Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Historic Railway Strike of 1974 

by Com A.Mathew, Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee, Maharashtra 


During the period of the strike, railway colonies were turned into battle fields The para-military forces, such as Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), were deployed in the railway colonies.; the colonies were surrounded and all male members arrested and told that they have either to go to jail or go to work. Those who refused to go to work were also subjected to physical torture like pushing pins in the finger nails, putting the workers on the railway platforms in hot sun etc. The Police made rounds in the railway colonies, raided railway quarters and arrested all strikers. There were cases when workers were not found in their quarters and their sons were arrested. 

In establishing this reign of terror, free reign was given to the police and the anti-social elements known as Youth Congress workers. This was the case in Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur and almost everywhere. Armed goonda gangs moved about in the colonies terrorizing the workers, beating them, abusing the family members, forcibly evicting the railwaymen from their quarters etc. The doors of the railway quarters were being broken open and the household goods thrown to the streets and women were dragged by their hairs. It was not limited to victimized workers alone. Even those who were under medical treatment and those who did not join strike were not spared. In some case, authorities failing in their attempts of eviction rendered the quarters uninhabitable by breaking the doors ,windows and the roof. 

Railway workers had from the beginning anticipated that they would be tortured after arrest till they were forced to join duties, Hence they left railway colonies and took shelter in the nearby villages, towns or even jungles. At Chittaranjan, Hubli, Miraj, Dangaposi, Pathankot, Kazipet etc. they were in the Jungles and had no food for days. It was in such circumstances, the women of the railway colonies were made a special target. The incidents at Jhansi, Mughalsarai, Kanchrapara, Kharagpur, Kishanganj, Lumding, Sitarampur etc. need special Mention. Reports of rape and molestations of women were received. Hundreds of women from Railway colonies were put in the jails. These barbarous tortures went to such an extent that the Government’s own labour department was forced to condemn this inhuman torture. 

Payment of Wages Act was suspended from May 5, so that workers could be kept in a state of starvation.. They cut off electricity and water supply at Bombay, Delhi, Kishanganj, Sakurbasti, Malda railway colonies etc. . The ration cards of the striking workers were cancelled by the respective B.D.O’s in some places. 

Railway workers were thrown out of job en masse. Nearly 1 lakh workers were removed from service under trhe service clause 14(ii)/149. About 50,000 casual workers were terminated without any notice. Almost 30,000 employees were kept under suspension and ten of thousands of workers were arrested. . Authorities become so inhuman in their approach that even medical aid was stopped from railway hospitals. At New Jalpaiguri, women expecting babies were refused admission. At Bhojudih even in serious cases, the Public Dispensaries refused to attend to the patients. 

It was a total war against railway employees and their family members. Army Technicians were posted at all important stations in readiness to take over. Territorial Army, Border Security Force and . Regular Army were posted everywhere. Along with them Congress workers were deployed to patrol the lines. Arrangement for Patrol trains were also made. Even the Navy at Cochin and elsewhere was alerted. 

The rule of law was thrown to the winds and jungle rule was established for about a month throughout the country. The Statesman of May 10, 1974 carried a report that 3125Tterritorial Army men were arrested for refusing to run trains. A special CRP battalion was air-lifted from Delhi to Mughalsarai. At Bongaingaon, a battalion of the Assam Rifles was used to strike terror amongst railwaymen. 

Never was there more determined resistance, so uniformly and courageously, everywhere in all states, in all towns and cities. The heroic women and children in the railway colonies faced the tormentors courageously and helped to sustain the fighting morale of their husbands and fathers. The Times of India of May 14,1974 , carried an interview with the wife of a guard under arrest. She said “Now that the strike is on, my husband would stand by the strikers till the end.” At various centres of the country, they organized themselves and led the resistance. 

There was solidarity support actions all over India to support the striking rail workers and against the fascist attacks on them. In Mumbai, Electricity and bus transport workers, taxi drivers and autorickshaw drivers went on strike. P&T workers and Central Government employees of Kerala and West Bengal went on a three day strike, from May 8th to May 10th. There was an all India support strike of on 15th of May, 1974. 

It is important to note that all State Governments , fully coordinated with the Central Government in attacking the rail workers . This included the United Front Government of Kerala which consisted of Indian National Congress(INC), Communist Party of India(CPI), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Indian Union Muslim League(IUML) and Praja Socialist Party(PSP). 

However faced with such a massive onslaught by the Central and State Governments and with all their leaders in jail, the strike began to weaken after a few weeks. On 28th of May 1974 the call was given by leaders of NCCRS from inside the jails to withdraw the strike and resume work. 

The decision for withdrawal of the strike created mixed feeling amongst railwaymen. At places where the shrike was weakening, the decision was accepted with a sense of relief. But at places where the railwaymen were continuing the strike despite all odds, it came as a surprise and workers refused to go back to duty. At Santragachi, the withdrawal was delayed for more than 12 hours. In NFR, workers refused to believe the press or AIR and waited till they contacted the leaders of NCCRS. Unlike 1960 or 1968, there was a high morale amongst the workers and in many places they joined back in a demonstrative manner, through processions and shouting slogans like disciplined soldiers going back at the call of their organization. They were not prepared for abject surrender, as was reflected in further agitations at Samastipur (NFR) against fresh arrests, or at Kurla Car Shed (CR) for reinstatement of their colleagues. 

(Will Continue…..)


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