Chhattisgarh 2018

Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2018: In Raipur, an arrest swings the choice of many voters

Big following: A meeting in Jamul to decide the campaign plan to raise Sudha Bharadwaj’s arrest.  

They pour in from their tiny houses, schools, shops and union offices of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) to tell their stories.

“She [Sudha Bharadwaj] arranged for the treatment of my husband [Haldhar Kumar Tarun, CMM activist] in Mumbai after he fell ill after years of working in harsh conditions in a foundry,” said Sunita Kumar, sitting in her nondescript two-room house at Shahid Nagar, north of Raipur.

Another CMM activist, Kalyan Patel, who worked with Ms. Bharadwaj to set up a primary school in Shahid Nagar, a workers’ colony of nearly 300 families, said the jailed lawyer-activist played a crucial role in the project following the death of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the trade union leader who was killed in Bhilai in 1991.

Jharna and Pooja, teachers who passed out from the Shahid school, said a culture had been created in which the children could fearlessly speak their mind and question all, including teachers.

“It was Sudha didi, with others, who played a significant role to create this culture,” Ms. Pooja said.

Back in the 1970s

Ms. Bharadwaj came to live among the workers, leaving her career and city life, way back in the 1970s. She is now in a Pune jail for alleged Naxal links, while many workers and their families in the backyard of Bhilai or Raipur’s industrial belt, in the colonies and union offices, said she was their “family member”. They want to turn her arrest into a election issue.

“We know it won’t be a massive electoral issue like farmer’s distress or unemployment,” said Sibrani Sahu, a worker, who lost her job following the closure of the factory where she used to work at Majdoor Nagar, about four km north of Shahid Nagar.

Mazdoor colony, which has housed nearly 1,000 families, was also set up in the mid-1990s on the edge of Raipur city as the area developed into a hub of medium and small industries. The workers, predominantly from the unorganised sector, came from across the country and there was a need to provide them with some land to settle down.

“But it can be a small issue,” Ms. Sahu said.

“A park was planned [in the area], but Sudhaji and others fought with the government to first set up quarters for the workers and then she went to court to seek voting rights for these workers who did not have any during the first election of Chhattisgarh. But in 2008. they got their voting rights, thanks to Sudha didi’s plea in the High Court,” Mr. Patel said.

The young Communist activist who had drawn many young leftists to Chhattisgarh was Shankar Guha Niyogi and his Chhattisgarh Mines Sharmik Sangh. Ms. Bharadwaj, an IIT graduate, came a little later, leaving her job in a Delhi school, to work with the workers and women in the mining belt of Dalli-Rajhara in central Chhattisgarh. Over the years, she worked among the mine workers, their families, women and children in mainly Raipur, Bhilai and Jamul. She even started practising as a lawyer after getting a law degree.

Janki Sidar is a tribal woman from Raigarh, about 200 km north of Raipur. Her land was acquired by a mining company.

Life-changing work

Ms. Sidar, who was not connected to the workers’ union, said her life changed because of “Sudha didi the lawyer”.

“When I got exhausted after fighting a case for a decade, she took up my case, of course without a fee, as I had nothing to pay. I got the land back because of her,” Ms. Sidar said.

“We indeed are asking the candidates why they are not taking up her issue,” said Nilu Vashinav, who runs a grocery shop and carefully picked up the nuances of workers’ rights movement following her years of interaction with Ms. Bharadwaj. But the mainstream parties — like the Congress and the BJP — are not too keen on it. Their local activists said while they acknowledged Ms. Bharadwaj’s “immense contribution to highlight workers’ and women’s issues” they are not sure if they should champion her cause. But the Aam Aadmi Party, with good traction in Raipur Rural where Shahid and Mazdoor Nagars are located, has taken up Ms. Bharadwaj’s arrest.

“She was representing the poor in court. We are asking the parties if that was her only crime,” said Uchit Sharma, the State AAP spokesperson. Party chief Arvind Kejriwal too has defended her. “He defended all the five arrested activists. We have taken out rallies in their support. This indeed is a key issue,” Mr. Sharma said.

About 35 kilometer from Raipur, on the fringe of industrial city of Bhilai is Jamul, a town known for factories of cement behemoths. Behind one gigantic cement plants is the office of Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh [PCSS], the cement workers’ union, one of 17 wings of Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha [CMM]. The CMM activists gathered there on Friday to decide about their core issues to the sitting MLA of Congress as he is scheduled to visit the area on Saturday.

"Our key demand to the Congress candidate will be to build up pressure on the government at their level so they raise the issue of release of all the activists especially Sudhadi, as she is one of us," said Lakhan Sahu, organising secretary of PCSS.


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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 11:02:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/chhattisgarh-assembly-elections-2018/chhattisgarh-assembly-elections-2018-in-raipur-an-arrest-swings-the-choice-of-many-voters/article25520045.ece

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