Repression and the Trade Union Movement in Jammu & Kashmir

Sampat Prakash

The Jammu and Kashmir Trade Union Centre (originally registered as the J&K Low Paid Government Employees Federation) came into being in the year 1964 in defence of four lakh government employees. These include teachers and workers of Jammu and Kashmir Government and public sector undertakings including essential services and pensioners.

The cadre and the leadership reshaped and restructured the state level trade union movement from the grass root level in all the three regions of the state. Massive mobilisation was done by holding rallies, dharnas, hunger strikes and district level conferences. This collective struggle ultimately culminated in an indefinite strike in December 1967, which happened for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir.

The State Government resorted to ruthless repression by detaining hundreds of activists. There were 17 dismissals under Article 311/C of the Indian Constitution. Many trade union activists faced punitive measures like suspensions, transfers, attachment of properties, fines and police repression at interrogation centres. The leadership and the rank and file stood firm during detention. The leadership was released in the year 1969 and the trade union movement again became very active and fearlessly fought against the mechanism of the outdated and reactionary bureaucracy.

The trade union movement had the massive support of the educated youth and the unemployed intelligentsia. From 1969 to 1975 successful state level strikes were organised by the union cadre, which changed the course of the mass movement into a progressive radical left movement. The employees’ movement received tremendous support in struggles launched since 1967 till date and, timely guidance through all India level protest meetings held against the repression on the trade union movement in Jammu and Kashmir by all the major trade unions of India.

The dark era of emergency from 1975 to 1977 critically targeted the leaders of the J & K TUC. The entire leadership, activists, rank and file members, leadership of unions, and associations, and district committees were also detained in the jails of state. Hundreds of employees were put behind bars and dismissed from services and tortured at interrogation centres during the Emergency.

Soon, after the lifting of Emergency in the year 1977, the J&K employees fought countless battles in the shape of strikes, gheraos, mammoth rallies and gate demonstrations against the state. The movement earned massive support from the working class of India. The All India State Government Employees Federation, All India Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers, C.I.T.U, A.I.T.U.C, H.M.K.P and H.M.S., came out in defence of our legitimate demands and human rights violations.

In the second half of the 1980s, Kashmir turned into a police state under the rule of the repressive regime installed by New Delhi. Basic human rights were denied to the people of Kashmir. It caused alienation at the root and there was no accountability and the security forces from 1990 till date rule Kashmir. Corruption, false interpolation of official records and abject opportunism became acceptable norms. Kashmir rose in rebellion in 1990. This was an unimaginable and unacceptable spectacle for Indian policy makers. Truth was mercilessly gagged in Kashmir. The perpetrators of this sacrilege have paid heavily for their sins and crimes. The Kashmir dispute calls for an urgent attention. None can run a way from the ground realities.

The recent meeting in September 2006 on the sidelines of the Havana Non-Aligned Movement Conference between the Heads of Government of India and Pakistan Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Pervez Musharraf has sent a positive message throughout the world for a solution of the Kashmir issue which has reached on a table and to be followed by meetings of two foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, people to people contacts and the recent announcement of allowing travel on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service without passports and visas in order to allow meeting of people living in the two parts of Kashmir after a gap of 57 years.

The J&K Trade Union Centre upholds the ideological proposition, which firmly believes that ‘neither military repression nor forced election will bring peace and tranquility to Kashmir’. Peace can only be achieved when India and Pakistan respect the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Invariably the power yielding elite of New Delhi has always veered around to the idea that political power has to be exercised through the ruthless suppression of the democratic aspiration of Kashmiri’s. Behind the tale of extremities lies the truth of everyday humiliation, of untold miseries. The dehumanising forces of state repression are deep rooted in the interior villages of Kashmir but these hardly get reported in the media.

Since 1990 over 70,000 people have been martyred in Jammu and Kashmir. Innumerable children have been orphaned, women have become widows, heinous crimes have been committed, women have been raped, thousands disabled through zero degree interrogation and thousands have become psychiatric patients. The ‘catch and kill’ policy of the State continues till date.

Lakhs of Kashmiri pundits have been uprooted from their home by a well-designed criminal conspiracy hatched by Jagmohan during his tenure (January-May 1990) as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir State. Kashmir has been turned into a land of graveyards. The Indian security forces are writing a book of terror with the blood of innocent Kashmiris whose foreword was written by that butcher otherwise known as Jagmohan.

During the last 16 years, from 1990 till date, half a million working people of Jammu and Kashmir have organised state level strikes, breaking the world record of strikes. They have done this with determination, courage and zeal for a peaceful solution of a 60 years long outstanding issue and as a protest against the on-going gross human rights violation by security forces, task forces and mercenaries.

Repression of the working class in Jammu and Kashmir

These consistent protests have resulted in 683 dismissals of government employees, teachers and workers besides daily wagers from government services.

Government employees, teachers and workers resorted to a 72 days long drawn indefinite strike in 1990. From the Civil Secretariat down to a block and including essential services, there was detention of 24,000 employees teachers, workers and daily wagers from 6 months to six years from 1990 to 2006.

400 employees teachers and workers were brutally killed by security forces and unidentified gunmen.

300 employees have disappeared. Hundreds have been tortured in interrogation centres, there have been thousands of detentions, there have been many unjustified crackdowns, property has been burnt down and families of government employees have been tortured.

Again in the year 1991, a 42-day strike was successfully organised by the state employees in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 1995 state employees and worker again conducted a 23 days hartal. Then in 1999 a 42 days strike was done. In 2004, there was a 5 days strike for the legitimate cause of the employees of the state. The leadership did not budge despite repression on the striking employees.

The Perspective and Position of the J & K TUC

The Kashmiri people stood united behind the long drawn strikes and hartals, which were against human rights violations and innocent killings by security forces and also called for a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute between the two sovereign countries as per aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The trade union movement during the last four decades played a historical role in consonance with the aspirations of the people of the land in seeking a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The J & K Trade Union Centre stands for people to people harmonious relations in general and in solidarity with the progressive trade union movement of India and Pakistan in particular.

The J & K Trade Union Centre has since been steady developing its base and has made some significant progress towards accomplishing its goals of building a more effective trade union centre to meet the challenges of the offensive against the working class against capitalist globalisation and forming a centre that gives space for the co-existence of multiple progressive political tendencies. It is also a forum for the major left democratic and secular trade union movement and to the working class policies. The idea of an initiative has to be a core principle of unity of workers into a single platform in order to resist different forms of attack on democracy and peoples rights in different context as has been experienced in Kashmir. The state policy and state repression is anti people and pro-capital.

If the trade union movement does not support, sustain, and expand the democratisation, there own right to organise for collective bargaining would be threatened. This is already evident in the attack on trade union rights to strike within state and across the globe. The threat to democracy and disruption of social life first affects workers and their livelihood. We believe that in the current context of globalisation. It is necessary to go beyond boundaries and seek to deepen international solidarity and the alliance of the labour movement that enables and promotes initiatives and autonomy at all levels of organisation to respond to the needs of working class movement. The strength of working class movement; we believe is build on the solidarity, respect and democratic ethos amongst workers, their organisations, and concerned for the well being of all humanity and independence from Government, the Employers and Political parties.

We believe that the unity of trade unions can be achieved if all progressive trade unions shed their prejudices and sectarianism and take concrete steps to return to a single platform.

In the past trade unions became platforms of political parties and lost their character as workers’ organisations. They came to be reduced, as splits took place in political parties; this brought immense damage to working class unity. Divisions and rivalry among unions weakened the movement.

Today, even the relevance of trade unions is being questioned. Taking advantage of the divisions among the trade unions, the government has started ignoring the genuine issues of the working class. Trade unions no longer have space in the formulation of labour policies.

Paper presented by the Chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir Trade Union Centre at the New Trade Union Initiative workshop titled ‘Repression of Democratic Freedoms and the Trade Union Movement’ India Social Forum 2006; 9-13 November, New Delhi.

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