Jharkhand's worker run hospital shut despite no proven Naxal links
The hospital was shut in 2017 after Majdur Sanghatan Samiti that ran it was banned.
On May 5, 2015, the Madhuban (Giridih) branch of the trade union Majdur Sanghatan Samiti (MSS) in Jharkhand started Shramajeevi hospital in the Madhuban town. Hundreds of workers and other people were treated for free every day at the hospital that was set up with workers' donations. They were given free medicines as well. In 2017, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power in Jharkhand, they banned the MSS, alleging that it had connections with the banned Communist Party of India (CPI) - Maoist, the hospital was shut as well. Although the ban on the trade union was lifted by the Jharkhand High Court earlier this year, the workers still await the hospital to be re-opened.
'Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti' (MSS) was registered in the Bihar Labour Department by senior advocate Satyanarayan Bhattacharya, named under the registration number, 3113/89 in 1989. It brought together different workers and educated them on their rights. MSS worked to organise the various types of unorganised workers like Naka-workers, Doli workers, etc. Naka workers are the workers who assemble at junctions (Nakas) in the morning to look for workers and Doli workers are those who carry devotees and visitors to a Jain temple on Parasnath Mountain in the area, on their backs. It was to help these workers that the union started a hospital in 2015.
Why was Shramajeevi Hospital important?
Thanuram Mahto, a member of MSS told Indie Journal, "A 10-bed hospital was started by the workers, for the workers in Giridih, Jharkhand. Workers from different unions saved their money and donated it for the cause of the workers’ hospital. Some even gave Rs 50 or Rs 100, a valuable part of their hard-earned money. The entire cost of the hospital was run with those wholehearted donations. No fee was charged from anybody, it was completely free for all."
Photo credit - Workers Unity
The hospital was important for the workers in an area where getting good treatment at affordable rates was difficult. "There are government hospitals here, but no one cares. In the government hospital here, the same set of medicines tends to be prescribed for every ailment. Patients are neglected. We took good care of them at Shramjeevi," Dr Sangeeta Singh, who worked at the hospital for a few months before it was shut says.
She worked at Shramjeevi Hospital to serve the workers alongside working in another private hospital. "The hospital had a compounder, a female doctor (i.e., herself), two staff members and two assistants to help with the work. And this hospital worked for public service. We would do everything from bringing the medicines to treating patients. The people did not know much about medicines and often couldn’t afford them,” Sangeeta says.
Why was the hospital shut down?
The year 2017 was a very important year for the workers' trade union, as it was the fiftieth year of the great Naxalite armed peasant uprising and the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, workers' rights activist and MSS member Bacha Singh said. "It was celebrated all over the world with vigour by people from different classes and cultures. It was also celebrated in India, especially in Jharkhand by many political parties, trade unions and mass organisations."
However, the same year, an incident took place in the state that shook the state and proved to be a nightmare for the trade unions. "On June 9, 2017, Motilal Baske, a Doli labourer, who was a member of MSS, was assassinated by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), after tagging him as a Naxalite. Motilal Baske was an ordinary Doli labourer and not a Naxalite," Bacha added.
Baske's assassination sparked agitation in the Giridih district. "Under the leadership of Mazdoor Sanghatan Samiti, an anti-repression front was formed. The agitation started from Giridih district and reached the capital. The police encounter case was well-publicised," Bacha said.
Photo credit - Niraj Sinha for The Wire Hindi
An agitation broke out in Jharkhand. The former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and the current Chief Minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader and present Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren were also part of the movement.
Bacha says the BJP-ruled Jharkhand government hatched a conspiracy against the protesting workers of MSS. As a result, on December 22, 2017, without any prior notice, the government abruptly declared MSS as a frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist) and banned it.
"After the announcement of the ban, all our offices were hurriedly closed. Many of our leaders were imprisoned under the black draconian law Unlawful Activity Prevention (Amendment) Act (UAPA). All the bank accounts of our unions were frozen, so were many of our personal bank accounts," Bacha Singh recounted.
Dr Sangeeta added, “Shramjeevi Hospital was run under the auspices of Majdur Sanghatan Samiti. So they closed the hospital as well. I was there when the ban was imposed. That day the police let me see all the patients who had come to consult me there at the hospital. Then they gave me time to pack all things. Later they sealed everything."
On February 11, 2022, Jharkhand High Court, in an order, said, “The State Government has not submitted any such evidence, according to which the MSS could be considered as an ally organisation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Also, they have never been reported to have been involved in any kind of terrorist or unlawful activities that could cause anarchy.” The ban on the organisation was lifted. However, the Shramajeevi Hospital remains closed.
मुझे याद है जब मज़दूर संगठन समिति पर 2017 में माओवादियों का मुखौटा संगठन बताकर झारखंड सरकार ने प्रतिबंध लगाया था, तो सभी अख़बारों ने इसे पहले पन्ने की खबर बनाया था।— Rupesh Kumar Singh (@RupeshKSingh85) February 23, 2022
अब जब हाईकोर्ट ने यह कहते हुए प्रतिबंध हटा दिया कि सरकार कोई भी साक्ष्य देने में नाकाम रही है, तब झारखंड के 1/3
Shramjeevi hospital was a workers' hospital. Since the hospital was located in a rural area, many poor labourers and farmers came here for treatment. But since the closure, they have been forced to visit other hospitals in the area. There is a shortage of medicines in these hospitals and are often understaffed. So due to inconvenience, they had to go to Ranchi or different places.
Mahato says that the Shramjeevi hospital should be reopened. "But one or two people can't make this decision themselves. For that, a meeting of the workers will have to be held. Discussions will have to happen. Money will have to be organised. If all of that comes together, the hospital can then see light again.”