June 29, 2004
He died at 35, starving for over a month at the feet of a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar just metres away from the Thane Collector’s office, demanding dues for migrant labourers. And Anna Chanappa Hulgunde’s life might be the price the Vadar community paid to get heard.
And today, when television cameras and microphones turned to Anna’s younger brother, Raju, veteran of protests in Wada, Shahapur and Jawhar, he could hardly speak.
A case has been registered against the sub-contractor who owed the Dalit labourers and the Hulgundes their dues. Mahendra Lalan of Ankit Constructions, Mulund, has been charged under Section 306 of the IPC, for abetting suicide. Lalan and his son, Ankit, were arrested today.
The extended Hulgunde family has been on fast-unto-death since May 31, demanding Rs 4.75 lakh due to 190 migrant labourers from the Vadar Samaj for road and petrol pump construction works at three sites in Wada taluka, around 100 km north of Mumbai.
The Vadars are a poor, nomadic tribe known for their skill as stone-cutters. The Hulgundes were labour contractors and had arranged workers for a construction firm undertaking private works. It has been a hopeless struggle since work was completed in 2000. ‘‘We were only paid for daily rations,’’ said Raju.
Thane ACP Nandkumar Chougule said meetings were on for the past month between the protesters, Lalan, the Thane collector I.S. Chahal and SP (rural) Ramrao Pawar to resolve the issue. A fortnight ago, the SP met the disputing parties too. ‘‘Lalan had it in writing from the Hulgundes that he owed them nothing,’’ Chahal said. The family, however, insisted they had been coerced into signing the statement. Finally, Lalan agreed to pay up. ‘‘Even four or five days ago, my men met Hulgunde and requested that he withdraw the strike,’’ said Chahal.
Chougule said Hulgunde had been under medical supervision during the fast. ‘‘Three check-ups had been conducted. There was no indication that Anna Hulgunde would pass away,’’ he said. Anna’s wife, Rukmin and their four children continued their protest, joined by the RPI and the Akhil Maharashtra Vadar Samaj Sanghatana. ‘‘The state and the collectorate should assume moral responsibility for the death and pay the family a compensation of Rs 10 lakh,’’ said advocate Raja Gaikwad, president of the RPI’s Thane unit. CM Shinde, in Pandharpur, has sanctioned Rs 2 lakh.
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