As you read this, the Chief Minister will be on his second farce. This time the junket has moved to Dwarka. Will the always “appropriately” dressed CM be wearing a pitambar and a peacock feather or will he align himself like the males of the Bhakti movement to the fasting Radha of yore and be dressed in a ghagra choli and odhni?
Meanwhile as usual the real protest fast remains neglected. Opposite the Pathik Ashram in Gandhi Nagar, close to 3000 government employees have been on an indefinite hunger fast to protest exploitation and exploitative working conditions. These are members of the Gujarat Security Force brought into being during Shankersinh Vaghela’s Chief Ministership as a parallel to the Border Security Force. They were supposed to be the elite security for the government, trained as police personnel and promised the same wages. Today, they guard the Vidhan Sabha, all Collectorates in Gujarat, all the Courts, all public hospital, polytechnics and are deployed in the revenue and sales tax departments.
My first encounter with the women personnel of the force was when I was taken into custody with the widows of the victims of the hooch tragedy known as the Lattha Khand. We were at the Vidhan Sabha to get them a hearing and compensation from the Chief Minister, but were arrested while we gathered outside the gates. I asked the women if they were from the police forces and were told that they belong to the Gujarat Security Force. Further through our conversation, I learnt that they were paid a paltry Rs.3200 “Ben, can you imagine trying to run a household with this sum?” they asked me. “You must fight for your rights”, I told them. A few months later several men from the force came to see me with more tales of exploitation. My answer to them was the same.
Five days ago, close to 3000 of them struck work and went on a hunger strike. Here are their working conditions. After fourteen years of work, they are paid Rs.4500 a month. No perks, no TA DA for out of station postings, no bonus, other than what has been cut from their salary and given back to them on a yearly basis. They work 365 days a year, often 20 hours a day. They are usually posted away from their home towns with no extra allowances whatsoever. If they go on leave, they are threatened with dismissal. The women are granted no maternity leave and if they do no report for work even during the last week before delivery, are summarily dismissed. One women said to me at the fast yesterday, “I was on my feet till I felt my water break and then went to the closest government hospital. My mother was called, but could arrive only after my child had been born. Three days later I had to be back at work. I could not even breast feed my child”.
In addition to these conditions, there are the scams. Shoes worth Rs.200 are given to them once a year and billed at Rs.1200. Each month Rs.470 is cut from their salary to pay for their uniform – indefinitely. A further cut is made in their salary allegedly to get them medical allowance under ESIC. This money disappears before it reaches ESIC and therefore is never available for coverage when they go for medical interventions.
I am not a lawyer, nor an expert on labour rules and regulations. However it is evident to anybody with a basic grounding of law that every law protecting workers is being broken here. However except for a vague assurance by Mr. Antani, the Home Secretary, that things would improve, not a single Minster or departmental head or Secretary has even bothered to visit the people on fast. Close to fifty of them have been rushed to the Gandhinagar Civil Hospital including one who has had a severe heart attack and another with kidney stone whom the doctor s have said must go off fast or lose his kidneys. Both have refused food.
I do not know of any other case in independent India where so many personnel of the security forces meant to guard us have en mass gone on a hunger strike demanding nothing more than to be able to live lives of dignity. Will Mr. Modi stop his farce and listen to the real tragedies of this State?