Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Com. Nrisingha Chakrabarty, Secretary CITU, who was Railway worker and a leader of railway trade unions for several years gives us the present publication 

“The Great Railway Strike And After 

Exerts from his book. 



(….Continue) 

The Struggle 

After giving an assurance to the effect that arrests would not be made during pendency f the negotiations and also after having fixed up a date on 2nd May, 1974 or further discussion, the Government started the round up from the previous night. They treacherously arrested Com. George Fernandes in the early morning of 2nd May at the Lucknow Railway Station. Hundreds others were arrested in the first swoop under cover of darkness without any consideration of the health of the leaders even. This callous action caused death of Com. V.R. Malgi in police custody on 2nd May, 1974. Enraged workers at various centres launched a protest strike immediately. 

However, despite all these, the workers responded magnificently to the strike call on 8th May ’74 as scheduled. The sweep of the strike was much more than the Government had anticipated. The Chairman Railway Board tried to belittle the strike. All media of mass communications were pressed into service to circulate false claims that the strike has failed. The press of the country, contrary to its usual hostility to the cause of the down-trodden, by and large gave factual accounts exposing and unmasking official claims. This happened because the isolation of the Government was complete and the press and its patrons realized that the policy of the Government was inflicting irreparable damage to the economy. 

Ruthless Repression and Saga of Heroism 

The brutalities of the Government knew no bounds. Never before in India was there such a terror spread over all parts of the country, in all States, in all towns and cities. The police raided the houses of the railway workers and tortured those who fell into their hands. Workers were mercilessly beaten and tortured to go back to their duties, some even at pistol point. Some were chained to the EMU Coaches or were under police escort, so that they cannot flee away. There as general massacre of all democratic rights. Not one liberty was allowed. Meetings were prohibited. Unions were virtually illegalised with the arrest of important leaders and warrants against active workers. Even those in hospital beds were not spread and Co. Shripal Divedi died as a result of this callous action. About 30,000 were arrested and 20,000 warrants were pending. 

Any attempt by railwaymen to organize protest was ruthlessly suppressed, Lathi Charges and tear gassings were reported at Hubli, Egmore, Moghulsari, Mysore, Calol, Jhansi, Burdwan, Kharagpur, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Kota, Guwahati, Gangapur city and many other railway settlements. Even Demonstrations led by the women at various centres like Sarai Rohila, New Jalpaiguri, Adra, Kharagpur, Pandu, Kanchrapara etc. were not spared. Old and pregnant women or even children were mercilessly beaten. The lathicharge at Gangapur city was so severe that a pregnant women suffered abortion on the spot and there were many having 8 to 11 fractures n heir bodies. Reports of opening fire on the demonstrators, came from Chitpur, Kutch and other stations. Arrests were conducted in mass scale. At Gurgaon, all those present including 162 Electric Motormen were arrested from one spot. At Maldah, the entire working force of the night shift on May,7 was not allowed to leave the station and forced to perform duties on May 8, as well. Similar reports were received from New Bongaigaon, Bombay and other places. The Electric Motormen of Bombay when called by the officers, refused to become first strike-breakers. They were arrested and detained without food. Beating of workers after arrest became a normal incident. At Kurla, workers hand-cuffed, were paraded on the platform. At Uluberia Gangmen were roped and detained for 72 hours in a small room without any food or amenities. Torture and indignities knew no bounds. One Rohni Chakraborty, a railway worker of CLW, who received “Tamrapatra” as a Freedom fighter, was pulled by his ear by the police. The Police made rounds in the railway colonies, raided railway quarters and arrested all strikers. It is reported that when a worker D.N. Dey was not found in his quarter, his sons were arrested. Again when Sri Amulya Bhattacharjee a worker of CLW was not found in his quarter, his son Shyamal was detained for 72 hours. Entire railway colonies were in a grip of terror. A graphic picture of the same could be seen from the report in Times of India, May 14, 1974 issue which says:- 

“A knock on the door of a tenement these days strikes fear in the hearts of the residents of railway colonies….” 

In establishing this reign of terror, free reign was given to the police and the anti-social elements known as Youth Congress workers. Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur almost everywhere this picture was seen. Throughout the State of West Bengal, it was a common feature. Reports from Burdwan, Howrah carshed, Lilooah, Asansol, Andal, Narkeldanga, Ballyganj, Jadavpur, Dum Dum, Ranaghat, Bongaon, Naihati, Canning, Budge Budge, Raniganj, Sodepur, Shalimar, Santra Gachi, Kanchrapara, Sitarampur, Adra, Anara, Chadannagar etc. showed that armed goonda gangs, moved about in the colonies terrorizing the workers, beating them, abusing the family member, forcibly evicting the railwaymen from their quarters etc. At Raniganj they threw bombs in a Gang-hut and injured some workers. Shri J.N. Dhar, Station Master was so mercilessly beaten that he had to be hospitalized. The Station Master of Chandannagar was forcibly brought to the station under threat of his life. The ‘Satyajug’ reported that two Congress M.L.As (Naresh Chaki and Shibdas Mukherjee led these anti-social elements. The last one was armed with revolver and pointed the same freely at workers to force them to join duties. The former offered a reward of Rs. 50/- for the capture of one Station Master. 

The Railway Officers took various forms of terrorizing the workers to submission. Payment of Wages Act was suspended from May 5, so that workers could be kept in a state of starvation. Indian Express reported on May 11, that when 300 workers came to receive their pay, they were told to join duties or face arrest. In Lucknow, the workers who came to the workshops for receiving their pay were not allowed to go out at all. They cut off electricity and water supply at Bombay, Delhi, Kishanganj, Sakurbasti, Malda etc. They also started evicting workers from the quarters. When such applications for eviction were made to the judiciary, they were either being turned down as in New Jalpaiguri or given some period of notice to the workers to show cause as in Siliguri, Guwahati, Lumding, Bombay etc. Hence the authorities did not obtain any permission at all and started forcible evictions. News Paper reports stated how 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 or those who did not join strike were not spared. The incidents at Lumding and Dangoaposi showed this. In some case, authorities failing in their attempts of eviction rendered the quarters unhabitable by breaking the doors and windows of the roof. 

Railway workers were thrown out of job en-masse. Though the Railway Minister stated on May 8, that such step will be taken if the workers do not resume duties immediately, but some officers started dismissals from may 7 only, as in Adra Division. A rough estimate showed that 20,000 permanent and 30,000 temporary and casual workers were thus victimized. 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. 

Railway workers 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 I 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, Kissenganj, Lumding, Sitarampur etc. need special Mention. Reports of rape and molestations of women were received. At Kanchrapara, tufts of hair of Krishna Chatterjee came out as she was dragged by hair. Hundreds of women from Railway colonies were put in the jails. This barbarous tortures went to such an extent that Govt.’s own labour department was forced to deprecate this inhuman torture. 

It was almost a total war against railway employees and their family members. Times of India of May 7, carried a report that Army Technicians were posted at all important stations in readiness to take over. Territorial Army Boarder Security Force. Regular Army were posted everywhere. Along with them Congress workers were deployed to patrol the line. Arrangement for Patrol trains were also made. Even the Navy at Cochin and elsewhere were 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, carried a report that 3125 territorial Army men were arrested for refusing to run trains. Special CRP battalion was air-lifted from Delhi to Mughalsarai. At Bongaingaon, Assam Rifles battalion was used to strike terror amongst railwaymen. 

Never was there more determined resistance so uniformly courageous 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. Times of India of May 14, 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. Indeed the saga of heroism would fill volumes. 

(Will Continue…….)

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