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Home > South Asia Labour Activists Library > India: Workers’ Day in Manika - 1 May 2018

India: Workers’ Day in Manika - 1 May 2018

1 May 2018

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Hundreds of rural workers took part in a spirited celebration of International Workers’ Day today in Manika (Latehar District, Jharkhand). This is an annual event, but this year rural workers in Manika were particularly agitated because of the recent injustices they have suffered.

One of them is the stagnation of NREGA wages. It may be recalled that two years ago, on the same day, hundreds of NREGA workers in Manika sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with a five-rupee note to protest against the meagre increase of NREGA wages in Jharkhand, from Rs 162 per day in 2015-16 to Rs 167 per day in 2016-17. The Prime Minister did not respond. The following year, the NREGA wage in Jharkhand was raised by just one rupee (from Rs 167 to 168 per day), prompting NREGA workers to send another protest letter to the Prime Minister with a one-rupee coin. This year, the NREGA wage in Jharkhand was not increased at all.

Another recent injustice is the phenomenon of “rejected payments” in the NREGA wage payment system. Delays in wage payments have affected NREGA workers for many years, but the rejection of payment orders is largely a new problem, created by the Aadhaar-based payment system. According to the NREGA’s management and information system (MIS), close to Rs 500 crores of wage payments were rejected in the last financial year (all-India figure). Further, in Manika’s overcrowded banks, no-one is available to assist NREGA workers as they run from pillar to post for their meagre wages. Widows and old-age pensioners are also victims of this defective payment system.

This ordeal prompted NREGA workers and pensioners in Manika to send a strong letter to Dr. Urjit Patel, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, drawing his attention to the chaos that has spread in the banking system. The letter also demands ten immediate steps to address the problem.

Among other demands raised at the protest are minimum wages of Rs 300 per day for NREGA workers, immediate payment of maternity entitlements (Rs 6000 per child without conditions) under the National Food Security Act, no dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, and strict action against those responsible for the recent murder of the gram Pradhan of Jungur village in Manika Block.

The event began with a march across the town, with the participants wearing black bands to protest against the recent injustices done to NREGA workers and pensioners. The crowd then assembled at the Block office for a public meeting. The meeting started with two minutes of silence in memory of all those who gave their life for workers’ rights over the years. Then James Herenj, convenor of NREGA Watch Jharkhand, explained the history and importance of International Workers’ Day. Rita Oraon, Birju Ram, Nagina Bibi, Anil Anshuman, Dheeraj Kumar and many others then spoke about the growing attack on NREGA workers’ rights, the hardships endured by pensioners as they run from pillar to post for their meagre pensions, and also people’s efforts to organise for their rights in the area.

Bezwada Wilson, convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan, was a special guest at this event and spoke at length about the struggles of marginalised people for their rights. He argued that the country is not being run for people like those assembled in Manika today, but for the rich and powerful. The inequality of wealth has become extreme, yet the government keeps making it more extreme by doing the job of privileged interests. He blasted the government for failing to ensure quality education, depriving children of one of their only means of liberation.

This event was an initiative of Gram Swaraj Mazdoor Sangh, a local organisation of rural workers. Aside from hundreds of NREGA workers, pensioners and other rural residents of Manika, the event was attended by many well-wishers as well as representatives of representatives of the CPI(ML), Right to Food Campaign and National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) among other organisations.