Assam Women’s Network appeals to bring back stranded women workers from Himachal Pradesh

TCN News

Women in Governance Network and Purva Bharati Educational Trust of Assam in partnership with HP Workers Solidarity of Himachal Pradesh have made an urgent appeal against forceful detention of Assamese women workers in Baddi Industrial Area.

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Hailing from various districts in Assam, a total of 19 girls among the age group of 18 to 34, have been stuck in Himachal Pradesh initially due to the COVID-19 lockdown and now, by the employers extending their stay on fabricated cases. IPS Mrigakhi Deka, who is a part of Assam state nodal team for facilitating the return of migrant workers, has raised this issues calling it “a matter of pressing concern of forceful holding back of Assam girls against their will through fear, intimidation and manipulation as well as a violation of labour and human rights.”

These young girls from Assam’s Jorhat, Sivasagar, Golaghat and Charaideo belong to socio-economically marginalized families and are mostly employed as Daily Wage Workers on tea plantations. Before the lockdown, these girls were admitted to a training programme under the machine-based sewing project named PIA (Project Implementing Agency) in association with Society for Social Security and Empowerment (SANSE) of the Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission (ASRLM). Subsequently, the block personnel of Jeevika Sakhis had facilitated the travel of these girls for training purposes that took place from August 2019 to November 2019 at Himachal Pradesh’s Vardhaman Textiles.

Under Jeevika Sakhis, the girls are to be trained free of cost as SMO(Sewing Machine Operator) along with courses in spoken English language, soft skill for Personality Development and Computer operations. After the training, they were to be placed in a clothes production factory thus ensuring their better future and livelihood. However, things changed once the lockdown was implemented. The girls reported having faced “strict restrictions on their movement in the campus and socialization with people in neighbouring colonies,” and they were “not even acquainted with the entire campus or the area.”

Additionally, they even complained about the machine load, lack of rest hours, injuries and wounds they received in the work coupled with declining health conditions. But all of these issues were “not taken in cognizance,” and instead “were given vague and apathetic responses.”

Women in Governance Network and Purva Bharati Educational Trust of Assam have therefore written to various local, state and national administrative organizations to highlight this forced intimidation of young girls. It has mentioned in its letter that “neither the block personnel nor the Jeevika Sakhis, whether during the training at SANSE or job at Vardhaman, monitored and contacted the girls to understand their concerns and grievances.”In fact, adding to the existing violations, the girls who were to receive Rs. 7500 after placement, received even lesser. The pay further lacked uniformity in the following months, causing further confusion and mistrust among the stranded women workers.

The women’s networks from Assam contacted the employers at Baddi Industrial Area in Himachal Pradesh but nothing helped. According to the network, “the institutions involved in the recruitment, training and employment of the girls have continued the intimidation along with circulation of vicious rumours about them, going to the extent that they registered a false and baseless FIR against one of the members with the motive of only causing them further harassment.” They informed in the letter that this was done “to threaten them from speaking the truth and demand for justice.”

However, the women’s group was finally helped by a local civil society group ‘Himachal Pradesh Workers Solidarity’ who inquired and discussed the situation with girls, assisting them to facilitate their travel back to home. With the help of the worker’s solidarity group, the girls were registered on the online portal created by Himachal government for registration of labourers and eventually the nodal officers in both Himachal and Assam were communicated about this issue.

In the latest, the women’s network has coordinated with Assam Police, local administration and nodal officers to report “the intimidating actions of both these institutions and demand an urgent probe in the matter.” Also, they have condemned the treatment of women workers and urged an inquiry to “ensure respect and rights of the women and labourers are not derogated further and a safe, secure environment is created.”

The network has also shed light on the false FIR against Pranamika Saikia, one of the girls among the 19 workers from Assam. Calling the forceful detention of workers as “an act of violation of constitutional rights,” they have demanded immediate action against the management of both SANSE- Society for Social Security and Empowerment and Vardhaman textiles “for using intimidating and harassment approaches against the girls.” They have contacted concerned civil societies and individuals to register cases against “trauma and derogation of women along with unhealthy working conditions and violation of labour rights.”

In addition, Women in Governance Network and Purva Bharati Educational Trust of Assam and HP Workers Solidarity of Himachal Pradesh have urged ASRLM to take “appropriate action against the concerned officers of ASRLM for their negligence of duties, violation of SOP protocols, negligence of the wellbeing of the girls who are on placement under the program and for not supporting the girls to come back home during COVID-19 pandemic.” Cases have also been filed against Vardhman Textiles “for blatant violation of MHA and SC guidelines on facilitation of return of migrant labourers by forcefully holding back the girls from returning home during COVID-19 pandemic.”