May 16, 2021

Nationwide online Public Meeting on Burning Issues

Ashok Dhawale

IN a new initiative, on the evening of May 8, 2021, the CITU, AIKS and AIAWU held a joint nationwide online public meeting on the burning current issues of the people of our country. The public meeting was widely propagated through posters in Hindi, English, and other national languages. Tens of thousands of working people from around 25 states attended the meeting.

The speakers were the general secretaries of the three, class organisations – Tapan Sen, Hannan Mollah, and B Venkat. And the presidium comprised the three presidents – K Hemalata, Ashok Dhawale and A Vijayaraghavan.

All the speakers first paid homage to the tens of thousands of people who had died in the horrendous second wave of the Covid pandemic. Thousands of them had met their deaths due to lack of oxygen, ventilators, medicines, and hospital beds. These were preventable deaths.

As of today, May 12, the total Covid cases in India have crossed 2.3 crore and Covid deaths have crossed 2.5 lakh. Both these figures are the second-highest in the world, after the USA. But the daily caseload average for the last one week was nearly four lakh and the deaths per day have crossed four thousand, both these alarming figures being the highest in the world ever since the pandemic began. Even more alarming is the fact that these are gross underestimates, and various experts have opined that the real figures may be at least five times higher.

As of May 10, those who have received the first dose of the vaccine are only 9.9 per cent, and those who are fully vaccinated are just 2.6 per cent.   

The speakers said that it is now widely known and accepted, both nationally and internationally, that the criminal culpability for this horrific state of affairs lie squarely with the bankruptcy, bravado, absence of planning and anti-scientific attitude of the BJP-RSS central government led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Leave alone dealing with this macabre situation, it is interested only in speeding up the obscenely expensive Central Vista project.

On the other hand, this government has callously used the pandemic to attack the three basic classes who produce the wealth of the country – the working class, peasantry and agricultural workers. It has done this by bringing in the Farm Laws, Labour Codes, and the Electricity Bill, and by its heartless treatment of migrant workers last year. It has embarked on a shameless privatisation and disinvestment drive of almost all major sectors. Hunger, unemployment and price rise are at an all-time high. All this is being done to placate and greatly enhance the profits and the wealth of the domestic and foreign corporate lobby.    

The speakers welcomed the defeat of the BJP in three of the state assembly elections and in the rural local body elections in Uttar Pradesh. They particularly hailed the victory of the LDF in Kerala, calling it a victory of pro-people policies and performance.

In the end, the speakers called for a sustained drive by all three organisations to help Covid-affected patients and their relatives in every possible way, and also for a nationwide campaign exposing the Modi regime, adhering to the Covid protocol, around the following demands:  

1.      Ramp up vaccine production; ensure free and universal vaccination within six months.
2.      Scrap anti-people, discriminatory, and pro-corporate vaccine policy.
3.      Start rural mobile vaccination centres without the condition of online registration.
4.      Ensure hospital beds, oxygen, and other medical facilities meet the Covid surge.
5.      Strengthen public health infrastructure and recruit necessary health personnel.
6.      Ensure non-Covid patients get effective treatment in government hospitals.
7.      Scrap anti-people Farm Laws, anti-worker Labour Codes and Electricity Bill.
8.      Guarantee MSP and procurement through central legislation.
9.      Stop privatisation and disinvestment in all sectors.
10.  Cash transfer of Rs 7,500 per month for all non-income tax paying families.
11.  10 kg free food grains per person per month for the next six months.
12.  200 days of work for agricultural workers with Rs 600 daily wage under MNREGA.
13.  Any order under Disaster Management Act imposing restrictions on movement, curfew etc., must accompany strict order on all employers and all others banning retrenchment, wage-cut and eviction from residences etc and the same must be strictly enforced.
14.  Ensure availability of protective gear, equipments etc., for all health and frontline workers and those engaged in pandemic-management work including ASHAs and anganwadi employees along with comprehensive insurance coverage for them all.
15.  Scrap the Central Vista project. Make PMCares Fund transparent and accountable.

May 10, was the anniversary of the beginning of the first war of Indian Independence in 1857. It was on that day that Indian soldiers revolted against the British imperialist rulers at Meerut and began their march to Delhi. The SKM had earlier decided to organise a national convention that day. But it had to be postponed due to the deadly Covid surge.

However, large public meetings were held at all Delhi protest borders that day to commemorate the heroic armed freedom struggle of 1857 and to pay homage to lakhs of its martyrs. After the completion of wheat harvesting, thousands of farmers have come back to all the borders from nearby states, and have thus greatly strengthened the struggle.

A sad and unfortunate incident came to light last week. It was the first such case in nearly six months of this historic farmers’ struggle, in which tens of thousands of women have participated with admirable strength, tenacity and determination.  

A 26-year-old woman from West Bengal came to the Tikri border in April along with some persons posing as the ‘Kisan Social Army’. She was assaulted by some of these persons on the way to Delhi and after reaching the Tikri border. A week later she developed high fever, was found Covid positive, and was admitted to a private hospital in Bahadurgarh. Sadly, on April 30 she passed away due to Covid. On May 8, her father lodged a formal complaint with the Bahadurgarh police station. On May 10, the Haryana police registered an FIR against six people, including Anil Malik and Anup Singh, for the alleged gang rape on her.

On May 9, the SKM immediately came out with a public statement on this condemnable incident. It said, “When this came to the notice of the SKM, we decided to take the strictest possible action. Four days ago, the Tikri committee of SKM had already removed the tents and banners of the so-called ‘Kisan Social Army’. The accused were barred from participating in the movement and a public appeal was issued for their social boycott......From day one the SKM has assured the family of the deceased colleague that it will extend them every possible support in any legal recourse that they prefer...The SKM will extend full cooperation to the police in bringing out the truth of this matter. No one shall be spared...The SKM shall follow zero tolerance for any incident of sexual harassment, assault or violence against women.”

A joint statement by several women’s organisations, including AIDWA, condemned this incident and demanded stringent action against the culprits.