The encounter killing of 20 tamil workers in Seshachalam forests of Andhra Pradesh in the context of redwood tree smuggling, was yet another instance of working class paying with its blood for the avarice of the capital and political mafia. A fact finding team constituted in the aftermath of the encounter, recorded the political and international capital nexus of the smuggling and how the target of the police to evade actions on the real culprits shifted to migrants – workers and otherwise. The encounter killing brought to light, the imprisonment of thousands of workers and tribals from Villupuram, Salem, Dharmapuri and Thiruvannamalai districts. Majority of these workers are still languishing as undertrials for more than 2 years.
A hunger fast in Valluvar kottam by the relatives of the jailed workers highlighted the plight of the migrants and sought Tamil Nadu Government’s intervention in release of these workers. The hunger fast is the 5th protest organized by All India People’s Forum, a federation of trade unions and human rights organizations including AICCTU, NTUI, ULF and NCHRO. Earlier protests were organized in Villupuram, Kalatakurichi, Velli malai and Thachiraya palayam.
Attending the protest, the women protestors said that their relatives – sons, husbands – were unskillled manual workers and were taken out of their village by contractors. The fact finding report has documented the socio economic profile of workers as mostly tribals with very little land holdings used in rain fed agriculture. The lack of viable income opportunities and the promise of high income by these contractors are the factors for choosing this employment, according to the report. The report highlighted the lack of implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006 and lack of political will to improve economic condition of the tribals.
In addition to imprisonment of workers, the report has also profiled the arrest of visitors from Tamil Nadu by Andhra Police. These visitors either on pilgrimage visit or other social visits are picked up based on a social profile. Hundreds of workers have also been incarcerated on the alleged murder of 2 forest officials. Over 430 workers including 100 Telugu speaking workers had been arrested. While the local workers had been given bail, the tamil workers are continued to be held without bail. As the workers languish in jails, the relatives are left to spending thousands of rupees to support the legal aid for the workers. A woman protestor, whose 23 year old son was imprisoned, said that they have paid over 50000 Rs to lawyers.
Gajendran of RYA, while highlighting these aspects, demanded state intervention and legal aid for the languishing workers. On the same day as protest, the Tamil Nadu State Government has announced government employment to the relatives of 20 workers who were killed in the encounter. While appreciating this initiative, he said that the employment announced by the Government as anganwadi helpers are deemed part time and low paying and will not alleviate the conditions of the victims’ relatives. Other speakers including Rajaguru, Shenbagavalli, lawyers representatives addressed the meeting.
The fact finding report can be downloaded here – FFT-Report-Redwoord-Felling-Workers-Encounter.