Peoples’ Struggle for Basic Labor Rights in Gujarat – When Grossly Under-Paid GISF Revolted

Being born from the womb of labor itself
Trying to break the Bonds of Oppression…Is the Worker! (originally a Gujarati song)

GISF Rally
GISF Rally

It is said that when the people are unduly suppressed there comes a time when they stand up and revolt at the risk of their lives. This is what exactly happened in Gandhinagar city of Gujarat on October 10, 2011. While Modi was organizing his goodwill (sadbhavna) campaigns all over Gujarat, close to 3000 GISF personnel, supported by the Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) and Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), marched over 30 kilometers from the Town Hall in Ahmedabad to the Pathik Ashram in Gandhinagar and declared an indefinite fast unto death.

GISF Jawans on Hunger Strike
GISF Jawans on Hunger Strike

Facing all sorts of torture, humanly inconceivable for 14 years since they were instituted in 1997, working long hours, often 20 at a stretch, 365 days in a year, they were paid a measly Rupees 4,600 per month or 153/- a day. The average minimum wage instituted by the government was Rs.210/- a day.

They were not even considered government employees and excluded from the wage increases. Multiple scams ensured that their basic economic security benefits the PF and ESIC (Employees State Insurance Corporation), the medical allowances even uniform fees deducted from their monthly salary were siphoned.

GISF Jawan admitted to hospital
GISF Jawan admitted to hospital

Functioning as the key security personnel at offices of the CM, IAS and IPS officers and all vital installations and highly sensitive areas, the job of GISF jawans entails a high degree of stress and risk. Yet they had no provision for weekly offs or holidays, they were not allowed a single leave even if they fell sick. If you think this is cruel then what the women jawans faced was unimaginably inhuman.

They were not permitted to take maternity leaves and threatened with dismissal even if they took holidays in the last days of pregnancy. In the words of one lady security personnel –

I was on my feet till I felt my water break and was rushed to the nearest government hospital. My mother was called, but she arrived only after my child was born. Three days later I had to be back at work. I could not even breast-feed my child.1

More and More Jawans Hospitalized
More and More Jawans Hospitalized

What could be more perverse and brutal towards the life, security and dignity of a worker and the health of the woman and her child? These chilling exactions characteristic of slavery exposed the Chief Minister’s ‘sadbhavana for the poorest’ and ‘safe maternity to women and children’ as blatant lies. The strike continued to its tenth day with as many as 125 jawans being hospitalized.

GFTU Secretary and GISF Society Employee Union President Amrish Patel, Lawyer, deplored-

The country has got freedom but GISF personnel are yet to get independence. Our parliament and assembly did make laws but these provisions have not been implemented in the security forces, where personnel have to work even on Republic Day and Independence Day, that too without salary. This is not so much about pay hike; as about getting minimum wages. The government cannot run away from its responsibility.

Instead of responding to their demands with an urgency, Modi’s government looked for ways and means to thwart the strike and avoid redress and reparation, resorting to illegal threats of dismissal and pressures on the workers to leave the union. Feigning a dearth of cash and resources and losses was their means of putting profits before the needs of the workers.

After repeated petitions and a protracted legal battle by GFTU and JSM, the security personnel finally achieved significant improvements in pay and benefits that included pension and leave. Their fixed salary was increased from Rs. 600 to 1900, they were granted 36 days of leave in a year and maternity leave to the women workers.

A cruel, exploitative labor regime, is the inevitable fallout of the development model in Gujarat designed to satiate the unbridled greed of multinational corporations and catering only to the privileged sections of society.

In the words of Pravin Mishra film-maker, columnist and human rights activist who closely witnessed the struggle from day one –

The advertisements of the development and prosperity of Gujarat do not tell the whole story. The prosperity of one section is essentially at the cost of another whose sweat and toil has created the wealth. The GISF jawans’ struggle is not merely for survival but it voices the grievances of millions of marginalized working people who have been systematically exploited to make Gujarat ‘vibrant’.

While Army Jawans are the sentinels of the Indian border, Gujarat Industrial Security Force jawans are the sentinels of all the important institutions and offices in the state including CM’s office. While Narendra Modi sheds crocodile tears for the Army Jawans who lay their lives for the country, his Government cannot even afford minimum wages and labor rights for the GISF jawans who toil day in and day out to keep Gujarat safe.

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  1. They Fast for a life of Dignity by Mallika Sarabhai