Young labour rights leader Nodeep Kaur, who shot into prominence after the police controversially arrested her on the Delh-Haryana borders where she was organising workers’ support for the protesting farmers, has said that one of the most pressing issues today is how state is branding anti-national any one who struggles for the marginalised castes, communities and nationalities.

Recently released on bail, even as thanking thanking all those who who helped her, she said, the labour rights leaders’ situation has particularly turned “pathetic” after they supported the farmers’ struggle. “The police accuse them of using the farmers’ protest to organise workers”, she said, wondering if the right to association has been banned and if workers demanding their due wages is extortion.

Kaur was speaking at a media conference organised by the civil rights network Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) in order to highlight the alleged custodial torture of Shiv Kumar, another young labour rights leader, by the Haryana police. Kumar was picked up by cops in the same area where Kaur was arrested.
Kumar’s father told media how the police did not even bother to inform him of his son’s arrest. In fact, while holding Kumar in “illegal” custody, the police demanded from his father that he and his wife produce Kumar within two days. After hearing of his arrest, when Kumar’s father tried to meet Kumar, he was denied access. He saw his son only when he was brought for a medical examination. “Kumar could barely walk. His fingers and hands were bruised”, he said

Surjit Singh Phool of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU-Krantikari) spoke of how Kaur and the organisation she represents, Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan (MAS), were instrumental in building worker-peasant solidarity and that this was the reason they were targeted. Besides workers and peasants, the government was also targeting intellectuals and “bold” journalists like Mandeep Punia.
Punia, who was arrested for reporting police “atrocities” on farmers, but recently released on bail, spoke of the “coordinated targeting” of journalists underway across the country. Be it Utkarsh Kumar Singh in Bihar, the three reporters in Kashmir, Siddique Kappan in UP or the raiding of the NewsClick office, the targeting of those who refuse to toe the line set by government is becoming rampant, he added.

Narrating the torture he underwent in the police lockup, Punia spoke of how he was stripped, doused in water, beaten relentlessly, abused and denied access to legal counsel. He said the fundamental rights of journalists are being trampled upon.

Joginder Singh of BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) alleged, the Modi government has falsely used the term democracy to introduce anti-people laws. Taking the example of Kaur, he said, all she did was raise the issue of workers, peasants and women for which she was brutally targeted, arrested and tortured.

Pointing to how rights of workers and peasants are intertwined and represent the interests of the people of this country, Vidya Sagar Giri of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) compared “undemocratic” legislation of the three farm laws to the replacement of 41 labour laws by four labour codes.

He said, “The ways in which laws are made reveal how the practice of debate and discussion has been buried to steam roll new laws that serve big industry. It is significant that the wage code was consciously passed during the uproar resulting from the abrogation of Article 370 to circumvent debate and discussion. Furthermore, the other three labour codes received presidential assent on September 28, 2020, the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, in effect making a mockery of all that he fought for.”

Sucheta De of the All-India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) talked of “deplorable conditions” of workers and peasants across the country and how the slowdown in industry post the Covid-19 lockdown has been used to sack workers and deny them wages.
Comparing the state of workers to that of bonded labour, she referred to the incident at the Wistron Factory in Karnataka where workers were exploited in direct violation of the law. However, when they struggled for their rights, the police conducted a brutal crackdown with mass arrests.Drawing parallels between the Bhima Koregaon, the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) and the farmers’ movement currently underway, Rajveer Kaur of the Bhagat Singh Chatra Ekta Manch (BSCEM) accused the state of “routinely used fake charges to incarcerate those who stood against its anti-people and pro-corporate agenda.”
Ishwar Singh Rathi of the Nagrik Adhikar Manch (NAM), which led protests against the arrest of Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar in Sonipet, spoke of how all resources of the country were being utilised only for the benefit of a few large corporate houses. When workers can be sacked at a whim and peasants fined over Rs 1 crore for burning their own crops, Rathi said, there was no option but to protest.

Nandita Narain of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) said that the words independence, freedom and democracy had no meaning today and those who wanted these things needed to fight for them. She considered unacceptable the Prime Minister’s mocking of those who struggled for their rights as andolanjeevi (surviving on movements).

Condemning the attempts at communally divide people, she said, the state’s hypocrisy was exposed how it was treating saffron leaders Pragya Thakur and Maya Kodnani, on one hand, and Prof GN Saibaba, a civil rights leader person with 90% disability currently in prison, on the other.
Rinchin of the Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) referring to the alleged custodial sexual violence suffered by Kaur, referred to recalled the custodial rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Butana, Haryana, the rape and murder of a minor Dalit girl and subsequent cover-up by the police including forcibly cremating the body in Hathras, UP, and Gurmandi, Delhi. “These incidents reflected the misogynistic and casteist mentality of the police”, she said.

Sanjeev Mathur of the Bahujan Samajwadi Manch (BSM) spoke of the need to hold the government accountable, bemoaning, the media was not playing its role. Insisting on the need to highlight the role young leaders like Kaur and Kumar have played, he added, they are crucial for the survival of India’s democracy

Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur are a part of a worker’s organisation, Majdoor Adhikar Sanghatan (MAS), in the Kundli Industrial Area. For several years, MAS has been taking up the issues of the largely migrant workers in Kundli including issues of unpaid wages and abysmal working conditions. This put them in direct conflict with the Kundli Industrial Association and the local landlords who deployed private guards like the Quick Response Team (QRT) and local right wing organisations like the Hindu Jagriti Manch to crush the MAS and workers struggling for their rights. With the arrival of the Kisan Andolan at the Singhu Border, MAS mobilised a large number of workers in solidarity with the struggling peasantry. The unity forged resulted in the peasantry lending support to programmes and rallies demanding the unpaid wages of hundreds of workers. This posed a threat to dominance of corporations and landlords. When the QRT was unable to break the resolve of the workers and peasants, the Haryana Police entered the fray.

They branded workers demanding their wages as ‘extortionists’ and arrested, assaulted and incarcerated Nodeep Kaur and later Shiv Kumar. This branding of those demanding their rights is a pattern now familiar to anyone opposed to the current regime, be it those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case, the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movement or more recently the targeting of climate activists like Disha Ravi besides hundreds more.

This narrative reveals the larger agenda at play, that the arrest and custodial torture of Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar are meant to serve as a message to the workers of Kundli to stop struggling for their rights and desist their activities in solidarity with the Kisan Andolan. This reveals the State’s deep fear of worker-peasant unity and the extent to which it is willing to go to break it. Replete with casteism, misogyny and an overwhelming contempt for democratic rights in the defense of the interests of corporations and landlords, the regime reveals its Brahmanical Hindutva Fascist nature at every turn.

With Nodeep Kaur released from custody after over forty-five-days, the demand for the release of Shiv Kumar must be strengthened. The two trade unionists coming from families of dalit landless peasantry struggling for the rights of workers and peasants is also the struggle of workers and peasants fighting against Brahmanism, imperialism and patriarchy everywhere.

The demand for the release of all the peasants arrested in the wake of the January 26th Kisan Tractor Rally, accountability for the death of Navreet Singh and for the deaths of hundreds of peasants at the border braving the bitter cold of Delhi over the last three months must be raised alongside the repeal of the three anti-people Farm Laws. It is also a question of the democratic right to protest and demand our rights. The struggle for the rights of all political prisoners, the rights of prisoners to be treated with dignity and to be protected against torture are fundamental for a democracy. The perpetrators of violence and injustice, done either through acts of omission or commission, must be investigated and the guilty held accountable. Yet, today, the number of those incarcerated for raising these demands can only be contrasted by the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of violence.

It is crucial to remember this as we mark one year since the pogrom in North East Delhi even as it remains one of the most chilling instances of this impunity.

The Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) strongly condemns the custodial violence faced by Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar. We welcome the release of Nodeep Kaur and demand the immediate release of Shiv Kumar.

We also demand the release of all the peasants arrested in the wake of the Kisan Tractor Rally along with the release of all political prisoners.