By Nodeep Kaur | MALAYSIA |
My name is Nodeep Kaur and I am a labour rights activist. I am 23 years old and I come from a Dalit family of activists in rural Punjab. While my mother and sisters are members of different unions that work with Dalit landless agricultural labourers, students, and workers, I am a member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan that fights for workers’ rights in the Kundli Industrial Area in Sonipat, Haryana.
I have been an activist for as long as I can remember. I understood, very early on, the class and caste inequalities in our society. After reading books written on and by philosophers and political theorists such as Karl Heinrich Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (better known as Lenin), my resolve to fight the injustice meted out to the so-called lower caste and the working class grew stronger. I have been taking part in protests and demonstrations along with my sisters and mother since my school days.
Being aware of our rights and having the will to fight to protect them often landed my family and me in trouble.
Being aware of our rights and having the will to fight to protect them often landed my family and me in trouble. My family was forced to leave Lakhewali—a village in Sri Muktsar Sabhib district, Punjab—because my mother, who was an agricultural labourer, was trying to unionise other labourers to ensure that their rights to fair payment and better working conditions were not compromised. Agitated by her actions, the zamindars (landlords) made sure that my family was boycotted and no one gave us work in their fields. That’s when my education was interrupted.
Before being arrested by the Sonipat Police on January 12th, 2021 on false charges of attempt to murder, rioting, and assault, I was working at FIEM Industries Limited at Kundli. I used to manufacture 2,000 motorcycle indicators in a day at the factory and was being paid INR 7,500 to 8,000 per month for 10 hours of work. I was fired from the job after my arrest. During weekdays, I used to work at the factory, and on weekends, I would organise and hold meetings with workers, especially migrant workers, to spread awareness about their rights and listen to their grievances. But ever since the farmers’ protest broke out, I had been paying regular visits to the Singhu border to show my solidarity with the cause of the farmers.
During my time in jail, I received a lot of support from people across the world and I was eventually released on bail in February 2021. This support has been very encouraging not just for me, but also for my colleagues from the union; now everyone knows what we stand for and what our fight is all about. But this recognition has come with its own set of challenges. Since my release, I have been looking for jobs in the industrial area, but no company is willing to hire me or my fellow union members as they fear retaliation from us in case of exploitation.
So, now I have decided to dedicate my entire time to activism. I have been living in a makeshift tent with union members and workers at the farmers’ protest site at Delhi’s Singhu border.
5.00 AM: I wake up early on Sundays because all the workers are at home and I have to accompany the other union members on a door-to-door outreach and labour rights awareness drive. We mostly operate in labour colonies at Kundli such as Prem colony, Pyau, Bahalgarh, and Rai among others.
On other days, I get up at 5.30 AM because I have to reach the Kundli’s traffic junction where all the labourers working in various factories in the area gather at 6 AM to be picked up by contractors and employers. We talk to them and distribute pamphlets with information on labour rights and our contact details.
Labour activist Nodeep Kaur granted bail (Asia Samachar, 26 Feb 2020)