One of the most interesting features of challenges to the established order in India is that these challenges are coming increasingly from women – women from various parts of India and from the entire range of the social spectrum. Last week we had highlighted the landmark judgement of the Delhi High Court in favour of journalist Priya Ramani. This week we highlight 25-year old Nodeep Kaur, a labour rights activist from Punjab who is fighting for worker’s rights in NCR region and in Haryana. Ms Kaur, who is a member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (translation: Labour Rights Union) also happens to be a Dalit.
First, it is worth understanding Ms Kaur’s backstory because in a way it is a parable of how leadership in India is moving from the moneyed elites with their expensive degrees to leaders who are rising from the ground up. Quoting from the BBC coverage of Ms Kaur: “Nodeep, who comes from a poor Dalit family (formerly untouchables who were placed at the bottom of India’s repressive caste hierarchy) in rural Punjab, had to discontinue her studies after high school because of financial difficulties….
Her younger sister Harveer says: “Being Dalits, we have always faced caste discrimination and because we are women, we’ve also faced gender issues. Then we are poor. Nodeep has always been very sensitive to these issues.”
Harveer says in autumn last year, her sister moved to Kundli to take up a job in a glass factory, with the ultimate intention of going back to college.
It was there that she became a member of Majdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS), a union of workers, that would often organise protests to pressure the firms to pay their dues.
Nodeep had participated in protests many times, including on one occasion to get what she herself was owed.
At least on two occasions in December, there had been scuffles between the workers and bouncers hired by the management – and the union had accused the police of “working with the industrialists to curb dissent and unionisation”.”
Now we come to the episode which got Ms Kaur arrested on 12th January. Quoting again from the BBC story: “There are two different versions of how the violence started when Nodeep and dozens of union members went to protest outside a factory.
Police say they sent a team to the factory after receiving information that workers were manhandling the management and staff, and attempting to extort money.
The union members say they were attacked by the bouncers and the police; but police say it was the other way round. They accuse Nodeep in particular of “attacking the police”.
Senior police official JS Randhawa shared two videos with my BBC News colleague Shalu Yadav that he claimed were shot at the protest site on the day.
One shows a woman who’s part of a group that appears to be beating up policemen with sticks; the second shows her giving a speech where she says “we beat them back, we chased them away, and we’ll do it again”.
Mr Randhawa claims the woman in the videos is Nodeep and that “them” in her speech refers to the police.
“She was inciting people to attack the police,” he told Shalu, adding that “seven policemen were grievously injured in the attack. Later, she was arrested from the spot”.
Nodeep’s sister Rajveer did not deny the video – but she said that “Nodeep was, in fact, trying to stop the protesters from attacking the police”.”
What has happened to Ms Kaur’s case after her arrest is equally interesting and highlights why putting on a lid on protest is much harder these days than it was even 10 years ago. Post her arrest Ms Kaur’s says that she was beaten by the cops (we won’t get into the details of the allegations Ms Kaur has levelled against the cops. You can find them on the net. For example, see here The Print’s story on this matter: https://theprint.in/india/
Judging by what the authorities have to say, post her arrest Ms Kaur hasn’t been behaving herself: “Since her arrest, she has been in custody in a jail in Haryana and police have accused her of multiple offences like “attempt to murder, extortion and trying to snatch official documents and a gun from the police”.
“Some of these offences are very serious in nature and carry jail terms of 10 to 14 years,” advocate Harinder Singh Bains, who’s part of Nodeep’s legal team, told the BBC.”
And then earlier this month, Ms Kaur’s arrest went viral on social media. Following this, Meera Harris, the niece of the US Vice-President, called for Ms Kaur’s release. Then a British MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, brought up Nodeep’s arrest in the British parliament. “Thousands of others have tweeted about her case, and farmers’ leaders and student activists in the northern Indian state of Punjab have expressed solidarity with her.” It is easy to see now why governments across the world are so keen to bring Facebook and Twitter under their control.
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