Pushed to Suicide?
India’s top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has floated an online signature campaign to gather support for its letter to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee with a copy to the chief general manager (CGM), Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), New Delhi, calling upon them to disburse pending payments since 2019-20 to its contract workers.

Insisting that BSNL authorities must “uphold the right to work and livelihood of thousands of contract employees of BSNL in West Bengal”, it also said, the authorities of the top telecom public corporation must ensure that “all the employees are taken back into work”.

We, the concerned citizens and people’s organizations from West Bengal and across India are writing this letter with an earnest request to ensure justice to the contract workers of BSNL-Calcutta Telephones District (CTD), covering many districts (partially or fully) across West Bengal. They have been facing a dire situation in the last 2.5 years and your urgent intervention is required in this matter.

There are Joint Contract Labourers (JCLs) who were suddenly thrown out of their job, without any notice, either by the contractor or CTD management, as the principal employer. They were working with the BSNL since 20-25 years and have made a valuable contribution in extension and perfection in the BSNL telephone services, as everyone is aware of; yet they face utter injustice due to becoming jobless, which has even pushed them into ‘suicides’.

Meanwhile, the BSNL’s divisions, on considering 55 years as age of retirement also made many workers bear the brunt of change in the service conditions, since October 2019, including discontinuation of ESI benefits. Most unacceptable is the fact that at least 4,600 JCLs were not paid even for May and June 2020 when they had worked for full months (26 days), in spite of the lockdown.

In most of the BSNL exchanges also, JCLS were not paid for 26 days (but were only paid wages for 8, or maximum 13 days) for the months of September, October, November and December 2019 and January, February and March 2020. All these arrears must be immediately paid to all the workers, with due interest.

We feel extremely anguished and agitated to see how the public sector is badly affected due to reckless privatisation.

The unfortunate decision to change JCL system to SLA has, on one hand, resulted in the unemployment for all the 3,500 workers who are not absorbed in SLA, and on the other affected the service of Calcutta Telephones, since the CTD has lost the experienced contribution by the JCLs.

We feel extremely anguished and agitated to see how the public sector is badly affected due to reckless privatisation, through promotions and concessions granted to the private corporates, who have become billionaires, while the employees and workforce suffering deprivation and destitution.

We, therefore, request your urgent intervention, challenging the wrong done by the Union Labour Ministry, to safeguard the right to life and livelihood of the workers from your state. We expect that you would stand by the injustice meted out to these workers and ensure employment to all the JCLs, who are willing to re-join work with old or new contractors.
Joint Contract Labourers, Kolkata

Women's Identity
Gender is culturally constructed in every society throughout the globe. But the biological foundation of gender is prioritised, and each and every society is genderised. That's why gender differences between males and females are deeply rooted and have become a law of cultural inheritance where women are treated as depressed categories and sympathised with by males. This law of cultural inheritance treats them as 'second sex'. So, social and economic discrimination and domination by males are obvious. Females or women have become the property of males or men. A woman's body is not her own. It is the absolute property of man. So, may women enjoy equal rights in a patriarchal society when they are the gender victims of patriarchal politics?

How women dress and what they wear have become vital points of debate. That means women have no right to choice (like and dislike). The women's dress debate has crossed its limit in almost every religion, caste, social, economic, and culture. And it has been fuelled by politics. Recently, the hijab debate is the most unexpected when people are targeted to observe 'Amritkal'. Shamelessly, the society does not allow women to think liberally and act democratically. Orthodoxy and taboos are the key burdens to social progress.

There have been some changes in policy levels for gender equity and justice in the last three decades or a little more. But patriarchal domination within the family and outside is the prime hindrance so far, and religion is a lame excuse. Education and employment for women fail to reach the desired goal as publicised. Unfortunately, it is a battle of man against man because a man does not wilfully believe in sharing gender space with his counterpart. Historically, the end of matriarchal society and the origin of patriarchal society misrepresented the notion of gender difference.

A policy like reservation in different elected houses from lower to upper houses is a way to ensure women's participation. But how much they get liberty to take part in decision-making is doubted and restricted because of patriarchal power and politics. There is no doubt that women have succeeded in higher educational attainment (although the rate is lower than their counterparts in science and research). As the participation of women in employment sectors increases, they are separated by gender because of their gender identity. Their efficacy and efficiency get rare recognition because of their linkage with males as daughters, wives, brothers, and so forth. Whatever their quality, they are treated as sex objects and machines of procreation as well as housekeepers.

It has even been observed that an employed woman has a rare right to enjoy her earnings. It is also under the surveillance of its male counterpart, as if they do not know how to use it. While a man's right to earn money is unquestionable, a woman’s earning is for others' likes and dislikes.

In truth politics has no transparent policy for women's liberty because the entire society runs on the identity of a male, whether she is a corporate leader, a scientist, a professor, a bureaucrat, or a domestic helper.

A little issue of dress code and debate will go on in the long run without any solution because her gender lens is unchangeable. So, women's liberty is or would be confined to their identity as women.
Harasankar Adhikari, Kolkata

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Vol 54, No. 37, March 13 - 19, 2022