“Shashak Bodleche, Shahsan Ek-E Acche : The Rulers Have Changed , The System Hasn’t”
“Shashak bodleche, shahsan ek-e acche (the rulers have changed , the system hasn’t)”, said Shri Partha Chatterjee, Deputy Chief Minister of West Bnegal , when he received the delegation of the Ashanghit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (AKSSM) on 11th February 2015, agreeing with their frustration at the insensitivity of the TMC regime , that had ridden to power in a massive mandate and promises of Paribartan or change.
Members of the AKSSM found themselves confronted by a huge police force of about 700 policemen just when they started their march to Nabanna to meet the Chief Minister on 11th afternoon. Many of them were reminded eerily of the Singur, Haripur and Nandigram struggles, when similarly large police contingents had been used to subdue protestors by the Left Front regime.
Women police and women members of the AKSSM got into scuffles repeatedly when the procession of about 1500 people who had come from South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Kolkata and North 24 Parganas tried to break through the barricade at a major crossing outside Raja Subodh Mullick Square. The police kept asking for time to contact the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary’s office.
The slogan shouting and singing crowd was joined after an hour by another 500 people who marched from Howrah station and then blocked Lenin Sarani , one of the most important roads in Kolkata. The procession from Howrah with people from Paschim Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia had with them a group of dancers and drummers from Bankura. The IPS officer, Shri Devender, leading the police contingent began using his public address system to threaten them with arrest and lathi charge, but found himself flummoxed when they began dancing on the road. After some negotiation he allowed them to join the other part of the procession.
An hour of slogan shouting , dancing and singing followed , with the procession declaring it intention of staying there overnight. A play was also performed by some members from South 24 Parganas and Bankura.The police found itself in an awkward situation, as the protestors began to make arrangements to cook their dinner and to stay on the road. With rush hour approaching it became imperative for them to clear the road. After an intervention with AKSSM members directly calling the administration, the Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister agreed to meet a delegation of 5 people.
The problems the delegation putt forward before Partha Chatterjee were on the non-implementation of the Minimum Wages Act, especially for biri workers and hosiery workers. Special concern was expressed at the hand in glove relation of Government with the tea industry owners, leading to the Labour Department’s reluctance to declare a minimum wage. Partha Babu took a note of areas where AKSSM reported delayed payment of NREGS wages. In addition, we objected to the trivialisation of the problems of unorganised sector workers by organising “melas” for them , without any serious implementation of social security measures. We also objected to social security cards being issued to non workers. The issue of sexual harassment at the work place of women workers and the absence of complaints committees was also brought to his attention. No selection of beneficiaries for the National Food Security Act has taken place despite two years of the Act being passed, we complained. And, in the end we complained of police high handedness, which is when he remarked “Shashak bodleche, shahsan ek-e acche (the rulers have changed , the system hasn’t)”.
Partha babu forwarded the memorandum to the Chief Minister immediately and promised to organise a meeting with the concerned Ministers after 16thFebruary. We came away after informing him that we looked forward to his keeping his promise and to returning to the city with a longer and more defiant protest in three months if our demands were not met.
(Somnath Ghosh) (Swapan Ganguly)