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Bharat Bandh not about trade unions alone; unites workers, students

Students turn up to join the strike; normal life remains unaffected in most parts of country

Somesh Jha & Avishek Rakshit  |  New Delhi/Kolkata 

Kolkata airport
Passengers outside the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. In Kolkata, taxies were off the roads due the strike | Photo: PTI

This was the fourth time in past five years that central trade unions called a nationwide strike against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Democratic Alliance government’s economic policies.

Ten major trade unions had called a day-long strike against the government's "anti-people" policies. But this time, the bandh, was not restricted to trade unions demanding rights of the workers, it galvanised into a joint movement of people, particularly students, who registered their protests on a range of issues from the new citizenship law to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) violence.

Students from across universities in Delhi, including Delhi University (DU), JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Ambedkar University, and Indian Institute of Technology, joined the bandh. The cold was not a deterrent. Rain played hide-and-seek throughout the days amidst shouts of azadi keeping students warm.

At ITO, in the heart of New Delhi, 30 students from Ambedkar University amplified the voices of leaders from the 10 unions. Protesters had blocked the busy Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg for at least an hour in the morning.

“The infrastructure in our university is not sufficient as compared to the fee. Research students have not received stipends for three months. Then, there are workers in our campus who are on contract for a long period,” 22-year-old Aditi, a student of Ambedkar University, said.

Thousands of DU students came together to do a two-kilometre march in the North Campus area. Students from St. Stephen’s, not known to participate in strikes, chose to skip their classes and assembled in the college’s lawns and read out the preamble to the Constitution. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which became a law in December, gives citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Shristi Pal, an economics undergraduate student from Jesus and Mary College, who was at a protest at the Faculty of Arts in Delhi University said that the government’s timing of bringing in the CAA was questionable. “The government should focus on fixing the economy. Growth is falling and all that the government could think of was bringing in the CAA,” she said.

A common slogan at these protests was: chatra ekta, madzoor ekta, kisaan ekta zindabad (long live the unity of farmers, students and workers).


Around 12,000 RBI staff from 19 offices across the country, including from Mumbai (left), went on strike, too | Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar

All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general-secretary Amarjeet Kaur termed the strike as a “huge success” and claimed over 250 million people participated in the strike.

However, chief labour commissioner Rajan Verma said that strike saw poor participation till evening. He said it saw a participation of only 15 per cent on an average in set of industries governed by the government. While 55 per cent workers were absent from work in banking and insurance sectors, only 6 per cent telecom staff skipped work.

Production at Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India’s Manesar plant in Haryana, Bajaj Auto's Chakan unit and factories of various auto component makers was hit on Wednesday. The strike, however, had no impact on production of auto majors Maruti Suzuki India, Hero MotoCorp, Honda Cars India, Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors and Hyundai Motors India as their plants in various parts of the country functioned normally.

IT firm HCL issued an advisory to its employees. “We have also recommended staff to avail Tele-Commuting option (work from home) if required,” a company spokesperson said.

Though normal life remained unaffected in most parts of the country, banking services were hit. Several ATMs went dry by the evening as people rushed for cash withdrawals.

Around 12,000 workmen staff of the Reserve Bank of India from 19 offices across the country, including from the central office in Mumbai, went on strike. It affected various departments including currency management, government and public accounts.

Protests turned violent in West Bengal after clashes broke out between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Left Front-backed Students Federation of India in Bardhaman district. The TMC-led West Bengal government, which is opposing CAA and NRC and has been taking digs at the Centre over economic and social policies, is against any form of strike or shutdown.

(With inputs from Press Trust of India)

First Published: Wed, January 08 2020. 20:56 IST