People will never forget the 13-month-long historic strike in 2021 for farmers' rights. 711 farmers died during the lengthy strike resulting from the corporatisation of agriculture. The central government had no choice but to bend its knees. The government had to agree to withdraw all three harmful laws on December 9, 2021. At that time, the government signed a settlement agreement with the leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, but it still needs to be implemented.
The interim budget presentation recently showed the government's confidence in coming to power for the third time. However, according to political analysts, it was an arrogant government move. They foresee that the settlement provisions with farmers of that day will not be implemented. Moreover, there are indications that the repealed laws will be reintroduced in a new form.
The old rules were tailored towards corporate businesses. The Corporates are also planning to prepare for the third term. It is predicted that keeping silent in this situation will be the end for Indian farmers. Considering this reality, the joint farmers' movement has been forced to resume strike in 2024. As part of it, on February 13, a protest rally of one lakh farmers is leaving Amritsar's Golden Temple with tens of thousands of tractors and trailers to join a strike at Delhi on February 16 to fight for their rights.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and 10 trade unions have also called for a nationwide rural bandh and industrial strike on February 16 against the anti-farmer and anti-worker policies of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.
The demands tabled by the National Industrial-Rural Bandh are "to increase minimum (crop MSP) support price, to raise the minimum wage to Rs 26,000 per month for unskilled workers, to repeal four labour codes and amendments made to IPC/CrPC, to ensure guaranteed employment with fundamental workers' rights including stopping privatisation of education and health institutions, contractualisation of jobs, to strengthen MGNREGS with 200 days work per person per year and Rs 600 as daily wage, to restore the old pension scheme and to provide social security mechanism to all informal workers including online platform gig workers".
A decade of 'Acche Din', 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao', 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas', 'Vocal for local', and 'Make in India' has become a goose cry in the light of objective facts. Because powerful propaganda is being spread without considering the realities of the people in the social fabric.
India's latest decennial population census was in 2011. The next census, which was supposed to occur in 2021, was delayed by the pandemic and has yet to be conducted. The statistics would reveal the reality of people's social situation.
The father of Indian statistics, Prasanta Mahalanobis, once opined, "The fundamental aim of statistics is to give determinate and adequate knowledge of reality with the help of numbers and numerical analysis". It means that Indian social issues disclosed by different national and international agencies are a mirror of present society.
India has been relegated to 111th out of 125 countries on the Global Hunger Index, while profits for the country's big capitalists have increased by 30 per cent over the past five years. At the threshold of the third largest economy in the world, India ranks 132 out of 191 countries in the Global Human Development Index.
According to an ILO research paper from 2022, actual earnings for the working class in India declined by 20 per cent. The report stated that growing inflation causes a significant fall in real wages. During this period, there was an unprecedented rise in prices.
The Finance Ministry predicted in a research published on January 29 that real GDP growth in India will be closer to 7 per cent in 2024–2025, ahead of the Interim Union Budget. However, India ranks between 140 and 125 in terms of GDP per capita, a measure of the purchasing power of its inhabitants worldwide. People's earnings have decreased since unemployment is at a fifty-year high at 430 million. It means 5 million people join the potential labour force annually, out of which less than 1 million get jobs.
The problem is that unpaid and underpaid workers are rising, the quality of white-collar jobs is declining, and self-employment is rising, especially under the mudra loan system. Most low-income earners are faced with a desperate choice. As a result, the government had to allow Israel to hire unemployed Indian workers to replace Palestinian workers and take the unemployed from India to the war zone.
Non-organised sector workers are on the rise. According to the Economic Survey, 2021-22, there were 43.99 crore unorganised workers in 2019–20. Over 28.96 crore workers had registered on the eShram portal, a digital registration domain for unorganised workers in India, as of July 18, 2023. A mere 5.58 per cent of registered informal labourers make between Rs 10,001 and Rs 15,000 per month, while 92.37 per cent make less than Rs 10,000.
A new trend is appearing in the labour market. Workers are termed voluntary service providers, a scheme for employment, especially in service sectors like domestic workers, the health sector, and gig-platform employees. Zomato delivery people and Uber drivers are not workers but self-employed or entrepreneurs. Thus, their status of decent work and workers' minimum wages have been denied.
In both the public and commercial sectors, it is now common to subcontract or outsource (contract out) work. Privatisation of PSUs in the service of the corporate sector as a policy is intensifying the move to hire contract labour. The government is trying to lower the minimum wage through the Wage Code by introducing a lower basic wage, further depressing wages and pushing workers further into poverty.
The present government had already made its intentions clear when the finance minister announced that it would privatise all PSUs (barring a few), including "Navaratnams", profit-making units. Nationalised banks have also become targets of this policy. The process of monetising government assets is another form of privatisation.
The government introduced four labour codes favouring the country's corporate sector and foreign capital to further deceive the working class and remove their hard-won rights. Employees PF (Employees Provident Fund) is open to corporate loot.
In the last parliament session, one of the documents on the table contained data related to school dropouts. It was a written reply from the union education minister in response to a question from one of the MPs. That document cited that in the academic year 2021-22, Xth-class students' national average dropout rate was 20.6 per cent.
Last year, based on Government data, the Hindu newspaper reported that approximately 35 lakh students did not attend the 10th class final examination in 2021-22. In this research article, the author claimed that the Indian average school dropout rate was 30 per cent, which varied from state to state in the same period.
In addition, recently, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) titled 'Beyond Basics' shows the quality of Indian students' learning. It has been cited that among the enrolled students, about 25 per cent of this age group of 14 to 18 cannot read standard II-level text fluently in their regional language. In addition, the report said only 57.3 per cent could read sentences in English, and of those, almost three-quarters could only understand their meanings.
On June 9, 2021, UNICEF reported that the number of children between the ages of five and fourteen who work as children in urbanised regions has increased by 54 per cent. Furthermore, in 2022, research conducted by the Campaign Against Child Labour estimates that there are about 12,666,377 child labourers in India overall.
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2020 records state the total number of missing children was 1,08,234, including 59,262 children who went missing and 48,972 children remaining untraced.
As per a Statista study in 2021, more than 77 thousand children in India were missing. In comparison to the previous year, the number of missing children in the country increased significantly. Many of these cases were likely to have close links to human trafficking and child labour.
In short, false propaganda is being spread that India is emerging as the world's largest economic power and that all its people have borne the weight of their lives in this economic achievement. The media and a few research centres are conniving to hold the umbrella. In this context, the National Industrialist Rural Bandh held on February 16 will stand as a mirror holding the Indian society to the realities.