boy of Delhi, U.P had overnight become its favourite gap-toothed angel. For Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, the U.P election was a historic battle between empowerment and patronage, the future and the past, performance and rhetoric, sincerity and cynicism, and (this is my favourite) ‘rootedness over disembodied charm’. Mehta believes that while voters ‘carefully assessed’ candidates through the ‘prism of local circumstances’, they were no longer prisoners of their identity. Most confounding is Mehta’s view of democracy, “In a democracy, where you are going should be more important than where you are coming from”. These U.P elections “redeemed that promise” according to Mehta, since they were “without a trace of community polarisation: no one felt on the edge or under siege, all could exercise options without being unduly burdened by the past.”
For the last few days, a few lines from Sahir Ludhianivi’s long poem Parchhaiyan, have been repeatedly coming back to me. A poem that I had read ever so often in my early youth and thought I had long forgotten, suddenly reappeared in a flash. Here go some of the lines (not really in the order in which they appear in the poem, but in the order in which they came to me):
चलो कि चल के सियासी मुक़ामिरों से कहें/ कि हमको जंगो-जदल के चलन से नफ़रत है
कहो कि अब कोई क़ातिल इधर अगर इधर आया/ तो हर क़दम पर ज़मीन तंग होती जाएगी
हर एक मौजे-हवा रुख़ बदल के झपटेगी…
ये खेत जाग पड़े, उठ खड़ी हुईं फ़सलें/ अब इस जगह कोई क्यारी न बेची जाएगी
[Roughly translated: Come let us tell the political gamblers/ that we hate the business of war and strife
Let us tell them that if a murderer dares to come hither/ The land will shrink with each step
Every wave of the air will turn turn against you
These fields have come alive, with the crops swaying on them
No more shall even a bed (of the field) be sold]
Though Sahir’s poem was written as a protest against war, some of these lines resonate with other, more immediately relevant matters. Ironically, Sahir was protesting against the war mongers pillaging civilain populations but here we are, with the new war mongers of our times: what else is the neo-liberal dream but that of pillage and loot of civilian populations by armed forces of civilian governments. And as they, ‘is hammam mein sab nange hain‘! [All are naked in this in this bathhouse]: From Buddhadev Bhattacharya of West Bengal to Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh – spokespersons all of the oppressed! And it makes little difference whether it is a BJP-led NDA government in power at the Centre or a Congress-led UPA.
Conversation One. I’m sitting in a barber-shop in Sector 34, Noida, getting a haircut. The older guy sitting next to me, getting a shave, asks this younger fellow who’s just got up from a haircut –
Tu kahaan se hai bhai? Where are you from?
Main to Noida se hi hoon. I’m from Noida only.
Noida ka to na laage hai. You don’t look like you’re from Noida.
The young man in question was slight and skinny, and was dressed in what could be described as generic global college student/hipster style. The conversation continued. The barber said, no he’s definitely not from Noida. The young man turned on him and said, Tum kaunse Noida ke ho, Well, you’re not from Noida either. The barber says, Main to Bihar se hoon. Main thodai hi chhupa ke rahkta hoon. I’m from Bihar. I don’t hide the fact. Then the barber says, Yeh to lawaris hai ji. He has no parentage, sir.
Lawaris hai? To phir kaunsi naali se nikla hai bhai? No parentage? Then which drain have you crawled out from?
‘The chief executive officer of a Greater Noida-based gear manufacturing company [Graziano Transmissioni India Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of an Italian TNC] was lynched to death inside factory premises on Monday, allegedly by a group of dismissed workers.’
‘“Around 125 dismissed workers armed with iron rods barged into the factory and went on rampage. They broke computers and machinery and smashed windowpanes. When Lalit tried to pacify them, they assaulted him with rods,” board of director Ramesh Jain told Hindustan Times.’ See report here
‘Companies in the area are known to employ contract labour in large numbers, though the law clearly states that such workers can be used only for non-core functions and not on the shop floor.’ says another report.