A large number of civil society and farmer organizations have come forward seeking the immediate release of a 24-year-old Dalit labour rights activist who was arrested from Kundli Industrial Area (KIA) on January 12 and also allegedly subjected to physical and sexual violence while in custody.

KIA is an area adjacent to the core protest venue of the agitating farmers’ on Singhu border with the national capital. The activists who have got together under the banner of Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) feel that the assault on Nodeep Kaur and her associates on January 12 has a lot to do with the forging of unity between the industrial workers and the agitating farmers.

The activists have alleged that on January 12, as the Kisan Andolan continued unabated, Nodeep Kaur, was arrested by Haryana Police from KIA adjacent to Singhu Border. After violently dispersing a rally by workers in the area, the police allegedly took Nodeep Kaur to Kundli Police Station and filed two FIRs against her under a wide range of ‘fabricated’ charges.

“This was followed by brutal custodial violence by male police officers including targeting her genitals amounting to sexual violence. She is currently in judicial custody in Karnal Jail without adequate medical care. This arrest comes following the targeting of a workers organization named Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) in KIA. MAS has been at the forefront of forging solidarity between workers and the struggling peasantry at Singhu Border,” the activists have alleged.

“The numerous worker marches and rallies taken out by MAS in support of the Kisan Andolan ensured that workers of KIA were a regular presence at the Kisan Andolan. This support was amply repaid by the peasantry, many of whom aided MAS in ensuring payment of wages to around 300 workers. Fearing a shift in the power in Kundli, the Police at the instigation of some of the local employers launched a vicious attack on MAS, beating and firing shots at the protesting workers and arresting Nodeep Kaur. This attack is not only an attack on workers and a trade union but an attack on the growing solidarity between workers and the peasants agitating at the Singhu Border,” the activists stated at a media interaction at the Press Club of India at New Delhi on Saturday.

They had sought the quashing of the FIRs against Nodeep Kaur and her immediate release on bail.

“She was beaten brutally by the police and had bruises on her back, feet and also the private parts. We had approached the Sonepat Court for her medical examination for which the orders have been passed. We will be taking a delegation to meet the local Superintendent of Police. The next date of hearing is on January 25 where we are seeking the quashing of the fabricated FIRs against her and her immediate release,” Rajveer Kaur who is Nodeep’s sister and a student activist told this reporter.

At the briefing in Delhi, she spoke on how Nodeep was arrested and tortured, physically and sexually while in custody. This was revealed when she visited a beaten but unbroken Nodeep in jail on January 13, 2021. She said the rationale behind her sisters arrest was to stop the work of MAS which had ensured payment of unpaid wages to nearly 300 workers in Kundli which the police deem as ‘extortion’. Furthermore, the growing solidarity between workers and the peasantry at Singhu Border had made both the Police and the local employers uneasy as it posed a threat to the ‘corporate state nexus’.

“We have demanded that a high level probe be carried out in the matter and the guilty officials be brought to book,” said Urmila from All India Revolutionary Women’s Organization while talking to The Citizen. She was also one of the people who addressed the briefing along with Shavinder Singh of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikari), Ravinder of the Bharatiya Kisan Panchayat and Darbara Singh of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan).

She further disclosed, “A team from our organization had visited the area on January 20 and even went to the Police Station. Not only the police denied us the information that was sought but their way of talking to us was also inappropriate.”

The activists say that what has happened not only amounts to targeting of workers and denial of their constitutional right to association but it also led to targeting the unity between workers and peasants while perpetuating ‘sexual violence’ in custody.

The activists allege that Nodeep Kaur has been charged with rioting with an armed weapon, unlawful assembly, obstructing a public servant in discharge of his duties, attempt to murder, voluntarily hurting a public servant to deter him from discharging his duties, causing hurt, extortion, trespassing and criminal intimidation.

According to a statement issued Friends and Family of Nodeep Kaur and as part of Campaign for the Release of Nodeep Kaur it was Ravinder who spoke of the low wages received by workers in Haryana. He pointed out that the wages were often even less than the paltry minimum wage of Rs. 9300 per month. Furthermore, he mentioned how often workers die crossing the highway at Kundli and in the industrial accidents due to poor safety mechanisms. He stated that the peasantry stands with workers and how his organization completely supports Nodeep and the MAS.

Darbara Singh of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) remarked on the mass support that the workers' struggle has among the peasantry. He even said that all workers are originally farmers.

All the speakers demanded in unison the immediate and unconditional release of Nodeep Kaur, the dropping of the false FIRs and the immediate payment of wages to workers in Kundli. They further mentioned that a delegation of the Kisan Unions will soon meet the Sonepat Superintendent of Police regarding Nodeep's case.

The briefing concluded with appeals to democratic sections of society to come together, demand the immediate release of Nodeep Kaur, cessation of the targeting of trade unions like MAS, repeal of anti-worker labour codes and repeal of anti-peasant farm laws alongside calls for a united struggle for democracy in the face of state repression. A signature campaign was also launched demanding the release of Nodeep Kaur.

Social activists in Haryana say that Nodeep Kaur who hails from a landless Dalit peasant family in Punjab, works in KIA, and as a part of MAS, has been taking up the issues of worker harassment by management, unpaid dues of workers, pending wages and rampant exploitation of women workers. Without unions and representation, the workers are largely working on contract and were not paid wages during the lockdown despite the order of the union home ministry.