On January 19, 1982, comrade Bhola Paswan, a peasant leader was leading a huge mobilisation of workers, peasants, agricultural workers and students at Babur Bazar on the Banaras-Mirzapur road (then in Banaras district, but now in Chandauli district), as part of All India Strike called upon by the Central Trade Unions and Federations.
The protestors organised a peaceful blockade on the road and the transport was totally frozen. The peaceful protest saw brutal police action without any warning. The police opened indiscriminate firing on the protestors. Comrade Bhola Paswan died in the police firing, but the protest was not halted. His young brother, comrade Lal Chand Paswan, a student and convener of the SFI unit at Ashok Inter College took up leadership showing enormous courage. He was also shot by the police. Another 32 comrades from mass class organisations were injured.
The Congress government of Uttar Pradesh and the police took away the dead bodies of two martyrs to a distance 75 kms away at Ramsanchi and burned them without informing their family.
A similar story of courage and sacrifice was written on the same day by the agricultural workers in Tamil Nadu who organised successful strikes in the rural areas along with trade unions. Police opened the firing on the protesters under the direction of AIADMK government and three comrades were killed. Comrade Anjan and Comrade Nagooran, activists of All India Agricultural Workers Union, were killed in police firing at Thirumagnanam of Nagapattinam district and one activist of Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Mazdoor Union comrade Gnanasekharan was killed in Thiru Thurai Poondy.
This was a successful strike that sowed the seeds of future united struggles of workers and the peasantry. This was an important step in the journey of change of system in India in favour of the working class and for establishing an egalitarian society through people’s democratic revolution. The day witnessed overall 10 martyrs (workers, peasants and agricultural labourers) giving the supreme sacrifice of life in different parts of the country in brutal repressions unleashed by the governments.
Most of those killed were poor agricultural workers who had come out on the streets in solidarity with the working class. Such was the broader unity and leadership in the first countrywide general strike and band in independent India. The urban and rural workers joined together in a day’s strike all over the country and lead one of the most glorious episodes in the history of militant struggles in independent India.
This strike was the result of a consistent campaign over one year. A meeting of Central Trade Unions’ was conducted on March 23, 1981, at Delhi, which decided to organise a National Convention of the working class at the then Bombay (now Mumbai) on June 4, 1981. This was the effort to unite all unions on workers’ issues and launch united struggles.
The convention was attended by delegates of major trade unions, like CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, BMS, representatives from the All India Federations of government employees, Public Sector employees and others from all over India participated in large numbers. The convention adopted a 13-point demand charter which reflects the visionary approach of the leadership of the trade unions.
Apart from the basic demands of the working class, the charter of demands included demands like minimum wages for agricultural workers, a comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers, remunerative prices for the peasants’ produce, the sale of all essential commodities such as food grains, edible oils, cloth, sugar, etc. at subsidised prices through a network of shops. All this in a comprehensive public distribution system under the control and supervision of popular committees and stringent measures against black-marketeers, hoarders and smugglers, speculators and officers protecting them. These demands raised in the charter were the key to mobilize the peasantry, agricultural workers and other sections of the society.
The convention decided to organise an All India General Strike on January 19, 1982, and a series of regional conventions for its preparation, rallies in different parts of the country and a Parliament March. The call for the strike was given under the banner of the National Campaign Committee by the trade unions only, but peasantry, agricultural workers and other sections of masses joined the strike on the basis of the demand charter.
A massive march to Parliament was organised on November 23 in the same year, which was attended by lakhs of workers from all over the country. The Boat Club was completely filled by the workers, including agricultural workers, who have come from all parts of the country.
There was an environment of resistance built on conscious effort which resulted in the huge success of the strike. The Central Government and various state governments used all means to disrupt the preparation for the strike. There were rounds of transfers, threatening, fake cases before the strike and finally police firing on the day of the strike, but nothing could stop history from registering this valiant effort of the working class.
After the strike, trade unions decided to continue this unity and stood with the families of the martyrs’ families. In Tamil Nadu, CITU decided to collect ₹1 from each member every year and give it to the families of our comrades. They collected a fund of ₹40,000 for them in the first year. Since then, many all India strikes of trade unions have been organised. Joined by the rural masses i.e. the peasantry and agricultural workers through rural bands, all India strikes have proven to be quite effective in recent times.
In present times, the unity of the peasantry, rural and urban proletariat is more important when there is a greater attack on the working class. Peasants are engaged in struggle and agricultural workers are missing as stakeholders from all policy decisions.
Stagnant wages, price rise, weakening of social security schemes along with huge unemployment (both urban and rural) has further worsened conditions. In a situation when the ruling party of the country is dividing people, the legacy of a united struggle of January 19, 1982 unites the working class against the common enemy.
The situation now is seeing people from all walks of life engaged in a struggle against an authoritarian government, which is guided by the ideology of Hindutva, an Indian version of the fascist ideology of the Nazis.
The BJP is implementing neoliberal policies which are making the lives of masses miserable, introducing wage codes to take away the hard-earned labour laws, directly working against the Constitution and dividing people through nefarious acts like the CAA and the NRC. The diverse struggle of people in different parts of the country, in different modes and forms but in one spirit, unites India.
This is the continuation of the legacy of the martyrs’ of 1982’s All India Strike on January 19, which was joined by various sections of toiling masses on their issues, thus unifying an India of diversity.