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Sirpur Paper Mills workers’ lives stay torn apart

Sirpur Paper Mills workers’ lives stay torn apart
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Sirpur Paper Mills workers’ lives stay torn apart. As a poignant scene, it could melt the heart of the most emotionless human being.

Hyderabad: As a poignant scene, it could melt the heart of the most emotionless human being. There were no wails as such but the trauma and anguish that was being coped for close to ten months, for no fault of theirs, was writ large on the faces of hundreds of men and women, who gathered at the Indira Park here on Sunday morning.

A volunteer makes a point that each one will get one food packet to striking workers of Sirpur Paper Mills, who came to Hyderabad without having food on their journey to press for their demands, at Indira Park in Hyderabad on Sunday. (Right) A file picture of Sirpur Paper Mills     Photo:  Rakesh Kanchukatla

Driven to despair and pushed to the wall since the time the once iconic Sirpur Paper Mills (SPM) stopped paying wages and salaries, the workers numbering 3,700 (inclusive of permanent and those on contract) are living a life of penury that has already claimed 15 lives.

Unable to repay the loans that were taken or unable to provide two square meals a day to the family, three workers committed suicides while the remaining 12 died of shock when told that they would not be getting salaries till things got better at the mill.

Consequent to the bizarre turn of events, services of the contract workers were terminated while the permanent ones were mandated to attend despite the lack of any work since the ‘shutdown.’ “We just have to punch at the office and return home.

That is the ten-month ordeal we are bearing up with,’ rues Shankar, one of the permanent workers of SPM, who is sitting in the protest site, along with others who hope to bring their plight to the notice of the State Government. Another worker quips that the ‘government is not taking any steps to redress our grievances nor is it serious about our well-being.’

“My children are studying in ninth and tenth standard. The skipped their annual examinations because we were not able to clear the dues,’ laments D Radhika, wife of yet another permanent worker. Choking between gasps, she is all-emotion while pointing out in exasperation, ‘if the government does not reopen SPM immediately, we have no other option but contemplate suicide.’

Having become bankrupt and no earnings to repay the loan taken for his daughter’s marriage, Vasa Sudhakar killed himself leaving his wife and son in eternal misery. His wife Vasa Lakshmi is doing menial jobs to make ends meet and help her son, Sai, appear for his tenth examination.

Many women who came to Hyderabad without any breakfast or food said that economic compulsions and the keenness to provide education to the children were sounding death-knell to almost every family of the workers, whose life was worse than those living on the streets.

The life of L Madhavi, another woman who has been adversely impacted by her husband’s untimely death, has been equally heart-rending. The contract labourers whose jobs were terminated are moving over to other places to eke out their livelihood. ‘Staying in the outskirts as a migrant worker was preferable, even though the family stays back’, said K Rajani.

‘My daughter-in-law, Bharathi, should be given a job immediately,” thunders Sammakka, wife of a worker and mother of another. Sammakka’s husband is old and is nearing retirement age, while the son died earlier. Sammakka demands the government to reopen the mill immediately and a job to her daughter-in-law.

A bigger blow since the ‘shutdown’ is that ESI assistance has been withdrawn. Santosh’s father died as he could not be given adequate treatment because ESI help was not forthcoming. SPM Samrakshanan Samiti has sought that insurance cover should continue till the time the government reopens the mill.

They all lamented that although Naini Narasimha Reddy, the current State Home Minister, was their union leader earlier, he had done precious little for the workers, particularly during these days of hardships when he could pull them out of their sorrow.

Samithi member Ravi Srinivas was more vocal when stating that “SPM management has committed a fraud on the people and is liable to be prosecuted under the provisions of the Labour Act.”

G Kishan Reddy, BJP State President, lashed out at K Chandrasekhar Rao and asked that the money earmarked for the mill be utlised for its reopening with an IAS officer appointed with the specific task of reviving SPM fortunes.

By Suharika K Rachavelpula

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