A stunning general strike by 250 million Indian workers on Thursday shut down most of the country’s main cities and towns.
Ten union federations and hundreds of workers’ associations called the action against austerity measures by Narendra Modi’s hard right government. They won support from many of India’s poorest farmers.
There were tense scenes in Delhi as farmers tried to cross a bridge to enter the city. Police erected barricades to stop them, but these were thrown aside and into the river below.
Eventually cops managed to drive protesters back with a mixture of grenades, water cannon and baton charges.
In Kolkata, smoke from burning tyres filled the air as strikers blocked roads. Left wing supporters also closed the Central metro station and many other railway lines.
Union reports detailed the many states where workers had forced a complete shutdown—particularly in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Modi’s ministers have presided over austerity measures that plunge the poor into ever more misery. Whole industries are being privatised while state subsidies that benefit small farmers are being slashed.
The result is that the lives of hundreds of millions of Indian workers are being made more precarious as the coronavirus pandemic rips through the country.
Kalpana Padbidre from Solapur in southern India helped strikers block a main road. She said she was not scared of the large police force. "I am jobless since April,” she said.
“I used to work in a handloom company but it discontinued our work since mid-April. Somehow I am surviving selling vegetables. The demand to give us £75 monthly is justifiable.”
The strike comes as Modi’s BJP party attempts to whip up Islamophobia into a frenzy.
Right wing media and politicians are increasingly targeting mixed couples, where the husband is Muslim and the wife is Hindu. They describe this as a deliberate Muslim plot to dilute the Hindu culture of India and even have an offensive name for it—a “love jihad”.
The right have even gone to court in an attempt to ban these “mixed marriages”.
The strength of this solid general strike shows once again how Indian workers can unite across religious, ethnic and caste divides. But the action must be built upon quickly if workers are truly to inflict damage on Modi’s hideous government—and drive back his attempts target Muslims.