Nodeep Kaur, the 24-year-old Dalit labour rights activist who was jailed for raising her voice against Haryana factory owners and farm laws, says her fight against injustice is far from over
It is rare and difficult for a woman to become a full-time activist. When a woman raises her voice for a cause, it is taken lightly. I learnt this at an early age, when my mother used to work in the fields and raised her voice for a rape victim. Later, I saw this at every stage of my life and most recently at the farmers protest on Singhu border. There were so many women who had come there but rarely were they given a chance to express their views on stage.
My mother taught me that if we were to live with dignity, we must raise our voice. I have seen her struggle, and the discrimination and the torture that a farm worker may face at the hands of big landlords. My mother always said the poor must stand unitedly to get their voice heard. Or we would be crushed.
Two years back, in 2019, I came to Delhi to be with my sister Rajvir Kaur. This was a time when protests were being held in the capital against Citizenship Act and NRC (national register for citizens). I felt moved by its social impact and actively took part in the demonstration.
When the lockdown was implemented, my father lost his job. As our financial situation dwindled, I looked for a job to support our family. Some of my friends in Kundli (Haryana) told me that I could find work in the factories there and I went ahead. I again witnessed how the factory owners were exploiting the labour.
In every industrial area, the factory owners keep a bunch of roughnecks who do not let labourers raise their voice. The labour is not supposed to challenge the factory owners for their due legal rights. There were longer hours and many workers had long pending wages. The proprietors used lockdown as an excuse to hold their dues. I knew the unity was important if the labour had to take on the owners. I joined the (Mazdoor Adhikar) Sangthan there.
When we started helping labourers get their pending wages, the factory owners were alarmed. During one of the protests they even fired at us. And when the protesters retaliated, the police came to their rescue and protection. Law enforcement agencies unabashedly sided by the rich.
Yet, we were able to get the dues of some 300 labourers paid. The factory owners felt the heat. There are thousands of workers in the area with similar cases. Paying their dues would be a financial and prestige setback for the proprietors. Besides, if it worked in Kundli, then they feared that it will have an effect on other industrial areas as well.
Meanwhile, as labourers we lent our support to farmers protesting against Central laws right from November 26, the day when the protests started. We raised a tent at Singhu border from day one and also organized a labour strike to express our solidarity and support to the farmers. More than 2,000 labourers took off from their work and came marching to the farmers protest site.
We thus came across as a threat to both the local industrialists as well as the state. So in a planned manner, when we were protesting peacefully on January 12, the quick response teams of the company came. While I was talking to them, the police began lathicharge on the protesters, including women. They dragged me. It was natural reaction of my fellow labourers to resist the action. But for this, I was charged with unlawful assembly, trespass, criminal assault, intimidation and even attempt to murder. Clearly, they wanted to create a sense of fear in others and keep the factory owners in good humour. That’s why I believe the arrest was all planned in advance and accordingly executed.
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As told to Mamta Sharma