Labour unrest a simmering problem in Assam’s tea gardens
GUWAHATI: Lush green tea gardens on both sides of National Highway 37 in Assam make for a pretty sight. But they hide within them a 200-year-old story of oppression: a story that has never been documented or given much importance in independent India. Yet it is this oppression that has led to labour unrest and resulted in some of the most gruesome killings in the area, the latest being that of planter Mridul Kumar Bhattacharya and his wife Rita at Konapathar tea estate in Tinsukia district. Assam has 800 tea gardens, which employ 22 lakh people either directly or indirectly.
The wages that the labourers get are meagre, but they get other benefits such as subsidized rations, free primary schooling of their children, and health benefits. However, this is clearly not enough to satisfy the growing aspirations of a community that is utterly marginalized and feels alienated in a land that has been their home for two centuries. It is this socio-economic struggle that occasionally goes out of control. Six years ago, owner of Govindapur tea estate in Golaghat district, Rupak Gogoi, was lynched and his body burnt by labourers.
In the 1990s, the owner of Socklating tea estate in Jorhat district, Gerala Kalita, was killed along with his family by angry labourers. And now, the recent barbaric killing of the Bhattacharya couple has shaken the tea-growing community in the state. “There is an urgent need to provide hotline services in tea garden districts so that security forces can react quickly to trouble. We are going to approach the government soon to make such arrangements on priority,” says tea planter Bidyananda Barkakoty who is also the chairman of North Eastern Tea Association.
A look at the region’s history gives an insight into the root of the problem. The British had to get labourers from outside as the Assamese were unwilling to work in the tea gardens. The locals came to view the tea industry as an instrument of oppression and refused to accept the labourers as their own. “These people feel they have been left behind in the journey of progress. Unrest is bound to happen,” says Delhi-based Anirudh Goswami who grew up in a tea estate in Upper Assam and has seen life in a tea garden from close quarters. It’s not surprising, adds Goswami, that labour lines today are a scene of depression.
“Even though some companies like Williamson Magor and Tata Tea have been improving the lot of the workers, many others have simply not bothered,” he says. Elsewhere in north Bengal too, the situation isn’t any better. The Dalmore tea estate in Birpara, Jalpaiguri, was abandoned by the management four months ago after labourers beat up an assistant manager and a driver. The management was planning to come back, but the murder in Assam has prompted them to seek greater security as a pre-condition for returning. Clearly, trouble continues to brew in tea country.
France Car Torching: 1,193 vehicles set on fire in New Year’s tradition, government says
(AP) PARIS – Hundreds of empty, parked cars go up in flames in France each New Year’s Eve, set afire by young revelers, a much lamented tradition that remained intact this year with 1,193 vehicles burned, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday. His announcement was the first time in three years that such figures have been released. The conservative government of former President Nicolas Sarkozy had decided to stop publishing them in a bid to reduce the crime – and not play into the hands of car-torching youths who try to outdo each other.
France’s current Socialist government decided otherwise, deeming total transparency the best method, and the rate of burned cars apparently remained steady. On Dec. 31, 2009, the last public figure available, 1,147 vehicles were burned. Like many countries, France sees cars set on fire during the year for many reasons, including gangs hiding clues of their crimes and people making false insurance claims.
But car-torching took a new step in France when it became a way to mark the arrival of the New Year. The practice reportedly began in earnest among youths – often in poor neighborhoods – in the 1990s in the region around Strasbourg in eastern France. It also became a voice of protest during the fiery unrest by despairing youths from housing projects that swept France in the fall of 2005.
At the time, police counted 8,810 vehicles burned in less than three weeks. Yet even then, cars were not burned in big cities like Paris, and that remained the case this New Year’s Eve. Minister Valls said the Paris suburban region of Seine-Saint-Denis, where the 2005 unrest started, led the nation for torched cars, followed by two eastern regions around Strasbourg.
For some, the decision to tell the public how many cars have been burned on New Year’s Eve is a mistake. Bruno Beschizza, the national secretary for security matters in Sarkozy’s UMP party, said on iTele TV that publishing the numbers motivates youths to commit such crimes. “We know that neighborhoods compete,” he said. Gang rivalries center on who can torch the most cars, with claims made on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, he said.
Israel stepping up arrests to preempt new uprising
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel plans to step up arrests of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to prevent a rising tide of low-intensity conflict and civil unrest from turning into an uprising, security sources say. “There is a certain (Palestinian) awakening,” one source said. “As a consequence a decision was taken within the security establishment to increase intelligence activity and arrests among members of Hamas or activists against Israel,” he added.
“It started in the past few days and will increase.” Recent events, however, suggest that such a policy could backfire. On Tuesday, undercover Israeli troops attempting to arrest a suspected Islamic Jihad activist were pelted with rocks by an angry crowd. The squad made their arrest, but Palestinian security sources said dozens were lightly injured when soldiers fired rubber bullets, live rounds and tear gas at Palestinians. Israeli public radio’s military affairs reporter quoted military sources on Wednesday as saying the arrest operation was routine, but the Palestinian response was anything but so.
“What is exceptional is the grave disturbances,” she quoted her sources as saying. “An operation like this would not in the past have brought disturbances of this kind.” “There is a certain rise in disturbances in the territories but talk of a third intifada is premature,” she added. Earlier this month, Israeli occupied troops in a southern West bank village were forced to abort an attempt to arrest a Palestinian policeman when crowds of local residents pelted them with rocks. They seized the man later at a military checkpoint near Hebron. Ghassan Khatib, a veteran of the first intifada, who later became a Palestinian cabinet minister and now teaches at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, does not see a guiding hand in the current round of clashes.
He considers as “spontaneous” the daily confrontations between Palestinian farmers and radical Jewish settlers, the hurling of rocks and petrol bombs at Israeli motorists in Palestinian areas and the clashes with troops. “I don’t think that it can be connected to any specific event; it’s been building up gradually,” he said. “I think it’s a result of the dangerous combination of a complete absence of any political horizon together with serious economic and financial crisis that is leading to increased unemployment and poverty,” he added.
Tunisia: Redeyef – General Strike to Include Mining Basin Victims Among Revolution Martyrs
Redeyef — The delegation of Redeyef (Governorate of Gafsa) observed, on Thursday, a general strike at the call of the local Tunisian General Labour Union to denounce “the exclusion of the martyrs and wounded of the Revolution in 2008 from the decree-law 97 related to the compensation of the victims of the January 14, 2011 Revolution” which was adopted about two weeks ago by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA).
TAP news agency correspondent noted that all the activities are paralysed in regional administrations, establishments and public and financial services except the local hospital and pharmacies.
Yemeni tribesmen protest against drone strikes
Dozens of armed tribesmen took to the streets in southern Yemen on Friday to protest against drone strikes that they say have killed innocent civilians and increased anger against the United States. A drone killed at least three suspected al Qaeda militants including a local commander in the town of Redaa on Thursday, the fifth strike by a pilotless plane in the area in 10 days.
One tribesman participating in a sit-in in front of the government administration building in Redaa told Reuters by telephone that at least seven innocent civilians were killed in the recent raids. “If the authorities don’t stop the American attacks then we will occupy the government institutions in the town,” he said.
Protesting Kurdish workers take control of a factory in Shahrekord
Protesting workers have occupied a milk factory in the city of Shahrekord (western Iran) to demand their unpaid wages. The milk factory employers have not been paid for the last six months. In the protest that was held on January 1, the workers announced that until full reimbursement of their unpaid salaries, they will continue occupying the factory. Following the protest, repressive State Security Forces and plainclothes agents entered the plant.
Workers said an SSF chief named Raissi had announced that this protest is considered “Moharebeh” (enmity against God). The protest ended peacefully when the employer paid each worker 300000 Tomans and promised to pay two months worth of salaries later on this week.