Pune University is one of the most prestigious universities in India. Around a year ago, it was renamed. The name of the legendary social reformer, Savitribai Phule, was added. Savitribai Phule, who sacrificed her whole life for uplifting of women, underprivileged and oppressed castes through education and radical social empowerment activities, but does the university administration really follow the path of Savirtibai Phule?
Let’s have a look at an ongoing struggle in the university. Like any other organisation, university also has a force of security guards. The security guards belong to oppressed castes, mostly Dalits. Most of these guards are working in university since last 10 to 15 years but on a contract basis. Every year or after a specified period of time when the contract is over, the contract is renewed and given to a new (third party) agency. But, the plight of the security guards remain the same irrespective of the agency. This has been happening over the years. But, what has actually happened this year? This time, when the contract was about to get over on 1st December, security guards were expecting to get accommodated in the new contract as usual. However, this has not happened. The new agency has put new security norms for security guards regarding one’s height and similar criteria. Thus, near about 65 to 70 workers were made ineligible for the post of security guards according to these new norms. At the same time, some workers not fulfilling these norms were accommodated when they bribed the contractor etc. Since 1st December, many of these security guards have became jobless and the question of daily bread is hovering over their families.
When comrade Sheetal of New Socialist Alternative, Pune came to know about this issue, she immediately met with the workers and discussed their issue in detail. She realised the need to lead these workers as they were totally depressed and not united to fight against this unjust move. Comrade Sheetal arranged several meetings with workers and urged them on the need to unite and fight for their rights. Also, in one of our branch meetings, it was decided to take this struggle forward. Since 8th December, workers have been protesting in the university. University administration initially neglected the protests. But, we stood firm with the workers and started shouting slogans, singing protest songs, arranged rallies in the university premises etc. This forced the university administration to start discussion with workers and the leading organisations.
Apart from New Socialist Alternative, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Maharashtra Navnirman Kamagar Sena (belonging to the sectarian, right wing MNS) have also joined the struggle. Since 8th December till date, the university administration has tried to divide the workers and leading organisations, police have threatened workers. But, despite our serious political differences with other leading political groups involved in the protest, we together with the workers have been able to overcome the odds and the struggle is still on.
At first, Vice-Chancellor and university administration tried to stay aside saying this is not their issue and it is solely contractors wish whom to enrol. But, in one of the meetings with Vice-Chancellor comrade Youvraj of New Socialist Alternative, Pune strongly opposed this stand of Vice-Chancellor and answered him that the university is a Public institution, not a private company and the university administration cannot run away from performing their duties. During 2-3 meetings with the Vice- Chancellor, the leadership has forced him to look into the issue. As regards to the powers a Vice- chancellor has over employing the security guards directly, they can easily employ them for a specified duration and the whole contract thing can be looked in detail later. This is the official stand of ‘Guard Board’- State Government’s organisation that takes care of these processes. But, Vice- Chancellor wishes to run away from everything. For one of the ‘scheduled’ talks at around 5 PM one day, the Vice-Chancellor avoided to discuss the issue. The workers and leading organisations sat outside his office until 9:30 PM at night. After an agitated protest, he agreed to talk the next day.
Since the 1st day, many political organisations, student organisations from university and outside university have supported this struggle. New Socialist Alternative, Pune thinks this struggle not being solely related to workers but also concerning the youth today as ‘Contract’ system is going to exploit them when they will be a part of the market. With this attitude, we have taken this struggle among students of university and appealed them to support the struggle.
It has been more than 15 days already, but the university administration is still following the old tactics of dividing and threatening workers and leadership. They asked women security guards to end the struggle as they will be enrolled first and then male security guards’ enrolment will be looked into later. All the workers and New Socialist Alternative, Pune have demanded that all of them must be enrolled at the same time. New Socialist Alternative, Pune is determined to take this struggle to an end and is stressing the need of taking this struggle to a next level amongst workers and the leadership. From 23rd December, striking workers are going to go on an aggressive protest in front of Vice-Chancellor’s building. All the supporting organisations are going to be part of this agitation.
1) The agitating security guards must be enrolled with immediate effect in order that they can earn wages to survive for now.
2) All the security guards working on contract basis should be enrolled on a permanent basis.
3) Put an end to Contract system.
Sheetal Alhat & Manohar Yadav
New Socialist Alternative, Pune