By Ila Ananya
Remember the massive garment worker’s strike in Bangalore in April 2016 because of which you are able to continue using your provident fund like you used to? The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, (WSS) Karnataka, has now released a joint fact-finding report on large-scale police excesses during the strike.
On 18th and 19th April 2016, more than 20,000 garment workers, more than 90 percent of whom are women, had taken to the streets in an unplanned, leaderless protest demanding that the Central Government withdraw the changes they’d made to rules on the withdrawal of Provident Fund.
The only reason any worker is able to continue to withdraw the employer contribution to their provident fund is because of these women. But all mainstream news reports (both Kannada and English), focused on how the “unruly, violent mob” caused a disruption to traffic. What nobody seems to have realised (and if they did, they didn’t report on) is that there was large-scale violence and repression by the police.
As the new report suggests, both during and after the protest, there was no conversation on police brutality. It goes on to highlight these details: that no women police officers were present on the roads where peacefully protesting women were lathi-charged and beaten, that arbitrary arrests were made, and protestors were tortured in custody.
Sarojamma, who works at a garment factory near Jalahalli Cross, Peenya, for instance, says she was caught in the middle of stone pelting. Someone through a stone at her, which she was clutching in her hand while she left the protest, until someone snatched the stone from her hand. It became the reason for her arrest from her house: when she was taken to police custody where she was beaten, a video (she doesn’t know who took it), of someone snatching the stone from her hand was played. Women who were arrested say they were sexually harassed verbally, and then illegally detained in a private shelter called Paraspara (an NGO) instead of police lock up. They were produced before a magistrate more than 24 hours later, and in almost every case, bail proved difficult to get.
We all know how police brutality at protests is often easily dismissed or just ignored as the police “doing their job.” They are never reported on, and as PUCL and WSS are demanding, all FIRs against workers who protested be dropped, no new arrests should be made, and the police need to be held accountable for brutality.