Peoples Union for Democratic Rights condemns the ban imposed against a trade union Mazdoor Sanghatan Samiti (MSS), by the Jharkhand state government on the basis of charges of Maoist association. The Principal Home Secretary, SKG Rahate in a press conference claimed that the MSS was a “frontal organization of the CPI (Maoist)”. The fact that they were planning to hold, a meeting to commemorate 50 years of Naxalbari uprising earlier this year and had invited well known revolutionary writer Varavara Rao to address the gathering, has been given as the basis of this claim. The official also claimed that “complaints” were received alleging that MSS was collecting donations, settling land disputes and holding Jan Adalats.
In banning the organization, the BJP led government fell back on the colonial era Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLA) 1908. Section 16 of the CLA Act under which the present ban has been imposed, empowers the state government to declare an organization “unlawful” if the government in its “opinion” believes that the organization “interferes or has for its objective interference in administration of law and maintenance of law and order or constitutes danger to public peace”. Acts such as giving donations or publishing any material or literature related to “extremist” policies, of which the MSS has been accused, become offences under CLA Act and invite punishment for up to five years. Just a day later, on 23 December, as a fallout of the ban order, three committee members of MSS - Ajay Hembrum, Mohan Murmu and Daya Chand Hembrum- were arrested in Madhuban, Girdih under Sections 17 CLA Act.
MSS has been active in the area for last three decades in organizing contract workers in the coal mines of Dhanbad, Giridih and Bokaro. It struggled to bring together thousands of “doli mazdoors” in Madhuban whose services are used by Jain pilgrims visiting the hilltop Parasnath temple, and to bridge the gap between contract and regular workers. MSS has been running a Doli Majdoor Fund for past ten years by collecting money through pilgrims and from workers in small denominations and the fund is used to aid workers for their medical treatment, and in case of accident and also to help families in case of death of a worker. MSS’ advocacy of Adivasis’ rights and support to other progressive movements in Jharkhand, as part and parcel of its trade union activities, has been evident in its engagement with the fight against incarceration of tribals under fabricated cases, land acquisition and displacement. Lately they got into the crosshairs of the state government for playing a prominent role in organizing resistance against BJP government’s plans to divest Adivasi peasantry of their land and forest rights by amending Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 and Santhal Pargana Act 1949.
Developments in the past few months show that the Jharkhand government had been planning to prosecute the MSS. The organization had antagonized the authorities more recently especially when it organized local resistance against the issue of a fake encounter killing, in June 2017, of one Motilal Baske. He was killed by CRPF men and the killing justified as an encounter killing of a ‘Maoist.’ MSS’ enquiry exposed it as a fake encounter, and revealed that Baske was a tribal doli worker. Moreover, MSS members had given statements to the press that their resistance had antagonized authorities. Since then, there had been consistent efforts to crush the organization and banning was being considered. In November, much like many organizations across country, MSS celebrated 100 years of Bolshevik Revolution and carried out a peaceful rally. After the rally Jharkhand police registered an FIR against those who participated in the rally and even named 12 people. As the final blow, on 22 December, the ban orders were declared against the MSS under the draconian CLA Act, followed by the arrest of 3 members under the same law. The FIR registered against these 3 members and 10 others, accuses them of extorting money in the name of the same Doli Majdoor Fund which was collected to aid workers.
PUDR has long opposed the policy of banning organizations because once an organization is banned the provisions of the ban can be used to target members even without their committing any criminal offence. Governments in power have used bans to outlaw opposition and dissent, and the state government’s ban on the MSS, a trade union working for nearly 30 years, raising legitimate and basic demands of workers, is a measure of this kind. It is part of a larger attempt to clamp down those who dare to resist the Jharkhand government’s anti-people policies. We demand the immediate revocation of the ban against MSS.
Shahana Bhattacharya and Shashi Saxena