Release Com. Dhaitr Sharma NOW! Stop the Attack on Dolu Tea Plantation workers

New Delhi, 9 November 2022:

The New Trade Union Initiative strongly deplores the unlawful arrest of Comrade Dharitri Sharma, Cachar District Secretary of our affiliate Assam Majoori Shramik Union (AMSU). Com. Sharma was picked up without an arrest warrant from near his residence at Jaraitala, Cachar, Assam, allegedly because of his “Maoist” links, by the Assam Police Crime Branch. In May 2022 too Com. Sharma had been similarly detained without justification or following the due process of law. He, along with other office bearers of AMSU, have been subject to constant harassment and threats of arrest over the last year. Dharitri Sharma has been taken to Guwahati and produced before the court for remand.

This preventive arrest comes ahead of the planned protest for today, 9 November 2022, and subsequent call for a complete shut down tomorrow, 10 November 2022, by the AMSU at the Dolu Tea Garden. The 2000 workers of the tea plantation were evicted and the tea bushes bulldozed by force by the state police. The tea plantation is the proposed site for the new Silchar airport. The acquisition of 2500 bighas of land forcibly without any due process has significantly reduced the plantation area and workers are apprehensive of losing their jobs arbitrarily. Workers have been agitating en mass against the land acquisition and rejected the proposal of acquiring parts of the plantation through public hearings. When the AMSU challenged the acquisition process as violation of law, the district administration and the plantation management resorted to coercive measures in a concerted manner to suppress the workers’ movement and the leadership of AMSU. With the bushes bulldozed, workers are not able to meet their productivity target and hence earn their full daily wage. The permanent workers do not even get work for six days a week and the casual workers have become unemployed. The workers are now demanding the return of the seized 2500 bighas of land to a workers’ cooperative. With the 2 day protest and mobilisation call by the Dolu unit of AMSU, the state police came down heavily in the workers and the union leaders. A team from crime branch from Guwahati came and unlawfully arrested Comrade Sharma. Subsequently the District administration denied permission for holding a mass meeting on the 9th.

The arrest of Com. Sharma on false and fabricated allegations is clearly aimed at spreading fear amongst workers and to intimidate them into giving up their protest. This is an attack on the right to protest against grave injustice meted out to the workers by the tea plantation owners, a pliant state government and a brutal police force. This is a patent assault on the democratic rights especially the democratic right to dissent.

The NTUI calls upon the Government of Assam to:

  1. Withdraw all false and fabricated charges against Com. Dharitri Sharma.
  2. Ensure that the plantation management follows the due process and do not act ultra vires. As the majority of workers belong to Asom Mojuri Shramik Union, the approval must be accorded to the union’s Dolu Tea Garden unit committees to ensure implementation of the process of collective bargaining.
  3. Tri-partite negotiation must be initiated to address workers’ problems and resolve their demands.
  4. Ensure that workers and activists are allowed to carry on with their peaceful democratic actions, including protest, by the police and retrograde and divisive forces.

The NTUI stands united with the Dolu Tea Garden workers and salutes them for their grit and determination in their struggle. Only workers so united and courageous win struggles and defeat capital and its regressive state.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary