December 18, Delhi. Almost 30 thousand workers' families are working in the almond processing industry of Karawal Nagar area of North-East Delhi. This whole industry is a global industry. These workers toiling in the most primitive conditions process the almonds of overseas companies of the US, Australia and Canada. These companies come to India for the processing of their dry fruits in their quest of cost minimization as labour in India is far cheaper as compared to that in these countries. Khari Bawli of Delhi is the biggest wholesale dry fruits market of Asia. The big businessmen of Khari Bawli bring unprocessed almonds from these countries, get them processed and then send them back. These businessmen get the processing done by entrusting this work on contract basis to small-time contractors based in Karawal Nagar, Sant Nagar-Burari, Narela and Sonia Vihar. These contractors run small processing workshops in these areas. These workshops are working hell for workers and are not licenced by any government agency. These workshops are completely illegal. Each workshop has 20-40 workers, mostly women and often with their children. Working hour might vary from 12 hours in normal season to 16 hours in peak season. On processing one 23 Kg bag of almonds, they are paid Rs. 50. A skilled worker can break at most 2 bags of almonds in one day. Abusing, harassing and sexual exploitation of workers are common.
These workers are on strike for last three days under the leadership of their Union 'Badaam Mazdoor Union.' They are demanding that per bag rate should be increased from Rs. 50 to Rs. 80, they should be paid double for working overtime, they should be provided identity card and job card by the contractor, etc. Its noteworthy that all these demands are in accordance with the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Contract Labour Act (Prevention and Abolition) 1971, etc. On the second day of the strike, the contractors with their henchmen attacked a peaceful procession of women workers, who were with their children, led by a few Union workers. This attack wounded two Union workers seriously, while a number of women workers and their children sustained minor injuries. During this attack contractors and their goons used casteist remarks to humiliate dalit Union workers as well as women workers. Dalit workers were their particular targets. In defense, workers started pelting stones at the crowd of the contractors and their goons as a result of which 4 goondas of the contractors sustained injuries. In the meanwhile, the Police arrived at the scene and escorted the four injured goons to hospital and provided them with Medical assistance. On the other hand the injured Union members and labourers were arrested by the Police and taken the Police Station. They did not provide them with medical assistance. A few activists were bleeding seriously, but even that did not move the Police. They were kept there in the same conditions for 5 long hours and the Police intentionally delayed the whole process of recording statements. In the meanwhile, the injured workers and activists kept bleeding. After this whole inhuman behaviour, the Police took the activists from the Police Station and lied to the workers who had gheraoed the Police Station, that they were being taken to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital and then they will be taken to the Karkardooma court. However, Police took them to the Gokalpuri Police Station which is away from Karawal Nagar so that the workers cannot reach there and did not tell anyone about it. F.I.R. had been lodged against the Union activists on the statement of the hooligans of the contractors; however, no F.I.R. was lodged against the contractors and their goons on the statements of the workers and Union activists. The arrested people from the side of the contractors were freed immediately. The arrested activists were produced in the Seelamput SDM court today, but due to some technical reasons they were granted bail and were sent to judicial custody by the Special Executive Magistrate Nirmal Kaur. In the meanwhile, strikers in Karawal Nagar vowed to continue their fight till the end and they pledged that they would not give up until their leaders are released and all their demands are met. The whole almond processing industry of Karawal Nagar has come to a standstill as the strike intensified even more after the deceitful arrest of the Union activists and shameful collusion of the Police administration with the godown owners and contractors. Till the evening of December 18, thousands and workers are gathered at the strike venue. Naveen of Badaam Mazdoor Union said that the arrest of the Union activists, rather than demoralizing the workers, has made their resolve to fight till the end even stronger. Now every worker considers it his or her first priority to take this struggle to final victory.
When Union activists and correspondants of 'Bigul' workers' monthly demanded an explanation from the Police administrated as to why no F.I.R. was lodged against the attacker contractors and their henchmen on the statements of the Union activists and workers and why the Police is working on the guidelines of the contractors by taking unilateral and unjustified action against the Union activists, then the senior officers of the Police bluntly said that the Union walahs need to be taught a lesson and the strikers will be disciplined with force. It is clear as daylight the the Police administration is working on the dictates of the contractors and employers. It has been trying to suppress the workers' movement with all its might and will. It is noteworthy too that all the small time local leaders of Congress, BJP and the RSS have come in open support to the contractors. Ironically, a number of employers and contractors themseves are local leaders of these electoral parties.
This is not the first time that the Police has worked on the behalf of the contractors. A year ago, in August 2008, when the workers had organized a strike for their legal rights, then the Police had arrested Ashish Kumar, the convener of Badaam Mazdoor Union, in an arbitrary fashion. However, at that time almost a thousand workers laid siege to the Police Station and freed Ashish. But this time, the Police acted more cleverly and lied to the workers that they had lodged a F.I.R. against the contractors and their goons and they were taking the three Union leaders for M.L.C. to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital and then both the parties will be produced the the court. However, they were taken to a far away Police Station of Gokalpuri and were locked in the lock up there. Its crystal clear that the Police has acted conspiratorially to safeguard the interests of the contractors. Reportedly, lakhs of rupees were transacted in bribing the Police in the Police Station. One can understand that the Police must have charged their share for the bizarre inconvenient exercises that they had to do to acquit the culprits! The employers had hoped that the locking up of top Union leaders for one day will break the strength and endurance of the workers and the strike will be sabotaged. However, all their estimates and hopes went haywire as the strike emerged to be even stronger. Workers elected their new interim leadership democratically and the movement marched ahead. Presently, thousands of workers are on the roads of Karawal Nagar and the whole scene is of a working class carnival.
It is noteworthy that these workers have been demanding for their legal rights. These include the workers' rights to which they are entitled under the Minimum Wages Act, Contract Labour Act, Trade Union Act, etc. For this purpose, the Union activists have visited the Office of the Deputy Labour Commissioner of the zone a number of times, but every visit proved its own futility. The whole labour commissionary plays in the hands of the employers and contractors. They are not willing to enforce any labour law and there is a whole network of mutual loyalties and obligations is working to ensure that the workers are kept like slaves and instumentum vocale.
One particular thing to note about this movement is the massive participation of women workers, who constitute the majority of the total worker population in the almond processing industry. These workers are resolved to take this struggle to the ultimate limits.
We appeal to all democratic, sensitive and justice-loving media persons to investigate about this industry and know about the movement of the almond breakers of Karawal Nagar. This is a factsheet and we urge you to corroborate the facts given in it yourself. We believe that such struggles need to be brought in to the public domain urgently and common citizens of India should be made aware of the fact that how the whole executive, legislative and even the judiciary works in collusion with and on the directives of the moneyed class of this country and how common workers are denied justice on every possible single instance. We urge you to give this heroic struggle of workers some space in your newspaper, or magazine or news channel. Workers need you.