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Workers want to rush home after tragedy at factory

For around 5,000 young workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and other northern States, who have come all the way to Kodli village in Sedam taluk of Kalaburagi district to work as casual labourers, the past week has been a nightmare.

Last Thursday, six of their colleagues were crushed to death under heavy iron beams at the construction site of Shree Cement Ltd. Many more were critically injured when the scaffolding and limestone stockpile structure that they were constructing collapsed on them.

The next morning, they called for a strike to express their solidarity with the victims and staged a demonstration blaming the company for not taking proper safety measures. Their demands included paying proper compensation to the families of the victims, bringing the bodies to the construction site to allow them to pay their last respects, and taking action against those who failed to ensure workers’ safety. This led to a lathi-charge and bursting of teargas shells.

“Workers pelted stones and police lathi-charged and burst teargas shells. Everything was over and the situation was brought under control. Yet, the police continued to chase and beat the workers till evening. They dragged labourers who were sick out of their sheds and brutally thrashed them,” Gulab Kumar and Binayak Mishra, workers from Bihar, alleged. Satyanarayan Singh said he was having his lunch in the shed when police dragged him out and “mercilessly” beat him. Vijayendra Bhimapremi, from Rajasthan, termed it as “a daylong police terror” in the labourers’ colony.

‘More attacks’

“Police attack on workers went on not just in the colony, but in the nearby villages and towns as well. Those who fled the colony to go back to their native places were captured in Kodli and Sedam and ruthlessly beaten up by the police,” Ram Pyare Singh, a worker from Bihar, said. “Around 15 of us spent the whole night in the open fields," Brijesh, also from Bihar, said.

However, police dismissed the allegations. “Though the workers damaged the factory and the vehicles, we used restraint. It was only after they pelted stones and injured 10 policemen that we used force. After watching the video footages provided by the media, we went to the labourers’ colony to identify and arrest those involved in violence, and not to beat them up,” Panchakshari Salimath, Police Inspector attached to Sedam Circle, told
The Hindu
.

The workers, who were earning around Rs. 350 a day, are now keen to go back to their native places. “But we don’t have money to travel and for food as one month wages are still pending. Around 1,000 workers somehow mobilised some money for food and left for their places in trains without tickets,” Chotu Yadav from Bihar, said.

With uncertainty over resumption of work, many of them said they are finding the going tough.

The under-construction factory authorities were not available for comment.

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